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Today I’d like to talk about the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, in Arkansas, the state with enough lakes, rivers, hiking trails, and outdoor festivals to accommodate 3 million Arkansans and visitors as we celebrate the 246 years of our Nation’s independence. And of particular importance, is our beautiful state parks.
The Arkansas State Park System, which will turn 100 next year, is one of the best benefits of living in the Natural State. The system attracts families and companies that are considering a move to Arkansas.
Petit Jean, Arkansas’s first state park, opened in 1923 when the Fort Smith Lumber Company decided that the area was too difficult for logging. Dr. T.W. Hardison, the Arkansas-born doctor who was the company’s physician, suggested preserving the area as a park. The National Park System declined because the area wasn’t large enough. But Arkansas’s General Assembly liked the idea, and legislators established Petit Jean State Park in 1923.
In the 99 years since, Dr. Hardison’s effort to preserve one forest has expanded to 52 state parks. Employees of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the trails and cabins, and much of the infrastructure during the Great Depression.
Arkansas state parks offer experiences for adventurers at all levels. You can explore the culture and spirit of Arkansas at the Ozark Folk Center, and listen to the musicians who play late into the night on Mountain View’s square. You can watch the sunset at Sunset Point on Mount Nebo, learn Arkansas history at the Arkansas Post Museum, float the river at Cossatot River State Park, or learn to smith a knife at Historic Washington State Park, where James Bowie, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett passed on their travels.
The state park system was designed to ensure that Arkansans could always explore the beauty of the outdoors and history, not far from their backyard. That’s why there is a state park within 60 miles of every Arkansan home. So you’re never too far from experiencing what makes Arkansas great!
The State Parks are offering a variety of ways to spend the Fourth of July: At Historic Washington State Park, a reading of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence with Mr. Jefferson in full Revolutionary garb; at Lake DeGray, a Freedom Fun Run; and at our first state park, Petit Jean, the annual 4th of July Fun and Games Day includes a Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest and wheelbarrow races.
For those who like to set goals or keep track of their travels, we offer a State Park Passport that you can have stamped at the visitor’s center at every park.
Through the hard work of thousands of people, our state parks have achieved Dr. Hardison’s vision and aspirations. Our parks preserve the history, culture, and beauty of our natural state, and offer us a place to experience the beauty of our state every day of the year, and on special days such as the Fourth of July.