At 7:20 a.m. on a recent Wednesday, cars crawled along Maumelle Boulevard.
To reach Interstate 430 or Interstate 40, Maumelle residents have to travel the four-lane Maumelle Boulevard. Drivers heading east jockey through the traffic hoping to shave a few minutes off what should normally take 10 minutes to reach the freeway.
This is Maumelle, a city just north of the Arkansas River from Little Rock and to the west of North Little Rock, and one of the fastest growing cities in Arkansas in the last decade. Between 2000 and 2010, its population jumped nearly 63 percent, to 17,163.
I was one of the people who helped Maumelle grow. Moving from Little Rock, I bought a three-bedroom home near the city's Jess Odom Community Center in 2006. I, like thousands of others, was drawn to the city because of the friendly vibe, convenient access to grocery stores and outdoor activities.
Maumelle has been accused of being a place built for whites fleeing Little Rock to avoid living next to blacks. But that's not the case.
Years ago, people would have probably said the same thing about Cabot and Conway. Maumelle residents don't seem to discriminate, and blacks and whites live side by side on the same streets without a second thought.
In fact, the black population of Maumelle is 12.1 percent, compared to the statewide average of 15.4 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau.
What attracts people to the town are the large homes and sprawling yards in quiet neighborhoods and outdoor activities for residents, ranging from a skateboard park to seemingly endless walking trails.
From first-time homebuyers to retirees, people are finding their way into the city with street names such as Arnold Palmer, Trevino and Par Drive. But Maumelle isn't for everyone. Young adults fresh out of college who enjoy the bright lights with bars and a movie theater might think twice about Maumelle: It has none of those attractions.
Home values have remained stable over recent years, unlike some areas in the country that have been hammered by falling housing prices, said Lisa Holloway-Sugg, a real estate agent for Crye-Leike Realtors. The median value of a home in Maumelle was around $195,000 in 2009.
And Mayor Michael Watson said he's encouraged by the number of housing permits. In 2011, 68 permits had been issued through the end of September, just one fewer than in all of 2010.
The founding father of Maumelle is Jess P. Odom. Odom's vision was for the city to include all people from "all socio-economic levels," said Ed Dozier, Maumelle's first resident in the early 1970s.
Odom, who made his money in the insurance industry, paid about $1 million for the land that would become the city of Maumelle and received funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dozier said. It was one of 13 "New Towns" that popped up across the country in the early 1970s, according to the city of Maumelle.
In the 1970s, people started trickling into Maumelle for the same reasons that people come today. "It sits away from the city ... and yet it's close enough for people to live in an almost pristine environment out in the country," Dozier said.
These days, a handful of joggers start their day at 5:30 a.m. at Lake Willastein, a 100-acre park with a 55-acre lake as its centerpiece. Joggers along with bikers and walkers move around the 2-mile cement path around the park, but the trail also snakes its way around the city. The 26-mile route takes walkers through subdivisions and along Maumelle Boulevard to the city's second lake, Lake Valencia. This lake features a fountain and dock for fishing and is next to the Maumelle Public Library, which is part of the Central Arkansas Library System.
The park also has an amphitheater for such events as the annual Maumelle Family Fest and a skateboard park near the Jess P. Odom Community Center, a magnet for gym rats with an indoor basketball court, walking track and an outside swimming pool.
For other outdoor activities, the Maumelle Country Club touts tennis courts and an 18-hole championship golf course.
Maumelle is devoid of rundown houses or overgrown yards. In the summer on any of the winding streets, there's usually a gathering of middle-school children, either talking or playing a game. Their parents are usually close by, mowing the grass or pulling weeds in their flowerbed.
In fall 2011, Maumelle opened the $55 million Maumelle High School. The town's first high school opened with 900 students. It has a 185-seat room for seminars and a 2,000-seat gymnasium.
Education is important to the residents of Maumelle. About half of the city's population who are 25 or older have a bachelor's degree or higher. Across the state, only 18.3 percent of people that age have a bachelor's degree or higher.
When the sun sets in Maumelle, the residents who want to enjoy the bar scene go to the River Market district in Little Rock. But there are plenty of places to eat and a Starbucks just off of Maumelle Boulevard to grab a cup of coffee.
There's hope that Maumelle's traffic will improve. The city of Maumelle is proposing a new interchange on Interstate 40 that will provide another entry into the city. The interchange is in its early phases, but Watson said he hopes to have a design for a project done by August 2013. In the meantime, Watson said, he will search for funding for the $15 million work.
If the interchange is opened, "I'm not going to say that it would make us more attractive. [But] it would alleviate one of the major problems that we have," Watson said.
Visual art, through Nov. 4, "Nature & Nurture", works by Carol Corning and Ed Pennebaker,…