By Marla Cantrell | Photos courtesy of Arkansas Parks and Tourism
[dropcap]E[/dropcap]very day, 10,000 Baby Boomers retire. Some stay where they’re living now, but others see retirement as an opportunity to find a new place to call home, one that will keep them healthy and happy for years to come Arkansas, with its moderate climate and affordability, is an excellent choice. US News and World Report ranks the state as number three in the nation for the lowest cost of living and number 17 in housing affordability. Plus, Arkansas is beautiful. Nearly half of its 53,179 miles are covered with forests. There are natural hot springs, rivers and lakes with world-class fishing, stunning mountain peaks and hiking and biking trails that zigzag across some of the prettiest land you’ll ever see.
Leah DiPietro, communications manager for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, spends her days heralding the state’s attributes and has this to say: “We’ve got spectacular scenery, friendly neighbors, four distinct seasons and affordable living, not to mention great food. And if you like to visit a bigger city, the state is just hours away from Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis, Tulsa and Memphis. Even a trip to the beach isn’t hard to manage with the coast just a day’s drive away. Everyone who calls Arkansas home loves it for a different reason.”
The following suggestions are designed to help current or soon-to-be retirees with their search to find the perfect place. The smallest featured location has a population of fewer than 5,000. Only one of the seven recommendations tops the 100,000 mark. Each has unique charm, and each promotes an active lifestyle.
Three of the locations, Bella Vista, Cherokee Village and Hot Springs Village, are developments started by Arkansan John Cooper, a founding architect of America’s retirement communities, who began his work in the mid-1950s. One of the ways he promoted these properties across was to offer free stays, taking the news of these places across the country. In fact, Kim Carlson, with the Bella Vista Property Owners Association, recalls traveling to Bella Vista with her parents when she was 10, on one such trip. When she became an adult, the lure of this one-of-a-kind town kept calling, and now she calls it home.
Finding the perfect place to retire can be one of the most exciting decisions of a lifetime. A new place, new friends, a new community filled with people with similar interests. Arkansas seems like the most natural choice of all.
Bella Vista sits on the Missouri border and covers 36,000 acres. Retirees flock here to take advantage of the five golf courses, seven private lakes and more than 40 miles of nature trails for hiking and biking. There are swimming pools and a beach, disc golf, parks and pavilions, an RV park and campground and rec centers. The city’s proximity to Bentonville — home of Walmart Corporate Headquarters, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and a growing food and cultural scene — creates an opportunity for residents to enjoy the best of small-town living with the amenities of a larger city.
Bella Vista has received numerous awards, including being named as one of the Top 10 Healthiest Places to Retire by U.S. News and World Report, and one of the Top 25 Best Places for Affordable Housing by Money magazine.
Carlson says one of the things retirees enjoy is that their grandchildren love to visit since there’s so much for them to do. Kansas City is only a three-hour drive, and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is less than 40 miles away. A wide range of medical services is available in the area, and Bella Vista also has an Emergency Clinic that’s operated by the Mercy health-care system.
Hot Springs Village
Hot Springs Village, America’s largest gated community, covers more than 26,000 acres in the Ouachita Mountains and is less than 60 miles from Little Rock and its airport. Those who love being outdoors can find something to do every day, from golfing at one of the nine championship courses to swimming in one of the four pools, enjoying the more than 26 miles of nature trails, working out at the fitness center, visiting one of the 11 lakes and playing tennis at one of the 13 courts. There are eight pickleball courts, a bocce ball court, a dog park and more than 200 clubs and organizations.
Kate Chagnon, with the Property Owners Association (POA), says retirees are drawn to this community because real estate is affordable, with a wide range of pricing. Crime and the cost-of-living are low and property taxes are affordable. There are a variety of medical clinics at Hot Springs Village, with hospitals only 30 minutes away in Benton and 45 minutes away in Little Rock. POA fees are $33 a month and offer residents many perks, including reduced rates to the golf clubs, pools and fitness center, which boasts daily classes, an indoor pool, sauna and steam room.
Region: North Central
Mountain Home, one of the state’s first retirement regions, is surrounded by water, with the White and North Fork Rivers and Bull Shoals and Norfork Lakes bordering this small Ozarks town. For years, vacationers have traveled here to canoe, hike, camp, trout fish, play golf or stay at one of the fishing resorts. The region has garnered praise from several national publications including Rand McNally’s Retirement Places Rated and AARP’s Sun Belt Retirement, which named the area one of the top places in the U.S. to retire.
There are retirement communities, as well as a wide range of properties for sale, from condos to houses in gated communities or near the Big Creek Golf and Country Club. Health care needs are served by Baxter Regional Medical Center, with more than 100 physicians.
