21st May, 2009 | Source : Newsweek Showcase
The scenic beauty of The Natural State appeals to travelers from all over the country. As a result, tourism is a major factor in the state's economy. Travel and tourism expenditures in Arkansas amount to over $3.9 billion each year, contributing over $300 million in state and local taxes. Annual visitation exceeds 19.9 million travelers, providing direct employment for some 57,600 Arkansans, with an additional 27,600 working in support services.
Among the state's greatest assets are its six national park sites, 2.6 million acres of national forest lands, 13 major lakes, and two mountain ranges. Scenic drives lead to breathtaking vistas in the Ozarks and the Ouachitas, more than 9,000 miles of streams and rivers provide incomparable canoeing and fishing opportunities, and over 16,000 publicly and privately owned campsites allow access to the outdoor world in every corner of the state.
Popular visitor destinations include Hot Springs National Park, one of the country's oldest and most visited parks; Eureka Springs, a resort since the 1880's; a water theme park—Wild River Country, and numerous restorations and museums, including Mid-America Science Museum, a "hands on" look at life, energy, matter, and perception. The Buffalo National River was the country's first national river park, and Blanchard Springs Caverns is the major cave find of the 20th century. The Great River Road links eastern Arkansas on a marked route that parallels the Mississippi.
Arkansas' state park system is one of the finest in the country, preserving and interpreting special features of the state's scenic, historic, geologic, and archaeological heritage for this and future generations. Unusual parks include the Ozark Folk Center, where the mountain culture of the pioneers is on display; Crater of Diamonds, where visitors may search for precious stones and keep what they find; Old Washington, one of the state's most historic towns; and Village Creek, the largest park in the system at just under 7,000 acres. Queen Wilhelmina, DeGray, Petit Jean, Devil's Den, Crowley's Ridge, Lake Chicot, and Lake Catherine are other major parks. Impressive new visitors centers at Lake Dardanelle and Mountain Magazine are just some of the improvements and expansions taking place at various Arkansas state parks.