Weekly Columns

President Woodrow Wilson signed into law legislation creating the National Park Service to support the conservation and preservation of lands for the enjoyment of future generations on August 25, 1916. This idea had been evolving for decades as leading conservationists worked to protect the lands they loved from development. As we mark the 107th birthday of the National Park Service, we celebrate Arkansas’s treasures and recognize ongoing efforts to improve stewardship of our nation’s most precious sites and landmarks.  

Earlier this month, Pea Ridge National Military Park celebrated a 140-acre land donation from The Conservation Fund to complete the area within the park’s envisioned boundaries.

I was honored to join events commemorating this milestone and the collaboration of private and public entities working together to preserve the history, protect the habitat, and ensure the park is a place for learning and reflection in the years to come. 

Pea Ridge National Military Park is a unique historical site within a dynamic region with so much cultural significance. Fortunately, many Arkansans can experience all it has to offer with relative ease.

While most people associate Pea Ridge with the Civil War battle, it also serves as home to another historic piece in the fabric of Arkansas’s and our nation’s story: the Butterfield Overland Mail Route.

From 1857 to 1861, this trail made it easier to transport mail and goods to the western frontier. This route truly helped facilitate America’s westward expansion. It is a symbol of the pioneering spirit we still seek to embody.

I was proud to champion its designation as a National Historic Trail and work with local citizens, national organizations and government agencies to highlight its importance to our nation’s history. Congress passed the legislation and the president signed it into law in January 2023.

Formally recognizing its important historical significance will help educate others about Arkansas’s role in the growth and development of our country.  

The National Park Service helps make historic locations and beloved landscapes accessible to all visitors, and it’s particularly important that the men and women who served our nation in uniform have that opportunity to explore these gems.  

That’s why I was proud to support a measure last Congress that offers veterans and Gold Star Families free lifetime access to these sites.  

The Alexander Lofgren Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act made law a Department of Interior program that provides a free pass to these heroes. We expanded this idea by creating a lifetime pass and launching an annual pass for current servicemembers, which can be easily converted into a lifetime pass once they leave active duty.  

Time outdoors has proven to be a successful tool to help veterans heal from the invisible wounds of war. Ensuring those called to serve have access to these lands is the least we can do to demonstrate our appreciation for their sacrifice.

Passes are available online, including on the National Park Service website, and at many national park and federal recreation sites to those presenting the correct documentation. 

More than a century after the creation of the National Park Service, the commitment to maintain access to the beautiful landscapes we’re blessed with is unyielding. In recent years, Congress has made significant investments to conserve the spaces that help define America. I’m pleased to support these efforts and will continue advocating for measures to preserve public land so generations to come have access to the many blessings they provide.