Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday announced the creation of the Arkansas Office of Outdoor Recreation, a 10-member advisory board to guide that office, and the addition of the 459-acre Blue Mountain to the state's outdoor recreation opportunities.
The governor also signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service that will allow the state to offer more recreational opportunities at Lake Sylvia Recreation Area and the adjacent Camp Ouachita, the only surviving Girl Scout Camp constructed by the Works Progress Administration.
This news follows an April announcement of a $6 million effort led by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas to conserve Blue Mountain, the westernmost peak in the Maumelle Pinnacles chain. The state now has charge of all three mountains in the chain, which includes Pinnacle Mountain and Rattlesnake Ridge.
"This is an exciting time for the state, whenever you think about — what is it — $9 billion dollars of economic benefit that comes from outdoor recreation that is simply consumer spending in our site; 96,000 direct jobs that come from outdoor recreation; as well as just simply the pure benefit of hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, birdwatching, all down the list," Hutchinson said. "Whatever it is, the joy is there whenever we have such a blessed and natural state of Arkansas."
Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas, and Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism, joined the governor at Monday's announcement.
The new office will be part of Hurst's department. A search is underway for a director.
Hurst said 16 states have created an office of outdoor recreation or a task force to grow their outdoor recreation economies. Arkansas is one of the first Southern states to do so, she said.
"Benefits include not just economic growth through increased tourism dollars or jobs, but improved health and wellness for residents and visitors," Hurst said.
The governor said the office's advisory board will include private sector representatives. He named four members on Monday:
- Bill Barnes, owner and CEO of Mountain Harbor Resort;
- Mike Mills, owner of the Buffalo Outdoor Center;
- Robin McClendon, president of SeaArk Boats; and
- George Dunklin Jr., former chairman of Ducks Unlimited and owner of the Five Oaks Hunting Lodge.
The governor's office said outdoor recreation contributes nearly $10 billion a year to Arkansas' economy, supports 96,000 jobs worth $2.5 billion and generates $698 million in local and state tax revenue.