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Summer always brings back memories of my family’s road trips to Petit Jean State Park and other adventures around Arkansas. Whether I was in the back seat as a kid or driving my own daughters, there was always a lot to see and do as we explored the state.
I know many families in Arkansas are making tough choices about vacations this year. It’s harder to visit friends and family, enjoy some downtime on a vacation or transport school-age children to camps and other activities as rampant inflation and record-high gas prices take a bigger bite out of families’ budgets. Still, lots of folks are doing what they’ve always done – finding a way to make things work while creating as little disruption to their normal lives and routines as possible.
I recently took a road trip to see how families and communities are weathering these challenging times. Each stop underscored the strength of our citizens, various challenges and opportunities they’re confronting and the common bonds we all share as proud Americans and Natural State residents.
Traveling to a variety of towns and cities gives me the opportunity to receive updates on important local projects as well as understand more intimately how national issues are playing out in homes and on streets throughout our state. That’s exactly what the Senate’s In-State Work Periods are designed to do and why I aim to hit the road during them.
Touring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hydroelectric power plant in Ozark with Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR-4) was a great way to start. Many Arkansans know this site at the Ozark-Jeta Taylor Lock and Dam for its excellent camping and fishing. But, in addition to its role in recreation, the hydropower generated at the Ozark Powerhouse plays a critical role in ensuring the power grid has the capability to support demand, particularly in the summer when power usage peaks.
From there we were off to the races, making stops across western and northern Arkansas. In Mulberry and Pea Ridge, I talked to stakeholders about anti-hunger efforts and policies I’ve championed to ensure students in need have access to healthy meals all year long.
I also made time to speak at the National Be Pro Be Proud conference in Northwest Arkansas. Workforce development and skilled training are only becoming more important, so I’m excited by the model our state is building in this area.
Next, I made my way over to the scenic and vibrant communities of Mountain Home, Fifty-Six, Mountain View and Heber Springs as part of my commitment to sitting down with local officials to discuss concerns and priorities. Joining Congressman Rick Crawford (AR-1) to address the continued closure of Blanchard Springs Caverns to the public with the U.S. Forest Service was an especially important item given the caves are one of our state’s most popular destinations.
After the July Fourth holiday, I set out for the River Valley and Southwest Arkansas for more opportunities to get feedback from businesses, elected officials and community advocates.
In Fort Smith, I talked agriculture policy with a poultry company and then got an update on the preparations at Ebbing Air National Guard Base for the new missions coming to the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 188th Wing, which the congressional delegation worked tirelessly to bring to fruition.
Then we turned the car south on Highway 71 to events in Waldron, De Queen and Texarkana to talk economic development, transportation and health care before heading to central Arkansas to tour a local business poised to mark its 100th anniversary. We closed out the trip at a roundtable to share with Natural State veterans about recently passed initiatives I’ve championed that will improve their benefits and services.
It was a busy, but productive two weeks out and about, listening to and learning from the people of our state. That’s where the solutions to problems come from and there’s no substitute for getting face-to-face for these important conversations.
As summer continues and more Arkansans hit the road, I will be taking their input back to Washington. At a time when we seem to be facing multiple crises directly impacting everyday Americans, that concept is more important than ever.