National Park Week, a presidentially proclaimed celebration of our national heritage, is an ideal time to spotlight the fun and educational adventures you and your family can experience while visiting our national treasures—including the seven Arkansas sites the National Park Service (NPS) maintains.
Hot Springs National Park is the most famous of those sites. Congress noted the importance of the area’s 47 thermal springs by designating it the first federal reservation in 1832. Today, you can take a drive through the park’s scenic mountain roads, explore Bathhouse Row and even take a traditional bath at the two remaining bathhouses in operation.
America’s first national river is among the other NPS administered sites in Arkansas. Proclaimed a national river in 1972, Buffalo National River flows for 135 miles and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states. Take in the beauty of one of the country’s greatest natural treasures while canoeing a stretch of it or camping out alongside it.
We have plenty of history to show off in Arkansas, and NPS is working to ensure it is protected and shared. The agency manages the Arkansas Post, the first European settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley region, established by the French in 1686. The Arkansas Post, which is seven miles south of Gillett, became part of the United States during the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
At Pea Ridge National Military Park, NPS works to preserve the site of an 1862 Civil War battle that gave the Union total control of Missouri and northern Arkansas. Today, the Pea Ridge Military Park encompasses 4,300 acres and features a reconstructed Elkhorn Tavern and a 2.5-mile segment of the “Trail of Tears.” It is the most intact Civil War battlefield in the United States.
NPS also manages the Fort Smith National Historic Site which includes the remains of two frontier forts and the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas, which became known as “Hanging Judge Isaac C. Parker’s court” for its namesake’s penchant for sentencing the guilty to death by hanging. The forts, court and jail have been restored in addition to reconstructed gallows on the premises. The museum documents the court’s impact on the Indian Territory (Oklahoma), U.S. Marshals, outlaws and regional history.
In Little Rock, Central High School National Historic Site serves as a reminder of the nation’s struggle over school desegregation. Located across the intersection from the school, where nine African-American teenagers defied an angry mob and entered the school for the first time, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center contains interactive exhibits on the 1957 desegregation fight and several audio-visual programs that introduce visitors to the complex history of leading up to the event.
Arkansas’s newest national park site is the home where our 42nd president grew-up. Located in Hope, President William Jefferson Clinton’s birthplace provides some of the nation’s recent history with an Arkansas angle.
The NPS sites in Arkansas are valuable assets for our state’s tourism industry. Over 2.7 million people visited them in 2013. In 2012, visitors to our NPS sites brought almost $139 million in tourism revenue to our state. National Park Week is a good reminder that these unique sites are right here in our backyard. Let’s be sure to utilize, share and appreciate the history and beauty in the Natural State.