Our fondest hope for 2021 is for successful vaccines and an end to the pandemic. In Sunday's column, I listed other things I would like to see happen next year. I ran out of room, so here are additional things I want to see during the next 12 months:
I would like to see Arkansans support their local daily and weekly newspapers. Democracy suffers without media watchdogs. We've seen far too many newspapers die in recent years across Arkansas. In numerous cities and counties, there are no longer reporters to keep an eye on school boards, city councils and county quorum courts. Fortunately, we have a publisher here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who's committed to putting out a strong statewide newspaper seven days a week while finding new ways to get information into the hands of readers. Thank you for subscribing, but we can't cover it all. The small dailies and weeklies are important. In addition to supporting your statewide newspaper, support local publications with subscriptions and advertising dollars.
I would like to see Arkansans also support radio stations that cover local news. In an era of corporate ownership and satellite programs produced outside the state, these types of stations are becoming rare. You can ensure the stability of such stations with your advertising dollars. You'll miss them once they're gone.
I would like to see us get serious about keeping this state clean. God gave us a gorgeous place to call home, but we sure like to trash it up. There should be dozens of Keep America Beautiful chapters formed across the state with thousands of volunteers picking up trash, planting wildflowers and doing other things to improve the quality of life for Arkansas residents. Outside of the state's natural beauty, the things that strike me most as I travel Arkansas are the junk in yards and trash along the highways. It's high time we clean up our act.
I would like to see business and civic leaders quit viewing economic development as simply landing manufacturing plants. You've been stuck in that mode since the 1950s, and it's no longer working. Focus instead on the things that attract educated, talented people--revitalized downtowns, improved parks, biking and hiking trails, restaurants and craft breweries, historic preservation. Economic development has changed in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. We still have many chamber of commerce types out there who haven't gotten the message.
I would like to see the trustees at both the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University get serious about an annual football game between the Razorbacks and Red Wolves. They must realize that this is about so much more than sports. It's about an annual celebration of Arkansas' culture, an event that's needed more than ever these days. The game should be played each year at a central location--War Memorial Stadium at Little Rock--as the main attraction of a weekend festival of all things Arkansas. This could include concerts, art exhibits, a food festival, other sports events and more.
I would like to see ESPN's "College GameDay" do its show from Arkadelphia on the day of the Battle of the Ravine between Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University. ESPN has never aired the show from an NCAA Division II school, and this is the nation's greatest small college football rivalry. It's also something every Arkansan should experience at least once. The Battle of the Ravine is the only college football game in the country in which the visiting team walks--rather than flying or taking a bus--to a road game.
I would like to see success for the Murphy Arts District at El Dorado. There's a whole region--not just south Arkansas but also parts of north Louisiana and east Texas--that's a bit of a cultural desert. El Dorado should be the place that residents from three states come for live music, art, fine dining, wine festivals and the like. The concept is a solid one. The pandemic can't end soon enough. The folks at MAD are ready to get busy again.
I would like to see the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put more of an emphasis on the recreational aspects of their congressionally mandated missions. Too many recreational areas have been allowed to deteriorate in a state where tourism was the No. 2 economic sector (behind only agriculture) before the pandemic and will be again once the virus is gone.
I would like to see the six members of the Arkansas congressional delegation put pressure on the Corps and the Forest Service (the power of the purse is something that gets bureaucrats' attention) to ensure this happens.
I would like to see the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism focus more strongly on the Delta Cultural Center at Helena and the Ozark Folk Center at Mountain View. Rural areas of Arkansas are struggling economically these days. These two institutions are helping preserve the Delta and mountain cultures of Arkansas.
I would like to see the state's two largest retirement systems--the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System and the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System--do something along the lines of what the Retirement Systems of Alabama did when it created the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. That trail put Alabama on the map for a lot of high-income people across the country. For Arkansas, I would suggest a series of world-class trout resorts along the White, Little Red and Spring rivers that are heavily marketed to sportsmen in all 50 states and even some foreign countries.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.