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Joe David Rice was born and grew up in northeast Arkansas. He attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and earned his master’s degree in environmental Planning from the University of Illinois. He returned to Arkansas and became the co-owner of an outfitting business on the Buffalo National River. He left that position to become the state of Arkansas tourism director. He served the state in that position for thirty years.
Rice has testified before a US Senate committee on behalf of the Arkansas Wilderness Act, has been published in the American Photographer magazine and written two books: Arkansas Backstories, Volume One and Two.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[00:00:08] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk-taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative always encouraging weekly blog.
Now it’s time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[00:00:32] KM: Thank you son, Gray. My guest today is the retired, director of the Arkansas Department of Tourism, Mr. Joe David Rice. Mr. Rice is far from being a mundane employee of the state, quite the contraire. He is an author, photographer, funny storyteller and orator who served under 5 different governors. That can’t be exactly easy. He can hold his own with the best. Exemplified by his 1983 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on behalf of the Arkansas Wilderness Act.
As an author, Joe David Rice has written the books called Arkansas Back Stories Volume 1 and 2, which is a compilation of exactly what the title says, little known backstories and factoids of Arkansas folklore.
It is a pleasure to welcome to the table, author, photographer, accomplished promoter and historian of the State of Arkansas, Mr. Joe David Rice.
[00:01:33] JDR: Thank you very much.
[00:01:34] KM: First of all, I want to give a shout out to your mother for following the southern tradition of calling you by both your first and middle name. Thank you Joe David’s mother.
[00:01:46] JDR: Sometimes if I’m in trouble, she puts a heavy accent on the first.
[00:01:50] KM: Joe David! I’m doing it the other way around. Joe David! That’s the way I’d do it.
As Ernie Dumas would say, Joe David, you are a true Arkansawyer, and yes listeners, that is a word. I looked it up, Arkansawyer is another word for Arkansan. You are born in Paragould, reared in Jonesboro, schooled in Fayetteville before moving the university of Illinois for your master’s degree in environmental planning.
I read as a young man you and some of your friends created the first mountain bike trail in the state. Is that true?
[00:02:28] JDR: Well, it was the first mountain bike trail in Crooked County. It may have been more the first in the state because this was back in the late 50s, early 60s. It was an accidental mountain bike trail.
[00:02:40] KM: How did that come about? Were you high school? Were you in college?
[00:02:42] JDR: No. I was in grade school and junior high and there was a 20-acre piece of land behind our subdivision and we just had free reign over that. We went up there with our shovels and hatchets and axes and created a series of trails where we could just ride like banshees to the woods.
[00:03:02] KM: You are a can do kind of guy.
[00:03:04] JDR: Well, you’re sort of left your own resources. We had plenty of resources to pull that off.
[00:03:09] KM: You know that kind of bothers me about today? You couldn’t let your kids do that today.
[00:03:13] JDR: We had no idea what bike helmets were. Nothing to do about bike locks. We were just out there having a good time.
[00:03:18] KM: Or being stolen, or kidnapped, or –
[00:03:22] JDR: Jonesboro was sort of a Norman Rockwell kind of town to grow up in.
[00:03:25] KM: Yeah. If stuff was happening, you did know about it, because we didn’t have the communications we have today. That naivety was kind of freeing, I guess.
[00:03:36] JDR: It was a good laugh. Still good today.
[00:03:40] KM: They did credit you for making the first mountain bike trail in the State of Arkansas. You have been credited for that.
[00:03:48] JDR: Well, I’ll take that, but it was a joint effort between Larry and Dwight and Bobby, the rest of us.
[00:03:52] KM: And there had to be other kids out there doing that in other parts of the state too.
[00:03:55] JDR: Probably so. Undoubtedly.
[00:03:57] KM: You decided to – You love the outdoors. You decided you were going to get a degree in environmental planning. You went to Illinois for master’s. What did you think you were going to do with that degree? What career were you seeking?
