By JEREMY PEPPAS

Arkansas News Bureau

ON THE ARKANSAS RIVER — The Arkansas River runs deep through the state’s history, and making it navigable for commerce has been a priority since before statehood was granted.

For a group of businessmen and other river Arkansas River enthusiasts, the waterway does not run deep enough.

"The (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) guarantees a nine-foot channel. We’re out here toting the message of a 12-foot channel," said Stan Hastings, a Little Rock yachtsman and business owner.

Hastings is one of the organizers of the Arkansas River Revival Flotilla, a group of 17 boats that is floating the river to promote commercial traffic along the river and commemorate the 40th anniversary of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. 

A three-foot difference in the channel would mean barges that run up and down the Arkansas River would be able to carry heavier loads.

Hastings pointed to a stationary barge to make his point.

"If you look, you’ll see it’s loaded to eight feet," he told reporters who rode his yacht Promotion as part of the 10-day promotional tour that started Thursday in North Little Rock. "They’re carrying fertilizer and they’d be able to carry more if the channel was deeper."

Officials say barges transport about 2 billion tons of trade along the river each year. Hastings believes that number potentially could double the channel were deepened. The economic impact of being able to transport more would be significant, he said.

Barge traffic appeared to be down on first day of the tour, but Hastings said the Corps of Engineers, one of the sponsors of the flotilla, had worked with commercial interests that use the river to keep traffic at a minimum for the event.

This isn’t the first time a flotilla has set out on the Arkansas River. For the 10th and 25th anniversaries of the navigation project. Some of the larger boats and yachts in Little Rock took part in cruises.

Planning for this year’s event began last spring. A smaller group yachts went up and down the river looking at different spots to stop and spend the night.

Hastings and the Little Rock Yacht Club organized 13 yachts to participate in this year’s flotilla, and four other boats from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Corps of Engineers also participated. 

The Arkansas River Connection, a group of agencies, cities and counties that border the river also helped with the planning and execution of the flotilla.

After heading south and east, the flotilla was to turn and head back to Little Rock over the weekend. On Monday, Gov. Mike Beebe and a group of legislators are schedule to gather for the Little Rock to Russellville portion of the trip, with other stops in Clarksville, Fort Smith and Ozark before the trip concludes Friday.