The first of this month marked the 15th anniversary of the Conservation Sales Tax, Amendment 75, beginning to benefit us all.
Arkansas voters approved the measure in the November 1996 general election, with 45 percent of the proceeds going to the Game and Fish Commission, 45 percent to State Parks, 9 percent to the Heritage Department and 1 percent to Keep Arkansas Beautiful.
Some notable projects have taken place with this infusion of new money — your and our money. It is a 1/8th of 1 percent general sales tax, a penny for every $12.50 purchase we make.
For Game and Fish, the agency promised three things — more enforcement, more public land and more education about the outdoors.
The result has been something like 52 more wildlife officers hired, trained and put into service. Major land acquisitions have been the Grandview, Raft Creek and Choctaw Island wildlife management areas plus Moro Big Pine WMA, a partnership facility, and the Richland Creek addition to Gene Rush WMA.
Education came in the form of four nature centers at Pine Bluff, Jonesboro, Fort Smith and Little Rock plus four education centers at Grandview, Cook’s Lake, Crooked Creek and Ponca.
The State Parks portion of the Conservation Sales Tax can be highlighted by Mount Magazine State Park, a tremendous addition to Arkansas parks. Mount Magazine Lodge is a spectacular crown jewel, a "must" Arkansas destination nowadays.
If you haven’t visited Mount Magazine Lodge, a recommendation is to do so, even if it is only a drive and a lunch. The place is worth seeing and worth showing off to out-of-state visitors.
Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park has been renovated, and it also is worth a visit — just a 38-mile drive from Conway.
Coming on strong in east Arkansas are two state park additions. Mississippi River State Park is developing on some of the St. Francis National Forest, including Bear Creek Lake and Storm Creek Lake. It is north of Helena-West Helena.
Delta Heritage Trail State Park, when completed, will run from Lexa (west of Helena) to Cypress Bend (east of McGehee), and it uses 73 miles of the abandoned Union Pacific railroad bed.
Some other state park additions since the sales tax money started coming in are visitors centers at several parks, including Lake Dardanelle and Bull Shoals.
It is nice to have a state park with picnic tables and campgrounds, and it is even better to use exhibits, programs, guided walks and other means to learn and appreciate the locale.
The Heritage Department has acquired a slew of significant natural areas all over the state. These preserve bits and pieces of uniqueness across Arkansas, and most of them are open for public uses including hunting.
We visited recently with Rick Evans at his office in Calion (Union County). He is a former commissioner with AGFC, and his name is on the front end of the Grandview acquisition — Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Wildlife Management Area. This is west of Hope.
An education center is part of Grandview, using facilities of an old privately owned hunting preserve with some additions. Evans said, "What really pleases me is seeing those school buses pull up to the education center and let out a bunch of fourth graders."
Teaching kids about the Arkansas outdoors is vital and in itself worth chipping in a penny for every $12.50 we spend at a store.