[00:04:09] JDR: I was hoping to come back and work for Arkansas State Parks, and I did that for a while. Then they moved me over to the tourism division, and I just stayed quite a while there.
[00:04:21] KM: You did work for the Arkansas State Parks and Tourism. They’re the same. What do you mean? You’re the director of the State Parks and Tourisms.
[00:04:29] JDR: At the time I worked, it was the Department of Parks and Tourism. We had the State Parks division where I got my first job with the department, and then they switched me over to the tourism division where I was more in charge of trying to promote the state and get more tax dollars generated.
[00:04:45] KM: Oh! You weren’t out in the world as much as you’d like to have been probably.
[00:04:48] JDR: I was out in the commercial world, but I still got to travel the state.
[00:04:51] KM: Making speeches?
[00:04:53] JDR: Going to a lot of chicken lunches and things like that. Yes.
[00:04:57] KM: Rex Nelson has a great website. What’s the name of that website? He was on the radio show with us. Chicken – Fried Chicken.
[00:05:04] JDR: Fried Chicken.
[00:05:04] KM: Southern Fried Chicken. He kind of sounds like you did when he did a lot.
[00:05:08] JDR: Yeah. I didn’t get paid as well as Rex, but it was fun.
[00:05:11] KM: I don’t know about that. You began your career before that, I do believe, as an entrepreneur. You were the co-owner of the Buffalo River Outfitting Business.
[00:05:22] JDR: Yeah. It was on Highway 65. About halfway between Conway and Paris and up around Marshall. That was a great experience too. Go out there and see how people reacted to the river and what really turned them on and off. That was a good experience.
[00:05:39] KM: How old were you when you were doing that?
[00:05:40] JDR: I was probably 29 or 30, something like that.
[00:05:46] KM: Okay. I’m confused. Did you do that while you were working for the state parks?
[00:05:51] JDR: Yes, before I started working for the tourism division. I did that on weekends.
[00:05:56] KM: Oh! Were you married?
[00:05:59] JDR: Yes. Aha.
[00:06:00] KM: Your wife would let you go off for the weekends?
[00:06:02] JDR: Well, she would go with me, so with our two boys. It was a family adventure.
[00:06:06] KM: I got you, and you were co-owners. You’re an entrepreneur.
[00:06:09] JDR: That’s right. I got to drive the bus and tote canoes and put them in the water and pick up people, pick up trash and try to deal with the National Park Service when they would give us the ledge regulation.
[00:06:18] KM: How did you meet your wife?
[00:06:23] JDR: My current wife, shall we say.
[00:06:25] KM: Uh oh! Maybe I shouldn’t go in somewhere I shouldn’t go.
[00:06:28] JDR: We were introduced about 15 years ago by some mutual friends in El Dorado, and I’m the happiest man in the state right now.
[00:06:38] KM: How long have you been married this time?
[00:06:40] JDR: We’ve been married soon to be 10 years.
[00:06:43] KM: Well, that’s a pretty long time. You’re still the happiest man in the state.
[00:06:45] JDR: I am. Very lucky man.
[00:06:48] KM: That’s great. Great story. You also have been accredited with making the Arkansas Floater’s Kit. What is that?
[00:06:59] JDR: That was one of my first jobs when I got transferred over to the tourism division. We had a lot of people come in to Arkansas saying they wanted to go floating, canoeing. There was not a single source for them to get information. So we put together this kit. It was 20 pages long for 20 different creeks and rivers in the state.
On one side we’ve had the map with all the access points and showed you were the rapids were and put out points and all. On the flipside it had a written description of what you could expect when you went floating on the [inaudible 00:07:27] Buffalo or you go to whatever stream you happen to go on. It was very well received.
[00:07:33] KM: I thought the Arkansas Floater’s Kit was going to be a flashlight, a bottle opener and a first aid kit.
[00:07:39] JDR: No. You had to provide those on your own carry.
[00:07:42] KM: Why is it called the Arkansas Floater’s Kit? It should be called the Arkansas Floater’s Map.
