NGA Hosts its Fourth Annual Outside Recreation Studying Community Assembly in Little Rock, Arkansas


Governors across the country recognize the importance of outdoor recreation and are uniquely positioned to support its growth through state policies, programs and incentives.

By Cara Dougherty and Bevin Buchheister

In 2019, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) established the Outdoor Recreation Learning Network (ORLN) in partnership with state and territory outdoor recreation directors.

This network brings together the directors and advisors of the governors’ outdoor recreation offices to explore strategies that leverage their unique natural, cultural and historical resources and share information on promoting outdoor recreation to drive economic, social and environmental benefits . The ORLN also provides insight into federal developments and related implications, opportunities, and resources for states and territories.

In May, the NGA’s annual ORLN Policy Institute was held in Little Rock, Arkansas, and included remarks from Stacy Hurst, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, and a special signing of the Confluence Accords, which reflect a state’s commitment to the Demonstrating conservation and management, workforce education and training, economic development, and public health and well-being through outdoor recreation. Thanks to the generous support of ORLN sponsors, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), the REI Foundation, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable and the VF Foundation, the Annual Policy Institute was a productive and meaningful gathering for ORLN members.

On day one of the Policy Institute, the network came together at Pinnacle Mountain State Park to discuss Arkansas’ partnership with the US Forest Service and how to prepare communities for long-term success and equity in the development of outdoor recreation economies be able. The network participated in several outdoor recreation activities native to the beautiful Arkansas nature. Members hiked portions of the 373-acre Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area (RRNA), which protects rare plant and animal species and provides habitat for three species of state importance: the southeastern bat, western diamondback rattlesnake, and Wright’s Cliffbrake, a western desert fern. The network also experienced a kayaking trip on the Big Maumelle River below Lake Maumelle, Little Rock’s main drinking water reservoir, and a mountain biking adventure on the Coachwhip and Centipede Trails within the larger Monument Trails network with scenic views over the Arkansas River Valley.

At ORLN’s Annual Policy Institute, attendees had the opportunity to try Arkansas outdoor recreation at Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

Through the strength of public/private/nonprofit partnerships, a shared vision has brought Monument Trails to life in four Arkansas State Parks. Monument Trails are premier destinations that showcase the scenic beauty of the state parks they are located in while exemplifying the highest quality in trail craftsmanship, innovation, beauty and sustainability. They are the result of the generosity of the Walton Family Foundation in partnership with the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation and Arkansas State Parks. The ORLN experienced first-hand the enduring, unforgettable opportunities that the multi-purpose trails offer trail riders, runners and hikers of all skill levels.

On day two, the Policy Institute resumed at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, where the National Park Service discussed its new Office of Outdoor Recreation. Network discussions focused on government action to promote equity, government funding sources and understanding, and efforts to improve economic and participation data.

Secretary of State Hurst later joined the ORLN state members and donors. Secretary Hurst was appointed Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage in January 2015 by Asa Hutchinson, Chair of the NGA, Governor of Arkansas. She is responsible for the work of eight separate agencies that identify, protect, and promote the state’s natural, historical, and cultural resources. She shared with ORLN members the importance of growing the outdoor recreation economy and raising awareness of the recreational experiences that Arkansas and other states have to offer.

From left: Scott Crowder, Director, New Hampshire Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development; Daryl Anthony, executive director, Maryland Office of Outdoor Recreation; and Katherine Andrews, Director, Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation.

The two-day event concluded with a special signing of the Confluence Accords. With New Hampshire, Maryland and Arkansas, 16 states have now signed the Confluence Accords.

The Confluence of States was created in 2018 by a bipartisan group of eight pioneering states to recognize the influence and importance of the outdoor recreation industry and to provide a one-stop shop for the diverse businesses, communities and individual constituents who rely on the continued health of our nation’s natural spaces. The Confluence of States is a non-partisan movement that promotes and advances the four pillars and 12 common principles of the Outdoor Recreation Industry’s Confluence Accords, which represent a best practice that all states and territories should adopt.

Please visit the NGA’s Outdoor Recreation Learning Network (ORLN) website for the latest publications, events, opportunities and resources on all things outdoors. If your state or territory is interested in joining the NGA’s ORLN, please contact Bevin Buchheister ([email protected]) or Cara Dougherty ([email protected]).