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100 Years of Arkansas State Parks


Arkansas is known as the Natural State for good reason, and in 2023, we celebrate 100 years of one of Arkansas’ greatest assets, Arkansas State Parks.

In 1923, the Arkansas legislature passed an act authorizing the commissioner of state lands to accept donations for state parks and the creation of the first and most popular state park in Arkansas, Petit Jean State Park.

Today’s 3,471-acre Petit Jean State Park started with a small but impactful donation of 80 acres surrounding Cedar Falls and part of Cedar Creek Canyon in 1923. That landmark gift to the state, including the famed 95-foot waterfall on Cedar Creek, was the seed that grew into 52 parks covering more than 55,000 acres across 49 counties with 1,800 campsites, 208 cabins, and 5 lodges. Arkansas State Parks are a $1 billion tourism magnet that attracted a record-setting 8 million visitors in 2022.

Photo courtesy of Nik Cagle.

On March 1, 2023, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, joined by parks and tourism leaders past and present at Petit Jean’s Mather Lodge, signed a proclamation celebrating the 100th anniversary and spoke on the beauty of our state’s great outdoors. The event served as a kickoff of a series of celebratory events for Arkansas State Parks.

“It was here long before we got here and will be here long after we’re gone. And we need to do everything we can to protect it and preserve it and make sure we pass that on so that many generations have the ability to enjoy it in the same way that we do,” said Sanders.

For me, the celebration of March 1 hit closer to home. It was a family reunion of sorts, as we were able to visit with so many that have been my husband (Petit Jean State Park Superintendent Joe Buckley) and my state park family for 25 years. Former and current park system directors, tourism directors, state park superintendents, rangers; the people who went where there was no path and built the trails (literally and figuratively), who served their communities well, helping to build an amazing legacy, shaping what is now Arkansas State Parks. To all of them, we are forever grateful.

The yearlong birthday bash will include notable events and upgrades at some of the most popular state parks in Arkansas, plus new programs and initiatives.

Centennial Events

  • Mount Nebo State Park, covering more than 3,000 acres west of Dardanelle, will host a national mountain biking race May 6-7. Part of the Big Mountain Enduro series, the event is a first for an Arkansas State Park. The racecourse at Mount Nebo is part of a monument trail network for world-class mountain biking that includes Hobbs State Park Conservation Area, a 12,056-acre recreation area east of Rogers; Devil’s Den, the 2,500-acre state park south of Fayetteville; and Pinnacle Mountain State Park west of Little Rock. The new visitor center at the 2,356-acre Pinnacle Mountain State Park should be open by fall, barring any more delays caused by supply chain issues.
  • Lake Catherine State Park will reopen March 18 after closing in December to accommodate infrastructure improvements and a general refresh of facilities. The 2,180-acre recreational area southeast of Hot Springs ranked as the eighth-most popular state park based on a visitor count of 363,735 last year.
  • Delta Heritage Bike Trail, a build-out of the 84.5-mile trail, continues.

Club 52

Arkansas State Park has just introduced Club 52 – a rewards club that’s fun, full of adventure and open to anyone. Just pick up your free passport at an Arkansas State Park visitor center and begin recording your travels. At every state park you visit, you get a stamp (plus some memories that will last a lifetime) that will earn you stickers, playing cards, t-shirts and great swag from Club 52. Can you get a stamp from all 52? Watch arkansasstateparks.com for events that will be scheduled throughout this year.

The Natural State Initiative

According to the initiative, an Advisory Council will work with the Arkansas Department of Commerce to “promote both Arkansas’ growing outdoor recreation industry and the economic impact of outdoor infrastructure investment; to recruit new outdoor recreation businesses to Arkansas, to expand existing outdoor recreation businesses, and to foster entrepreneurial growth by using economic development incentives, site selection services, funding, and training resources within the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; and to explore the development of outdoor recreation opportunity zones near state parks.”

The advisory council will also coordinate with the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism to maintain the trail systems at state parks and connect them to regional trail systems, develop a marketing strategy to promote tourism and outdoor recreation in the state and build the outdoor recreation workforce among other things.

More information on 100 years of Arkansas State Parks can be found at ArkansasStateParks.com.


Cover photo courtesy of Nik Cagle

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Stephanie Buckley, aka The Park Wife, Wife+Mom+Founder+Tribe Builder+OG Blogger~ Community Entrepreneur, Southern-born storyteller, ❤️ Jesus. Coffeehouse Owner. Content Curator/Editor for OnlyinArk.com

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3 responses to “100 Years of Arkansas State Parks”

  1. […] 52 state parks in Arkansas and nine regional Nature Centers, plenty of spots exist for extra learning. In […]

  2. […] The cooler weather is the perfect excuse to check off another park on our quest to visit all 52 of Arkansas’s State Parks. Traveling down the highways, we often spot hawks in the trees, on utility poles and along fence […]

  3. […] great outdoors for guests in every nook and cranny of our National Forests, wide-open lakes, State Parks and […]

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