[00:07:47] JDR: Well, it was a collection of 20 maps and all kinds of resources. We just decided to call it a kit.
[00:07:54] KM: Is it still available?
[00:07:54] JDR: No. It went out of print years ago.
[00:07:57] KM: You know you can make things printed really easy these days. I wonder why nobody’s done that. It’s probably changed. It’s probably a moving target, isn’t it?
[00:08:04] JDR: I think you can download it at the Parks and Tourism website today though.
[00:08:07] KM: If you were to pick a river of all the rivers – It sounds like you know a lot about the Arkansas Rivers from your child, from your young adult ages. Which rivers would you pick?
[00:08:18] JDR: To do what on?
[00:08:19] KM: To float.
[00:08:19] JDR: To float?
[00:08:19] KM: Oh! To do what? There you go. Fish, float.
[00:08:22] JDR: Well, everybody’s heard of the Buffalo, but I think the Piney, up north of Russellville probably has much of a better whitewater. It’s not nearly as crowded. Mulberry is great. If you want to see a really underappreciated river in Arkansas, I’d recommend go down to Southwest Arkansas. Check out the Cassatot. It’s one of our newer state parks. It’s the most rugged whitewater in mid-America.
[00:08:46] KM: It’s the most what?
[00:08:46] JDR: Rugged whitewater stream in mid-America.
[00:08:49] KM: In the south?
[00:08:49] JDR: In the southwest. Flows out to Washita. Heads up, near Mena and flows straight south through part of the Washita. It’s one of those rivers that I’d recommend you hike along rather than float, unless you’re a really good canoeist.
[00:09:06] KM: What’s it called?
[00:09:06] JDR: Cassatot. Supposedly that’s an Indian term, Native American term for skull crusher. People can’t get their skulls crushed. Certainly get their boats crushed down there.
[00:09:18] KM: The Washita Rivers I have been told, or the Washita mountain I have been told is the only mountain that runs – Is it east to west?
[00:09:27] JDR: Yes. I think you and Jim Daley had that conversation a few months ago. The Washitas actually parted out or actually folded where the tectonic plates came together and lifted out the mountains. The Ozarks are an uplifted plateau that got eroded away. Ozarks technically aren’t mountains. Washitas are, if you’re a geologist. I think they’re both mountains.
[00:09:48] KM: Jim Daley has taken your own old. That’s why you’ve mentioned that, because he was on the show I think this year, maybe last year.
[00:09:56] JDR: I tried to watch him, pick up some tips. See if you had any trick questions up your sleeve or anything.
[00:10:01] KM: He was a great interview. I can’t remember exactly everything we talked about, but he loves the job that you’ve given him or passed on to him I guess I should say.
[00:10:10] JDR: He’s a natural for it as you know. A former mayor of Little Rock, entrepreneur himself through the furniture business. Very dedicated hiker, conservationist. I think he’s landed well on his feet. I think he was trying to get [inaudible 00:10:26] that job about this time of the year though. I’m not sure if he’s still there or not.
[00:10:29] KM: What do you mean?
[00:10:31] JDR: He told you that he put himself down for two years, and I think it’s does up about now.
[00:10:37] KM: They’ll talk him in to stay in. You know how they do.
[00:10:39] JDR: He would certainly be a good one. He’s done a great job.
[00:10:41] KM: Now we’re going to talk about his life while he was there. You worked under five different governors.
[00:10:50] JDR: Yes. Aha!
[00:10:51] KM: I asked a guy who’s in the military, how do you stay in the military when they keep changing the president all the time? He said you just do. How do you stay, fly under the radar, not buttheads when governors are changing all the time and you’re working on a project and you get a new governor and he says, “Oh! That’s stupid. Let’s not do that,” or does that ever happen?
[00:11:11] JDR: Well, I wouldn’t admit if it did.
[00:11:13] KM: Come on. Give me some dirt.
