The common reaction I get from people when they find out I spent 30 years in Alaska is "I'd sure like to go there sometime," and I wonder, "Have you checked out Arkansas lately? "The Natural State" is not just our motto; it is also a reality. Arkansas can be just as spectacular as Alaska. Summer is a good time to take the kids and explore our wonderful state.
Since coming to Arkansas 20 years ago, my wife and I have explored the four corners of the state, staying in many of the state parks, as well as Corps of Engineer parks. When travelling alone, I often tent and when travelling with Pearl, we stay in our RV. Either way, I have been happy to see the parks being used by families enjoying the out of doors: kids on bicycles, swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and camp cooking.
Thirty-one state parks offer campsites, four of them have lodges, 11 of them offer cabins for rent, and three of them have golf courses. There are also many National Park Service camp grounds in Arkansas, many Forest Service campgrounds, and many National Forest campgrounds. These various facilities cover the spectrum from most amenities a camper could want to primitive sites with basic outhouses and no washroom facilities. Our state parks include much more than camping. Many of them incorporate museums and scientific attractions. Some of them sponsor educational events to help people enjoy the out of doors even more. It was at Lake Charles State Park several years ago that I took a class in Dutch oven cooking. The class included a Dutch oven which I use regularly.
A web site that will help you plan an outing to our parks is ArkansasStateParks.com. A good book to help in your planning is “Arkansas Adventure Guide.” It can be obtained at various tourist centers or from the web site Arkansas.com. The adventure guide lists the many campsites of the various agencies as well as private RV parks. It lists innumerable hiking and back packing trails and a number of multi-use trails for ATV’s, mountain bikes, and motorcycles, including maps. If you want to get out into nature but aren’t fond of hiking, there is also a section on back country drives along with maps.
There are serious reasons to get our kids out into nature. In 2005, Richard Louv published “Last Child in the Woods.” A quote by Bernice Weissbound, contributing editor to “Parents” magazine, appears on the cover and says, “Nature is a key factor in children becoming sensitive, expressive, and essentially human.” Louv says we need to save our children from “nature-deficit disorder.” There are serious mental health reasons to do so.
Louv says, “A widening circle of researchers believes that the loss of natural habitat, or the disconnection from nature even when it is available, has enormous implications for human health and child development. They say the quality of exposure to nature affects our health at an almost cellular level.… humans have an innate affinity for the natural world, probably a biologically based need integral to our development as individuals.”
I can’t help compare my own nature rich boyhood with the video game environment of today’s youth. We lived on the edge of town in my pre-school and early elementary years. My brothers and I went out the back door, across the alley and we were in the woods where we spent hours and hours discovering periwinkles, tad poles, pine tree pitch, and how to dam a stream. We climbed huge sand stones and wore out our shoes and trousers sliding down them. Even when we moved, we were never far from the woods where we spent hours of free time.
How different from what Louv points out: “Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle maintains that each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10 per cent the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders by age seven.”
In another quote, he says, “We can now look at it this way: time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.”
The state and federal governments have spent millions to make it possible and easy for families to make “The Natural State” more than a motto, and there are very serious reasons to do so.
In a recent cartoon, Ziggy was standing on the scales and his doctor was saying, “I’m taking you off the food channel and putting you on the exercise channel.” This summer, let’s help our kids do more than just change channels. Making time to play in the great Arkansas outdoors is a terrific way to get them away from the inactivity of TV, their video games, and their computers.