Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Monday the creation of the Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation and the expansion of outdoor recreation in the state, which includes an agreement with the US Forest Service.
“It’s exciting to see all that Arkansas has to offer,” said Hutchinson. “We look at these Arkansas treasures, but the truth is, Arkansas is a national treasure when it comes to outdoor recreation.”
The Office of Outdoor Recreation will report to the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism and report directly to Secretary Stacy Hurst. Responsibilities include coordinating state administration, investing, and marketing “the great outdoors so it can be expanded across Arkansas.” The office will also help the state understand what the Arkansas outdoor opportunities mean to the nation and what economic opportunity it offers for the state, Hutchinson said.
The office was created by an ordinance of the governor. Hutchinson also establishes the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Board, which consists of up to 10 people who will run the office. This office is supported by existing revenue and positions and will not be creating a new bureaucracy for the state, Hutchinson said. Rather, it will be a focus of outdoor recreation leadership in the state, he added.
Hutchinson will appoint members of the board of directors, and those appointees will include private sector parties, he said. Bill Barnes, owner and CEO of Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa on Lake Ouachita; Mike Mills, founder of the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca; Robyn McClendon, President of SeaArk Boats in Monticello; and George Dunklin, former chairman of Ducks Unlimited and owner of Five Oaks Hunting Lodge, have been named to the board, Hutchinson said.
“This is an exciting time for the state. Outdoor recreation brings $ 9 billion in economic benefits to the state that is simply consumer spending in the state, ”said Hutchinson. He added that there are 96,000 direct jobs created by outdoor recreation.
To date, 16 states in the U.S. have created an outdoor recreation bureau or task force to work to grow the outdoor recreation economy in their state, Hurst said. Arkansas is one of the first southern states to do this. Benefits include economic growth from more tourism dollars and jobs, improved health and wellbeing for residents and visitors, she said.
“Given the remarkable natural resources we have in Arkansas, it only makes sense that we would carefully and deliberately maximize our chance to grow the outdoor economy in our state. We all have the tools for it, ”she said.
The governor’s announcement on Monday immediately opens the position of Director of Outdoor Recreation, she said, noting, “We are committed to moving this important initiative forward.”
Hutchinson also announced that the state is adding the Blue Mountain Natural Area, consisting of 459 acres west of Rattlesnake Ridge in Pulaski County, to the outdoor recreation options in central Arkansas. With this addition, the three peaks of the Pinnacle Mountain Range in Arkansas are now part of the state’s natural offering, Hutchinson said. The acquisition has been approved by the Natural Heritage Commission and the Governor.
The state has also signed a letter of intent with the US Forest Service that will allow the state park division to expand recreational opportunities at Camp Ouachita and Lake Sylvia, Hutchinson said.
“The Sylvia Lake and Camp Ouachita can be better used. It is such a large natural area and if it is managed and there is an opportunity to provide more services to the public there, it can be better used, ”he said.
Blue Mountain and Lake Sylvia represent partnerships that will result in better public access, sound conservation and increased economic activity for Arkansas in the long term, said Hurst. Nestled between scenic pine and oak-clad mountains in the northeast corner of the Ouachita National Forest 58 miles west of Little Rock, Lake Sylvia Recreation Area features an 18-acre lake known for swimming and fishing.
US Representative French Hill, R-Little Rock., Who worked on the partnership to expand the Lake Sylvia offering, said the state is expanding the state’s rugged outdoor experience offerings.