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A new Arkansas state council will promote outdoor recreation and boost public health and tourism, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced this week.

Sanders’ latest executive order establishes the volunteer Natural State Initiative and Natural State Advisory Council. Among its duties are coordinating with various state departments to support and expand outdoor recreation businesses, maintain and connect the state’s trail systems, and train a growing outdoor recreation workforce.

“Outdoor recreation is a powerful economic engine and a gateway to improved quality of life and positive health outcomes for all Arkansans,” the order states, pointing to the state’s many scenic rivers, lakes, forests and mountains. “Arkansas must seize this momentum and further establish the Natural State as a leader in the outdoor economy and a destination for outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.”

Outdoor recreation and related spending accounted for $3.5 billion in the state’s economy and almost 40,000 jobs in 2021, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The new advisory group’s mission echoes several Northwest Arkansas initiatives, including the Northwest Arkansas Council’s continuing focus on coordinating workforce development and making the region a more attractive and healthier place to live.

Investments by the Walton Family Foundation and other partners over several years have helped make the region a premier cycling destination with hundreds of miles of paved and unpaved trails. The U.S. National Mountain Bike Team earlier this year to choose Bentonville as its training ground for the 2028 Olympic Games.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission since 2016 also has encouraged communities to follow a voluntary Open Space Plan that aims to preserve open spaces, along with their numerous benefits, as the region grows.

“We know that the outdoors have tremendous value, not only in dollars and cents but in health and well-being as well,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “This new initiative from the governor will help our region, and the state as a whole, protect and grow that value.”

Special thanks to our major investors for their support of the Northwest Arkansas Council and our work in the region: