WASHINGTON (USDI) — Just days before the release of a 50-state report outlining some of the country's most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today highlighted two projects in the state of Arkansas that will be included in the final report — representing what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country.
Extension of the Delta Heritage Trail from Helena to Arkansas City and the Arkansas River Trail from downtown Little Rock to West Little Rock are among 100 projects nationwide that will be highlighted in next week's report — two in every state — as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
The report is a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement AGO in their states. These projects were identified for their potential to conserve important lands and build recreation opportunities and economic growth for the surrounding communities as part of close engagement with Gov. Mike Beebe and the state of Arkansas, as well as private landowners, local- and tribal-elected officials, community organizations and outdoor-recreation and conservation stakeholders. The full 50-state report will be released in the coming weeks.
"Under the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, we are listening to the people of Arkansas and communities across America and working with them on locally-based projects that will conserve the beauty and health of our land and water and open up more opportunities for people to enjoy them," Salazar said. "My staff and I have been asking each governor for the most promising projects to support in their states, and we will do all we can to help move them forward."
The two projects in Arkansas highlighted by Salazar in the forthcoming report are:
Arkansas State Parks acquired the Delta Heritage Trail in 1993 when the abandoned Union Pacific Rail line was converted to the "Rails to Trails" program. Ultimately, the state hopes to complete a 73-mile hiking and biking trail through the heart of the delta that would provide recreational access to a largely inaccessible area.
The area includes vital habitat for 265 species of neotropical migratory and resident songbirds and is the most important wintering area for mallard ducks in the United States. Designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, the area includes the largest contiguous block of bottomland hardwood forest remaining on any tributary of the Mississippi River.
The state has now completed 14 miles of the trail and there is an opportunity to build more. The trail skirts the White River National Wildlife Refuge and Rohwer Relocation Center Cemetery National Historic Landmark, part of the National Park Service-managed Japanese American Confinement Sites Program. It also runs along the Osotuoy Unit of Arkansas Post National Monument.
When completed, the project promises to provide greater opportunities for outdoor recreation, to increase public understanding of the diverse landscapes of the Arkansas delta, and to enhance partnerships between Interior, agricultural interests, state agencies, and environmental organizations. It also will engage young people in outdoor recreation and education.
The Department of the Interior will work with each of its key bureaus — including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — to direct available resources and personnel to make these projects a reality.
"The America's Great Outdoors Initiative turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government's role in conservation on its head," Salazar said. "Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, locally driven initiatives."
For more information on the President's America's Great Outdoors initiative, click here.