Weekly Columns

Arkansas has a long and storied history that makes it such a unique place. Since gaining statehood in 1836, our state has become known for its natural beauty, earning the nickname “The Natural State,” as well as the world-famous duck hunting, major agricultural production and growing city life. This year Arkansas is celebrating many milestones that show just how far we have come as a state and how bright our future is.

This year we celebrate 100 years of one of our state’s greatest assets, Arkansas State Parks. In 1923, the Arkansas legislature authorized the commissioner of state lands to accept donations for state parks and the creation of the first in Arkansas, Petit Jean State Park. 

I have many fond memories with my family at this Conway County site, which continues to be a favorite place for us to spend time together in addition to so many other Arkansans. Today, in every corner of our state, this park and countless others are great places for families and friends to enjoy the outdoors. 

The beauty of Arkansas brings people from all across the country to our backyard. Our state parks are driving local economies and helping support businesses, spurring critical development and commerce. 

As we mark their centennial, celebrations are taking place in the 52 state parks all year and provide another great opportunity to explore our state’s inviting landscape.

Along with the Arkansas State Parks, Blanchard Springs Caverns is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023. After decades of underground exploration and development, the caverns opened to the general public in 1973, showcasing their natural wonder to visitors from near and far. Thanks to the dedicated personnel at the U.S. Forest Service, community advocates and outdoor enthusiasts, it remains a popular attraction and is often described as one of the most beautiful caves in the country.  

Celebrations are also happening in Faulkner County and Bentonville in recognition of their 150th anniversaries. 

With around 125,000 residents, Faulkner County is now the state’s sixth-most populated county and home to a thriving economy that has enhanced the quality of life. In Conway, also known as the City of Colleges, students at the University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College enrich its social life and culture during the school year and long after graduation.

The county’s proximity to Little Rock and major transportation routes makes it an ideal location for industry and business, while Lake Conway and Cadron Creek provide ample opportunities for recreation and relaxation.

Over the years Bentonville has become a hub of commerce and culture in Northwest Arkansas. By 1950, Sam Walton had opened the original Walton’s 5&10 store on the Bentonville Square and helped transform the city as the company continued to grow, expanding its influence both locally and globally. Today it’s home to a world-class art collection at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and has also become a premiere cycling destination.  

I applaud Arkansans who had the vision to preserve our landscape and support the growth and development of our communities so future generations can enjoy these opportunities and commemorate their anniversaries. In celebrating these milestones, we can show our appreciation for the past and look ahead with excitement as Arkansas’s distinct natural resources, culture and history shape our lives and instill a deeper love for the world just beyond our front doors.