[00:11:16] JDR: A really good at Parks and Tourism for a number of years. Richard Davies was our director and Greg Butt was State Park director, and I was the tourism director. I think the governors just felt that were doing the right things. We were in there for the right reasons. We’re looking out for Arkansas, not for one part or the other.
We weren’t looking for new jobs and we enjoyed what we were doing. I think we’d all agree we had the best jobs in the state at the time and we just looked forward to going to work every day and trying to increase the tax revenues and improve Arkansas’ image out there.
[00:11:47] KM: What do you think about our state parks while you were there? What changed and improved while you were there?
[00:11:53] JDR: When I first got there, many of the parks were struggling. We didn’t have nearly enough money. They had been neglected. Then the voters approved the conversation back in ’96, and all of a sudden our parks had about $20 million a year to replace the roads, put in new service systems and new electrical hookups for the camp sites. I think right now we have probably one of the top state park systems in America and it’s getting better every day.
[00:12:14] KM: Rate it. How top? Who’s got the best? California?
[00:12:19] JDR: No. California has had some financial trouble. In recent years they actually had to close parks. South Carolina has a good system. Colorado has a good system. But I’ll put ours up with any of those.
[00:12:29] KM: Really?
[00:12:29] JDR: You bet.
[00:12:30] KM: You got to just pat yourself on the back.
[00:12:33] JDR: Well, the voters gave us the resources to do that.
[00:12:36] KM: That’s the sign of a good leader. Did you see him just give the credit away?
[00:12:41] JDR: Well, another thing, Kerry, to realize is that our parks are free with the exception of I guess the Folk Center where there’s an admission fee. You can go to any park and you don’t have to pay the admission fee. There’s no gate. A lot of states don’t operate on that system. I know my wife and I were out in Utah a couple of years ago and every time we went to a state park there’s another $15 admission fee. That adds up after a while.
[00:13:04] KM: What? Poor people can’t go to state parks?
[00:13:07] JDR: If they had $15 they could. But you got to remember, here in Arkansas we’ve done a good job of making our parks accessible.
[00:13:16] KM: You sure have. Let’s talk about the governor. Ernie Dumas was the one. He talked about all the governors that he got to cover in his career as a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Who would you say was the friendliest to the natural states, state parks and conversation?
[00:13:35] JDR: It’s easy. It’s Mike Huckabee.
[00:13:37] KM: Really?
[00:13:38] JDR: If you remember, Huckabee like to go fishing and get out. In fact, when we were working on that campaign in 1996 to try to get the conversation into pass, Huckabee just come in to office after succeeding Jim Guy Tucker. Huckabee is a young Republican governor. We’re going, “Oh my God! We’re in trouble.” We go to talk to him and we asked if he would just kindly set this election out and let us go ahead about our business. He said, “What do you mean? I’m for it. What can I do to help?”
He’s the guy that got in his Basque boat and floated down the Arkansas River from Fort Smith down to [inaudible 00:14:07] making campaign stops along the way, fishing and making stump speeches, and had Mike Huckabee not done that, that conversation never would have passed. Without a doubt, Huckabee and Janette both were big advocates of state parks and did everything they could to, I think, help the public appreciate what we have in our state park system.
[00:14:26] KM: I keep talking about Ernie Dumas. I don’t know why, but it’s because he was just recently on a guest. I asked him to give me one word to describe each governor, and he called Jim Guy Tucker unlucky and Bill Clinton brilliant, and he called Mike Huckabee liberal.
[00:14:44] JDR: By standards back in those days, he was quite – I would probably use the word progressive.
[00:14:50] KM: Was that progressive maybe he said? Yeah. It might have been the word.
[00:14:53] GM: I think that might have been the word.
[00:14:54] KM: I think that might have been the word he actually used, progressive. Said the most progressive.
[00:14:58] JDR: Governor Hutchinson, some Huckabee’s most difficult problems came from the far right wing of his own party. He tried to I think hit him back a little bit towards the middle. Huckabee was a really good governor from a conversation angle.
