As the Arkansas tourism industry recovers from the economic impact of the pandemic, the governor announced the creation of a new office for outdoor recreation.
It will be based in the State Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, and later this summer the department will hire a director for the office to coordinate and promote the management of nature in Arkansas.
A 10-member advisory board will oversee the office. Members include representatives from the private sector. The first four members represent, for example, a resort on Lake Ouachita, a supplier on the Buffalo River, a boat manufacturer in Monticello and a duck hunting house in Arkansas County.
Traditionally, the Arkansas tourism industry has relied heavily on outdoor recreational activities such as camping, boating, hiking, hunting, and fishing. This led to the designation of the state motto as a “natural state”.
In recent years, the state’s marketing efforts have encouraged alternative activities and destinations to expand and diversify the attractiveness of the industry. Marketing campaigns have targeted bird watchers, motorcycle clubs and civil war fans.
Other campaigns promote music festivals for fans of the blues and bluegrass. Others cater to art connoisseurs and foodies to attract tourists to the art galleries and restaurants in Arkansas.
Current marketing campaigns also focus on specific destinations such as race tracks, casinos, water parks, and the presidential library in Little Rock.
Therefore, the creation of a new Office of Outdoor Recreation is a “return to the basics” of tourism promotion in Arkansas.
Outdoor recreation accounts for nearly $ 10 billion in the Arkansas economy, according to the governor’s office. It supports 96,000 jobs and generates $ 698 million annually in local and state tax revenue.
The tourism and hospitality industries were particularly hard hit by the pandemic as public health restrictions limited seating in restaurants and banned public gatherings such as music concerts. Because of this, the state made $ 48 million in grants last year specifically to hospitality companies that have been adversely affected by health restrictions.
They were known as Business Interruption Grants and went to more than 2,100 companies. They were awarded by the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, the Arkansas Economic Commission, and the Department of Finance and Administration.
The news from the Office of Outdoor Recreation coincided with the announcement that the state had acquired Blue Mountain, 459 acres in central Arkansas. The state also signed an agreement with the US Forest Service to provide more amenities for visitors to the Lake Sylvia Recreation Area, also in central Arkansas.
Blue Mountain is near Pinnacle Mountain, already in a state park. Rattlesnake Ridge was designated a nature reserve in 2018 and, despite its name, has seen an increase in visitors.
The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and The Nature Conservancy bought Blue Mountain from a logging company for about $ 5 million.
The Nature Conservancy raised approximately $ 1 million of the purchase price and plans to raise an additional $ 1 million for path and parking construction and maintenance.