We have successfully tackled some tough issues in the 92nd General Assembly, but not everything I sign is as serious as a highway-funding bill, raising teacher pay, or reducing the state’s top income-tax rate.
Both of the bills I want to discuss today involve highways and tourism.
The first bill, House Bill 1414, designates the Camden Expedition Scenic Highway, and guides Civil War tourists through Southern and Central Arkansas connecting five battlefields and other Civil War historic sites, including the Confederate State Capitol Building in Historic Washington State Park in Hempstead County; the Elkins’ Ferry Battlefield in Clark and Nevada counties; Fort Lookout on Rogers Street in Camden, Ouachita County; Fort Southerland on Bradley Ferry Road in Camden; Jenkins’ Ferry Battleground State Park in Grant County; and the Poison Springs Battleground State Park in Ouachita County, among others.
This designation is important both for the preservation of Arkansas history and for attracting the Civil War enthusiasts who come to our state to see the sites. These sites create jobs, they produce local and state tax revenue, and they bring business to the local economies. Because we have preserved so many of our sites, we have given the Civil War tourists a reason to stay longer.
The second bill, House Bill 1628, renames the portion of Highway 22 between Dardanelle and Fort Smith as the True Grit Trail. This designation is in honor of the novel True Grit, which Charles Portis, one of our hometown authors, wrote.
We had a special guest from out of town for this bill signing. The actor John Wayne starred as Rooster Cogburn in the original film version of True Grit in 1969. John Wayne’s grandson, John T. Wayne, lives in Paragould and joined us in the conference room for the bill signing.
True Grit is one of my favorite novels, and I enjoyed both versions of the movie. I relate to the story because I spent a number of years as the U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Arkansas, the area where Rooster Cogburn upheld the law.
Tourist sites related to movies remain popular years after the movie has left the theaters. The True Grit Trail will prove as popular. The state is wise to mark and preserve this trail to attract fans of the book, the author, and the movies.
Tourism is Arkansas’s No. 2 industry. Every region of the state benefits from tourism — from the Delta Byways to the River Valley to the Great Southwest. Tourism provides more than 67,000 jobs in Arkansas.
Our preliminary reports show that more than 32 million tourists visited Arkansas in 2018 and spent more than $7 billion. That translates to $412 million in state revenue from travel spending and more than $162 million in local tax revenue.
From January to November of last year, Arkansas collected nearly $16 million through the 2 percent tax on lodging and attractions. The great thing is that the people who spent this money got a great view of Arkansas’s hospitality and left loving our state.
The numbers for last year are an increase over the previous year, 2017, and we have every reason to believe we will top those numbers in 2019.
The tourism tax revenue collected each year is reinvested into our tourism infrastructure to allow more people access to hiking trails, biking trails, state parks, and historical landmarks across the state.
Both the Camden Expedition Scenic Highway and the True Grit Trail are excellent additions to our booming tourism attractions.