For decades, the National Park Service has made it possible for Arkansans and tourists to enjoy the rich thermal pools of Hot Springs, the steady, winding current of the Buffalo River, the vistas of Pea Ridge National Military Park and the frontier forts and overlook to the Trail of Tears at the Fort Smith National Historic Site. These locations have provided generations of Arkansans a look into our natural resources, a source of recreation and a link to history. The preservation of these natural and cultural sites is important to who we are as a country. This month we celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service and its commitment to protecting our country’s heritage and beauty.
The National Park Service protects 412 sites on more than 84 million acres of land. These special places are cared for by more than 20,000 employees and 221,000 volunteers. They serve more than 300 million visitors each year.
The National Park Service has long been important to the Natural State. More than three million visitors come to Arkansas’s seven National Park Service sites generating more than $174 million to our economy annually. Our parks protect eight threatened and endangered species.
To celebrate the Park Service sites and the adventures and beauty experienced by visitors, special events, programs and challenges have and will continue to take place to commemorate the centennial and prepare the parks for another 100 years of visitors.
The National Park Service sponsored new projects in Arkansas as part of its Centennial Challenge program. In Pea Ridge National Memorial Park, the Centennial Challenge program helped replace wayside exhibits. At the Buffalo National River, the program helped develop the Explorers for Health program, which more than 300 people participated in. The program hosted a Special Olympics Day in May, bringing the community together to pursue health, wellness and enjoyment. The Buffalo National River also used the grant program to create the Toney Bend Environmental Education Center, where visitors to the park can learn more about the nation’s first national river.
In the Centennial Iron Ranger Program, Arkansas parks challenge visitors to hike, bike, paddle, roll, walk or run 100 miles cumulatively to earn a special commemorative patch. Arkansans can enjoy a visit to the Arkansas Post National Memorial, the Buffalo National River, Fort Smith National Historic Site, Hot Springs National Park, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Pea Ridge National Military Park, the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail to participate.
This preservation of sites in Arkansas and across the country will benefit future generations and ensure the legacy of these national treasures are just as beautiful as they are today. Our national parks are one of our nation’s greatest treasures. Thanks to the National Park Service, the beauty of these unique sites are being preserved for generations to come.