By Dustin Jayroe / Photos Courtesy of Keep Arkansas Beautiful
The slogan, “the Natural State,” has long been the descriptor for the state of Arkansas. It’s simple and concise, but also bigger than itself. Our many lakes and rivers, mountains and valleys, all flow through those three words, each contributing to the life cycle of our beautiful state in their own unique ways.
But it might surprise people to remember that this was not always so. Arkansas has had several different nicknames over the years. In 1923, the Arkansas General Assembly officially adopted the phrase, “Wonder State,” which would hold true for 30 years. But in 1953, the General Assembly weighed in again, and replaced it with a popular moniker that had been picking up steam for a decade, “The Land of Opportunity.”
Arkansas as the Land of Opportunity meant a great deal to the state. Its origin stemmed from a group of Little Rock businessmen, known as the Committee of 100, who were working vigorously to promote economic development in the state and dispel the notion that Arkansas was largely underdeveloped and backward, a southern stye out of touch with the rest of the country.
Despite the importance of the nickname, it too found an eventual replacement, one that proved to be of even greater meaning and relevance to the state. Something that speaks to the pride that all Arkansans feel for home — no matter what they do, where they live, or where they end up. In 1995, Act 1352 officially recognized Arkansas as “the Natural State.”
This distinction is not only a description but also a promise, a duty that all Arkansans have in upholding such ideals, in living true to the words on every license plate. It’s a vow to our state that we will keep it so, hold it dear and not destroy it with every other activity we involve ourselves in.
Few live this promise better than the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission.
Keep Arkansas Beautiful was created in 1997 through Act 1278. It is a state agency, a division of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, and one of four that share the 1/8 cent Conservation Tax. It is a small operation, generally limited to a staff of three and statewide volunteers, but its impact is large, a credit to the man in charge.
At its core, the commission has a simple mission, one against trash, which is one of the biggest detriments to any state’s landscape. But the branches from that stalk are far-reaching.
“I’m not from this space at all,” says Mark Camp, executive director of Keep Arkansas Beautiful. “I’ve just been an anti-litter guy, just like Gov. Asa Hutchinson. [Litter] really bothers him a lot, and I’m the same way. I just had an opportunity to spend some time here and try to have an impact. But my impact is, ‘How do we change?’ — wake up in 10 years and what’s different? I don’t want to be better at cleaning up other people’s messes.”
But that is an activity that the commission has committed a clean sweep. It hosts two big projects every year, the Great American Cleanup which is running now through the end of June, and the Great Arkansas Cleanup which takes place in the fall. Camp estimates that around 15,000 Arkansans are registered and actively volunteer with Keep Arkansas Beautiful for such events. In addition to the major cleanups, Keep Arkansas Beautiful also has other awareness-related campaigns, which lately have included advertising, such as billboards, and partnerships, such as the one with the Little Rock Zoo — getting in front of people with the message in as many ways as possible.
But the most important thing that the commission does, in Camp’s mind, is education, primarily revolving around prevention so that such large scale cleaning up is not so necessary.
However, he is well aware that adults are creatures of habit, set in the ways ingrained in them for decades. Adults are harder to change and impress the need for change. Children, on the other hand, are a different story.
It’s easier to do your part in preserving our state’s beauty than ever before. To engage with Keep Arkansas Beautiful, either through volunteerism or coordinating an event yourself, visit keeparkansasbeautiful.com
At home, take stock of your life and tally up any unnecessary usage and waste you may have. Limit single-use plastics in simple ways through reusable water bottles and straws. If your city offers curbside recycling pick-up, make sure you know what is accepted and what’s not. If your bin is contaminated with food waste or an item that is not recyclable, it can often mean that your waste and any others affected will end up in a landfill.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an estimated 8 million metric tons of new plastic enters the ocean every year. To put that in perspective, that amount would equal the weight of around 90 aircraft carriers. But the problem with plastic is that, unlike other types of waste we discard routinely, it does not decompose and can last nearly forever. It wreaks havoc on the health of our oceans which in turn will negatively affect our lives if we do not stop the bleeding.