Katherine Stewart, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
If the news of Riverfest’s ceasing operations after its 40th season in 2017 punched a hole in your spring planning, never fear, because the Museum of Discovery announced in late November that it would be taking over Springfest, Riverfest’s smaller, family-focused counterpart. This is fantastic news, because the two-year-old Springfest grew rapidly in its short life, attracting between 20,000 and 25,000 people to the 2017 event. The Museum of Discovery intends to keep many of the event’s popular features while adding some new science-y twists. Activities will include the Super Retriever series, a dog parade, bounce and construction zones, “Awesome Science” shows (like the ones that landed the MoD a spot on Jimmy Fallon), dance and cheer teams, and much more. Springfest will take place in the River Market on Saturday, April 7, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Now that you’ve got one big event on your calendar, why not pencil in a few more? Here’s a roundup of some major happenings in the first half of 2018.
2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, and to celebrate, the commission is throwing the biggest King Week and Mega King Fest yet! Multiple events will take place beginning the week of January 7, including a youth summit series, concerts, and a soul food dinner and tour of the library of legendary civil rights activist Annie Abrams, all culminating in the crowning event, Mega King Fest, on Monday, January 15 (a.k.a. MLK Day). Mega King Fest: “A Day of Service—A Day On, Not a Day Off” will take place at North Little Rock High School and will feature a band showcase, car show, vendors, performances, health fair, and, of course, community-wide service projects. Doors open at noon and the program begins at 1 p.m. For more information, please visit www.arkingdream.org.
Wintertime is the best time for viewing eagles in Arkansas, and parks across the state have special eagle-centric programming throughout January. In Central Arkansas, head to Petit Jean State Park for Eagle Awareness Weekend on January 12 and 13, two days of educational programs and eagle-scouting field trips. Programs take place Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and admission is free. For more information, contact the park superintendent at 501-727-5441. Staying at a cabin at the park is also a neat winter idea!
Okay, okay, so your kiddos are probably not going to be contestants in the Arkansas Times/Root Cafe’s annual Beard and Mustache Contest, but that doesn’t mean you should skip out on the festivities altogether. The special event takes place on Saturday, February 10, and is part of SoMa’s Mardi Gras celebration, which includes a parade, live entertainment, food trucks, and all the beads little hands can catch. The parade starts at noon; the beard contest takes place in Bernice Garden from noon to 2 p.m.
A rare and unusual opportunity to spend the evening with a revered historical figure presents itself on Saturday, February 24, in Conway. C. S. Lewis, author of the beloved “Chronicles of Narnia” series, died in 1963, but this one-time performance takes us back to that year and into a seat right beside him in front of the fireplace to listen to stories from his life, including tales of famous literary friends and how some of his best-known works came together (and nearly fell apart). Actor David Payne’s portrayal has been described by critics as “extraordinary” and “a master class.” This special event takes place at the James C. Clark auditorium on Prince Street and begins at 7:30 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the event’s Facebook page.
The first weekend in March sees two fun events competing for your attention: The Little Rock Marathon and the annual Flower and Garden Show. The 2018 Arkansas Flower and Garden Show is moving from its regular location at the Statehouse Convention Center to the Arkansas State Fairgrounds. In addition to the inspirational display gardens and shopping opportunities, a full schedule of seminars and classes will take place throughout the three-day weekend, March 2-4, including special children’s sessions. To view the full schedule and vendor list, and to purchase tickets, visit the AFGS website here.
The theme for the 16th annual marathon will be “What is Your QUEST?”—expect to see medieval-style costumes and plenty of Zelda references. 2018 brings new routes for the full and half marathons and the 10K, 5K and Little Rockers races; the full and half marathons take place Sunday, March 4 at 7:00 a.m.; additional races are on Saturday. The online registration deadline (i.e. the latest one) is February 23, 2018. For more information and to register, visit littlerockmarathon.com.
This is the month when things really start cooking, with the weather warming and flowers in bloom and everybody itching to get outside. In addition to the aforementioned Springfest on April 7, there’s CALS Con (also on the 7th) and the 5th annual Downtown Dash (ditto); AnimeCon April 13-15; an Earth Day Celebration Weekend at Pinnacle Mountain State Park on April 21-22; the highly anticipated touring production of The Lion King at Robinson Center on April 22; and the 15th annual Arkansas Literary Festival from April 26 through 29. Whew! Click the links for more information on each of these events.
Perhaps the biggest event in May happens right up front: the 37th annual Toad Suck Daze in Conway. This is one of the state’s largest festivals, and it’s probably the kid-friendliest as well. Concerts, rides, games, races, food, vendors and more—including, of course, the World Championship Toad Races—will animate downtown Conway from May 4 through 6. For the complete lineup and schedule of activities, visit toadsuck.org. Also in May is one the state’s biggest ethnic festivals, the International Greek Food Festival, May 18-20. And the festival is so much more than food, featuring performances and live entertainment, a gift market, children’s activities and more. For more information, visit greekfoodfest.com.
No doubt there will be plenty of additional events to crop up between now and then—but even if not, June is packed as it is. Saturday, June 2 is National Trails Day, and many area parks are holding special events to celebrate. Petit Jean State Park will be hosting hikes and free programs for all ages from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; the Arkansas River Trail would be another great place to enjoy a hike! On June 9th, the Old State House Museum in Little Rock will host an afternoon celebration of Arkansas’s 182nd year of statehood, where you can interact with living history characters participating in era-appropriate activities. Then it’s back up to Petit Jean for the 60th annual Petit Jean Car Show June 12-16 at Morrilton’s Museum of Automobiles. Featuring hundreds of antique and collectible cars, plus arts and crafts booths and two car shows, this is THE place to be for vintage auto enthusiasts!
Katherine Stewart, travel writer