The capital city of Little Rock sits on the banks of the Arkansas River and has all the perks of a diverse city. Foodies come here for the breweries and one-of-a-kind eateries like the food-to-table Root Café, and South on Main with its eclectic take on Southern food. Concerts abound, with Verizon Arena drawing in big names. Ballet Arkansas is headquartered here, as is the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
Health care is more than covered by the University of Arkansas Medical System’s teaching hospital, veterans’ hospitals, Baptist Health Medical Center and the Arkansas Heart Hospital, just to name a few.
The city offers many options for retirees, one of which is the Villas of Chenal. This upscale gated neighborhood leases homes with amenities such as fireplaces, granite countertops, soaker tubs, private patios and security systems. The clubhouse has a swimming pool, wet bar, covered porches and an exercise room. Lawn care and home maintenance are provided.
Nearby are essentials, including a grocery store, Walmart, the library, a fire station, a post office and health care facilities. This area is also bustling with eateries, a golf course, shopping, spas and a country club, and the Clinton National Airport is less than 18 miles away.
Conway sits 30 miles northwest of Little Rock and is often called the City of Colleges. The University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College are here, creating a vibrant arts scene with a symphony and a professional Shakespeare company that brings in performers from across the country. Lake Conway, covering 6,700 acres, is a favorite destination for anglers, and Beaverfork Lake offers boating, swimming, windsurfing and fishing. Should you need a hospital, Conway Regional Health System and Baptist Health Medical Center are available.
One of the retirement communities of note is Stonebrook Cove, a small community with charming Craftsman-style homes located in a picturesque neighborhood in the heart of the city, just a two-minute drive from the hospital. There are seven home models to choose from that range in size from two to four bedrooms, with a one- or two-car attached garage. Stonebrook has a clubhouse, lawn care is taken care of, and there’s even a pond on the property. A pharmacy, grocery store and fitness center are less than a mile away, which appeals to those who enjoy a walking community.
This year, Kiplinger named Conway the second cheapest city to live in the U.S.
Those looking for the perfect mix of culture and outdoor beauty will love this town located at the base of the Ozark Mountains.
Dickson Street, which leads to the University of Arkansas, is filled with shops, eateries and nightlife. The Walton Arts Center brings in Broadway shows, and the library hosts dozens of club meetings and brings in big names from the literary world. Art lovers will enjoy the proximity to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, less than 30 miles away.
There’s a hospital here, as well as a veterans’ hospital and many clinics. Two bus services make getting around town stress-free, and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is less than 30 miles away.
On one of the centrally located streets is Butterfield Trail Village, a resort-style community organized in 1981 by five area churches. It offers retirees various housing options from apartments to assisted-living duplexes to single family homes. There’s a fitness center with trainers, a heated pool and exercise classes, plus group trips, dining, 24-hour security and long-term nursing care.
This year, US News and World Report named Fayetteville one of the top five places to live and one of the top 15 places to retire.
Region: North Central
Cherokee Village was the first planned retirement community in the U.S., developed by John Cooper, who went on to spearhead other such developments in Bella Vista and Hot Springs Village. Chuck Kristopiet, who volunteers at the town’s welcome center, came here from Wisconsin in 2001. He’d camped in this area in the past and grew to love it. He describes the area as a jewel carved out of the forest, with the South Fork River running past.
The town, according to Kristopiet, is the perfect spot for those who may be concerned that they don’t have enough money to retire. “We’ve been named the number-one most affordable spot in Arkansas by City Data, and we’re in the top 10 lowest crime rates.”
Kristopiet enjoys the seven lakes, which are stocked yearly with catfish, crappie, large-mouth bass and big bluegill. There are three nature trails for all levels of fitness, lots of mom-and-pop shops and eateries, two private 18-hole golf courses, tennis courts, a senior center, a fitness center and six swimming pools.
Cherokee Village has its own clinic that houses a satellite emergency room that is staffed by medical professionals in a nearby city.
These seven locations offer a good start for retirees or those considering retirement, who are looking to relocate. There is a wealth of information available online as well, and the Homeowners Associations, the developments listed and Chambers of Commerce welcome calls from interested parties.
The next step is planning a trip to see for yourself. Any time is a good time to visit, but traveling in autumn is especially lovely. The trees start to show off then, their leaves coloring the landscape with fiery reds, brilliant oranges and heady golds.
For those coming from out of state in the fall, you’ll likely meet a group of Razorback fans at one of the restaurants or sports bars watching a football game and cheering for their beloved Hogs. They’ll be dressed in red and periodically calling out, “Woo, pig, sooie!” Joining in is not required, but honestly, there’s nothing like it to make you feel instantly at home.