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Secretary of Arkansas Parks, Heritage and Tourism steps down after less than 6 months

by Michael R. Wickline | June 2, 2023 at 5:40 p.m.
Mike Mills (left) and Shea Lewis are shown in these photos taken in 2023 and 2021, respectively. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Friday, June 2, 2023 that Mills, the secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, is stepping away from her administration after five months. Sanders said she had appointed Lewis, the director of Arkansas State Parks, to serve as interim secretary. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins; right, courtesy photo)

The secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism has resigned after less than six months.

Mike Mills' nomination to lead the department was announced in December by then-Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders. His resignation was confirmed Friday by Sanders spokeswoman Alexa Henning.

The governor said she has appointed Shea Lewis, currently the director of Arkansas State Parks, to serve as interim secretary.

“Arkansas is the Natural State, and with his strong record of leadership in Arkansas parks and tourism, Shea Lewis is perfectly equipped to step seamlessly into this new role and continue our work to grow our outdoor economy and make Arkansas an unparalleled place to live, work, and raise a family,” Sanders said in a news release. “I thank Secretary Mills for his service to this administration and years of work as a pioneer in Arkansas’ tourism industry.”

Mills is the founder and owner of Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca, which was Arkansas' first log cabin resort. From 1982 to 1986 he served as Arkansas' director of tourism, where he started Partners in Tourism. He was inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame in 2018.

When Sanders announced Mills' nomination to lead Parks, Heritage and Tourism in December, she praised him as "one of the premier outdoor recreation and tourism leaders not only in the state of Arkansas but across the country."

“Arkansas is the Natural State, and from our unparalleled natural beauty to our world-class outdoor recreation to our rich cultural heritage, we have an incredible story to tell," Sanders added in December. "Together, we will share it with the rest of the nation and the world and take our state to the next level."

In December, Sanders said she based her decision to nominate Mills on his skills at maximizing the "outdoor economy" in Arkansas.

"There is nobody who spends more time living, loving and enjoying the outdoors," Sanders said.

Lewis was selected as the 10th director of Arkansas State Parks in 2022, according to the governor's office, In that role, he was responsible for the day-to-day operation of 52 state parks found in 48 counties, covering 55,000 acres across the state. He started his career with Arkansas State Parks as a seasonal park interpreter in 1995, and he has also served as a full-time interpreter, park superintendent, region supervisor, and deputy director for Arkansas State Parks. 


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