February 2020 Magazine Sports/Outdoors Tourism

Outdoor Recreation is Big Business in Arkansas


Arkansas Game and Fish Commission


The Natural State has over 100,000 miles of streams and rivers, 600,000 acres of lakes, five world-class Epic Rides mountain biking trails, hundreds of miles of trails and over 3.2 million acres of public land. 


“Arkansas is in a great position to serve the needs of outdoor enthusiasts,” says Joe Jacobs of Arkansas State Parks. “The state is a destination for road and mountain bikers, hunters, fishing enthusiasts, kayakers and canoeists, water skiers, rock climbers, hikers, trail runners, campers, plus its scenic driving including very popular motorcycle routes, off-roading and more.”


Communities across Arkansas recognize that outdoor recreation supports healthy lifestyles, contributes to a high quality of life, attracts employers and perhaps most importantly, is a great way to boost the local economy.


Hot Springs, the quirky resort city situated in the picturesque Ouachita Mountains, has a lot going for it. Arkansas’ No. 1 tourist destination is known for the natural hot springs that spawned a national park and gave the city its name, the fabled bathhouses attracting visitors from across the country and of course and the thoroughbred racetrack and casino at Oaklawn.


But most Arkansans associate Hot Springs with its lakes, and outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the local economy.


Activities centered on the area’s lakes are among the top attractions in Hot Springs and helped it account for roughly 9 percent of the state’s total travel expenditure in 2018, according to an independent study commissioned by Garland County. 


“With three lakes surrounding our city, fishing, naturally, is a major component of the attractions that combine to make Hot Springs Arkansas’ No. 1 tourism destination,” says Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs.


Events centered around outdoor recreation and equipment are also a major economic driver for tourism and jobs. For example, the 2019 FLW Forrest Wood Cup national bass fishing championship was held on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. The event is estimated to have had an economic impact on the city of $26 million, Arrison says. “Our annual Hot Springs Fishing Challenge, which we conduct in cooperation with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in favorable publicity for the city.


“Since fishing is good year-round, recreational fishing on Lakes Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita provides jobs in a multitude of ways: marinas, equipment sales, boat sales and repairs, lodging and dining establishments,” he notes.


In Arkansas, outdoor recreation accounts for roughly 96,000 direct jobs, $9.7 billion in consumer spending, $2.5 billion in wages and salaries and $698 million in state and local tax revenue. Hunters and anglers alone generate an economic impact of more than $1.6 billion annually. A great deal of the economic benefits from hunters and anglers is felt in rural Arkansas small businesses. 

Duck season delivers $1 millon a day to Stuttgart.

In many instances, these small town gas stations, restaurants and lodging businesses rely on the seasonal traffic generated by resident and non-resident hunters and anglers. These seasonal transplants are even more important as many of these communities continue to feel the impact of urban shifts across the state.


Nothing embodies that connection more than Stuttgart, considered by many the undisputed duck hunting capital of the world. Duck season delivers a staggering economic impact to the city and region as tens of thousands of hunters — from Arkansas, across the country and even the globe — annually converge on the Grand Prairie.


“We did a study about 15 years ago and found that duck season brought in $1 million every day,” says Bethany Hildebrand, executive director of the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce. “Since then those numbers have definitely sustained, if not grown, and I’d say during festival week that amount is doubled.” 


The 84-year-old Wings Over the Prairie Festival, held each year during Thanksgiving week, is responsible for crowds of 40,000 or more.


Not only do local small businesses benefit from the industry — restaurants, bait shops, outdoor outfitters and more — but Arkansas is home to multiple manufacturers that serve outdoor recreation. This includes several industry-leading air gun manufacturers, almost two dozen boat manufacturers, one of the nation’s largest ammunition manufacturers, game-call makers, dozens of bait manufacturers and more.


PRADCO Fishing in Fort Smith employs 200 and is the largest American manufacturer of fishing lures. It ships them throughout the U.S. and to more than 60 countries. The state’s connection to the outdoors fuels its operation.


“Arkansas’ outdoor recreation opportunities have a big impact on PRADCO’s business from both a sales and a research-and-development perspective,” says Bruce Stanton, PRADCO Fishing vice president and general manager. “Even though Arkansas is not a top population state, it has more anglers percentage wise than many states.”


Walmart sells the most PRADCO brands and product sets and despite its relatively low population, Arkansas always ranks among the top 10 states for Walmart sales, Stanton says.


“Because of Arkansas’ diverse and great fisheries, we are able to develop fishing lures for species such as large and smallmouth bass, striped bass, walleye and rainbow and brown trout right here in our home state,” Stanton says.


Whether participant or business, Arkansas’s outdoor recreation resources attract visitors and investors from all over the world. The state’s natural resources are a canvas for great adventures, a healthy quality of life and a strong economy. Arkansas is the Natural State, after all, and connection to the land and water is ingrained into its culture. 


Outdoor recreation fueled by conservation is a catalyst for enjoyment, economic growth and prosperity across the state. Gov. Asa Hutchinson recognizes that this growth presents conservation challenges. “Arkansas has something unique that’s hard to duplicate,” he says. “We need to educate, conserve and preserve what we have so that everyone can enjoy it in the future.” 

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