Last Friday, I spent the evening with eight Central Arkansas families to celebrate National Great Outdoors Month. The event was part of a nationwide "Governor's Capital Campout," and Arkansas was one of 17 states to participate this year.
It was the perfect evening for a campfire, s'mores and stories. As we gathered around a campfire at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, it was hard to miss the excitement of the kids and parents enjoying nature together -- many experiencing camping outdoors for the very first time.
The world of outdoor living has always been a big part of my life. Growing up in rural Northwest Arkansas, I spent my childhood surrounded by nature -- literally. My brother and I had bedrooms on the very top floor of my family's old farm house, which of course had no air conditioning.
During the summer months, we would take our bed sheets and pillows to go sleep outside and get some relief from the heat. As we enjoyed the cool nighttime breeze, I fell in love with the sounds that make up nature's symphony -- crickets chirping, frogs croaking and the gentle breeze rustling through the trees. Still today, those sounds are music to my ears.
Not only did I grow up in that environment, I raised my children to love the outdoors as well. They're all grown now, and they seem to enjoy recalling memories of our camping trips. They always talk about my camping skills -- or as they would put it -- my lack of camping skills.
When they were teenagers, we went camping on top of Mount Magazine. It was March and it had been pretty cold. As night approached, we wanted to start a fire. I, however, forgot to bring the matches. So there we were on the tallest point in the entire state -- unable to start a fire, but I absolutely refused to leave. I don't think they'll ever let me live that one down. But I love our state parks, camping and all that the Natural State has to offer.
This summer, Arkansas's travel and hospitality industries are starting on a strong note. Our tourism tax collections are 7.8 percent ahead of last year's revenues, which were also up from the previous year. Low gas prices and great weather are making it easy to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the Natural State. And last weekend, I did just that at the "Governor's Capital Campout."
Our state parks are not only great for your physical and mental health, recreation, and timeless family memories, they're great for the economy, too. As the nation celebrates National Great Outdoors Month in June, I encourage you to take your family on an unforgettable Arkansas outdoor adventure. You could make a kayaking trip through the class four rapids at Cossatot River State Park, take in the beautiful scenery at Cedar Falls, or spend a night or two camping out with your family at Mississippi River State Park.
You can't go wrong spending time at any one of Arkansas's 37 state parks. And remember, even when you forget the matches, the memories you'll make at any Arkansas state park will last a lifetime.