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Ask the Times: Why doesn't the Big Woods get more attention?

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Q. Some friends visiting from Germany recently discovered the White River National Refuge and the Big Woods and were struck by their natural beauty. They found very helpful staff on the refuges but little public information on these unspoiled swamps and rivers. Why doesn't the state of Arkansas publicize these areas more?

A. Joe David Rice, director of tourism in the state Parks and Tourism Department, got the same question the Times did from the same caller, and he said he appreciated it. "My answer to him was that we probably haven't done enough. When you look at the Buffalo River, we promote the hell out of it. But the Big Woods are not nearly as accessible."

Unlike along the Buffalo, there aren't outfitters along the lower White or the Bayou DeView or the Cache River to provide kayaks and canoes to would-be paddlers. There are places to stay in Brinkley, but little lodging elsewhere. Dining establishments are few and far between. There's a Catch-22 at work: There are few tourists, so there aren't many accommodations.

"And then there's the multitude of ownerships," Rice said, including the state Game and Fish Commission, the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency, a "patchwork" he said that makes it harder to coordinate publicity.

But Rice said his agency has plans to address the lack of information on East Arkansas: He's asked the agency's communications staff to put together a blog on the area. "In fall, it's a great place to visit," Rice said, "and with other things going on in eastern Arkansas" — like Johnny Cash's boyhood home in Dyess that is being restored — "it would be foolish for us to ignore" the area. "We're going to do better," he said.

Rice said he welcomed the questions, and told the caller that the next time his friends were in the area to let him know and he'd take them out.

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