Gov. Hutchinson creates Office of Outdoor Recreation
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday (June 21) the creation of the Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation and the expansion of outdoor recreation in the state that includes an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service.
“It is exciting to see all that Arkansas has to offer,” Hutchinson said. “We consider these Arkansas treasures, but it’s really that Arkansas is a national treasure when it comes to outdoor recreation.”
The Office of Outdoor Recreation will be within the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism and directly report to Secretary Stacy Hurst. Responsibilities will include coordinating the state’s stewardship, investments and marketing of “the great outdoors so it will be available in an expanded way to all of Arkansas.” The office will also help the state recognize what Arkansas’ outdoor opportunities means to the nation as well as the economic opportunities it brings to the state, Hutchinson said.
The office is created by an executive order of the governor. Hutchinson also is creating the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Board, composed of up to 10 people who will help guide the office. That office will be supported by existing revenues and positions and will not be the creation of a new bureaucracy for the state, Hutchinson said. It rather will be a focal point of the leadership of outdoor recreation in the state, he added.
Hutchinson will appoint members of the board, 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 Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca; Robyn McClendon, President at SeaArk Boats in Monticello; and George Dunklin, former chairman of Ducks Unlimited and owner of the Five Oaks Hunting Lodge, have already been appointed to the board, Hutchinson said.
“This is an exciting time for the state. Outdoor recreation brings $9 billion in economic benefit to the state that is simply consumer spending in the state,” Hutchinson said.
He added there are 96,000 direct jobs that come from outdoor recreation.
To date, 16 states in the U.S. have created an office of outdoor recreation or a task force to work toward growing the outdoor recreation economy in their state, Hurst said. Arkansas is one of the first Southern states to do so. Benefits include economic growth through increased tourism dollars and jobs, improved health and wellness for residents and visitors, she said.
“With the remarkable natural assets we have in Arkansas, it only makes sense that we would carefully and deliberately maximize our opportunity to grow the outdoor economy in our state. We have all the tools to do so,” she said.
The governor’s announcement Monday immediately opens the position of director of outdoor recreation, she said, noting, “We are eager to move forward on this important initiative.”
Hutchinson also announced the state is adding Blue Mountain Natural Area, comprised of a 459-acre tract west of Rattlesnake Ridge in Pulaski County, to the outdoor recreation opportunities in central Arkansas. With this addition, the three peaks of the Pinnacle Mountain Range in Arkansas are now part of the state’s natural offerings, Hutchinson said. The acquisition has been approved by the Natural Heritage Commission and the governor.
The state has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service that will allow the division of state parks to allow the expansion of recreation opportunities at Camp Ouachita and Lake Sylvia, Hutchinson said.
“Lake Sylvia and Camp Ouachita can be utilized to a greater extent. It is such a great natural area, and to have that managed and to be able to have the greater capabilities of services there to the public will allow that to be utilized in a greater way,” he said.
Blue Mountain and Lake Sylvia represent partnerships that will result in increased access for the public, sound conservation and increased economic activity for Arkansas long term, Hurst said. Nestled between scenic pine and oak-clad mountains in the northeast corner of the Ouachita National Forest 38 miles west of Little Rock, Lake Sylvia Recreation Area offers an 18-acre lake that is noted for its swimming and fishing opportunities.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock., who worked on the partnership that expands the Lake Sylvia offerings, said the state doing so expands the rugged outdoor experience offerings in the state.