Editors note: This article was written in May 2012 by Roxanne LeBlanc and is used by permission.
If you haven’t been to Ft. Chaffee in several years, you are in for a surprise. The old camp ground is now privately owned and although it is called Ft. Chaffee RV Park, it is not part of Ft. Chaffee. Ft. Chaffee has been split up and the old part is commercially owned and operated. The camp ground that is military is on post.
There are 20 sites and all are 50amp, water and sewer, and they do take reservations. Built on a hill the campground has 3 tiers. The lower tier has 5 sites that are on jetties built out onto a small pond. The middle tier circles around to the upper tier that has a couple of pull through sites. Satellite and cell phone reception is good as is the Virgin Mobile air card. There are no bath houses or laundry. The interior roads are gravel as are the site pads. All seem to be quite level. There are street lights but they are still not hooked up to power. VERY dark at night. No patio and no picnic tables. Basically just a place to park with full hookup. On the middle tier if you don’t back in all the way, there will be shade in the afternoon at the rear of your RV. Most sites are sunny all day. The grass is a la natural. If you set out a bird feeder you will be constantly re-filling your feeder. News travels quickly among the feathered flocks.
Since splitting the size of the post the government has totally refurbished 720 of the old barracks. New vinyl siding, new aluminum roofs, air conditioning, new plumbing and electric. Seven hundred and twenty of them!!!! Many are two story. The post seems to be somewhat of a ghost town. Seldom do you see a person or a vehicle. Very quiet post. Billeting was very friendly - nice staff. They told us that there had been a recent deployment and that the Arkansas National Guard train as well as the Navy Seals at Ft. Chaffee. In earlier days it was where troops for World War II and the Korean War trained.
There is a very small BX. No commissary. Grocery stores in Barling between Ft. Chaffee and Ft. Smith. Hospital is in Ft. Smith which is a city of about 86,000. But… if it makes you feel better, there is a large siren in the campground and just a couple of blocks away is a tornado shelter!
There is a lot of interesting history at Ft. Chaffee. It was built in 1941 as a war effort. Land was acquired by the government buying for a penance 72,000 acres from farmers. In 1943 Ft. Chaffee held over 3,000 German P.O.W.s. Many of the buildings were built with prison labor. After the fall of Saigon, 417 planes brought in 50,809 Vietnamese for re-settlement. Between 1980 and 1982 over 25,000 Cubans from the Freedom Flotilla were brought in and then….in 2005 bus loads of refugees from hurricane Katrina were brought in for re-settlement. A little known fact is Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army at Ft. Chaffee and where he had his first GI haircut, shots, etc. The barbershop where he had his haircut was scheduled for the bulldozer but it was saved by a committee to have it put on the National Historic Register. The “Barber Shop Museum” is as it was when Elvis was in the barber’s chair. If you are here around the 4th Saturday in March you can get a free haircut by the son of the barber that gave Elvis his buzz cut. Many artifacts from early Ft. Chaffee and many pictures are housed in the museum. No charge but donations are welcomed. Very interesting. Make it a point to see it.
Since the post still has that 40’s look about it, several well known movies have been filmed at Ft. Chaffee: A Soldier’s Story, Biloxi Blues and Tuskegee Airmen.
In Ft. Smith there are lots of things to see and do. The Visitor Center is the former Miss Laura’s Social Club which was the first bordello to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On the riverfront is a garrison museum, a newly erected statue to Bass Reeves, an African American who was a deputy U.S. Marshall, the court of Judge Parker, the hanging judge, the gallows where Judge Parker said, “Hang em”, Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, trails, and of course restaurants, shops etc.
Although the campground is very basic, we recommend it as a stop on your journeys. I don’t think little kids would enjoy the area as there is nothing for them to do…but if you like peace and quiet, appreciate our countries history and a really good value, Ft. Chaffee is for you!
Basic…but for $8.50 a night…..What a deal!