[00:15:13] KM: I would have thought that it would have been maybe Governor Clinton, because I think it was during his tenure that he changed our name of our state or from the Land of Opportunity. I don’t even know if people realize, but it used to be called the Land of Opportunity, to now the Natural State. I think that was in Clinton’s tenure.
[00:15:36] JDR: Yeah, but he really didn’t have anything to do with it. That was pretty much [inaudible 00:15:39] out of Carlyle State Representative who did that. [inaudible 00:15:42] gets the credit for that.
[00:15:44] KM: Were you a part of that too? I wondered.
[00:15:47] JDR: Oh, in the background. I was helping when I could.
[00:15:49] KM: Is it one that you would say was the least favorite or the hardest to work with about it?
[00:16:01] JDR: Every governor has his or her – We don’t have any her governors yet, but has his own agenda, I guess. Mr. Clinton liked education, and I know that we were trying to improve the departmental funding of parks and tourism. He said, “Well, as soon as we get the roads fixed and the education fixed, we’re going to take care of you.” But we all know that the roads were never going to be totally fixed. Education, that can be completely fixed. We had to sort of get in line there.
I know that Mike Bibby said, if he could make one change in his administration, it would have been that hog farm permit up in Newton County.
[00:16:34] KM: Oh! I’m glad you brought that up.
[00:16:37] JDR: That was something that sort of fell through the cracks during his watch, and he much regretted that. I don’t know.
[00:16:43] KM: Tell our listeners what you’re talking about.
[00:16:46] JDR: Well, back – I don’t know, 6, or 8, or 10 years ago, some farmers up in Newton Country had lived on the land for many generations. They were trying to make a living up there and they decided that perhaps a hog farm would be the way to do it. So they went through the permitting process and the folks at the Department of Environmental Quality, I don’t think were sort of asleep, but – Well, anyway, they permitted it. It was probably the worst place in Arkansas you could put a hog farm, because it’s right on top of some limestone where the sewage would leak right through to the ground water. They were not malicious. They just were trying to make a good living.
Then they got the hog farm up and then people rose up in arms saying, “Gosh! This is going to hurt the Buffalo.” So it’s been a number of years, but with the nature conservancy’s help and Stacey Hurst at the Department of Arkansas Heritage now, Parks, Heritage and Tourism and the governor, the hog farm was purchased by the state and just as of a few days ago, they had removed the last of the hogs and all they have to do now is train the sewage ponds or pump it out and the Buffalo will no longer be threatened.
[00:17:49] KM: You’re talking about the Buffalo River. They were at the top of the Buffalo River, which is it’s a federally protected river, isn’t it?
[00:17:58] JDR: It’s called the Buffalo National River. It’s actually a unit of the National Park System, but it’s not a national park, but it’s about 95,000 acres owned by you, me and the other 300 million people in America.
[00:18:08] KM: They were saying that it was floating downstream into where families were floating and it was becoming a health hazard to the people that were canoeing and swimming in the water.
[00:18:19] JDR: Yeah. That was the allegations. I’m not sure there were any actual public health threats just yet, but there was no question that sewage stuff was leaking in the big creek was floating in the Buffalo, and there were algae blooms and the water quality had severely diminished below the confluence of those two creeks. This will be a good solution and the governor took the lead on that, Governor Hutchinson.
[00:18:41] KM: I can’t believe they bought the land. That’s great. Good for them.
[00:18:45] JDR: They actually bought a conservation easement. The families I think will still own the land, but they can no longer operate a hog farm there.
[00:18:52] KM: All right. Let’s talk about as the director of state parks, I’m sure you’ve had some crazy questions. One time I heard you speak and you said some of the funniest things that you’ve ever been asked was about the Passion Play.
[00:19:05] JDR: Yeah. Let’s see. There are so many stories. Let me tell you another one first. Some of our state parks where we would have camp grounds and restrooms like at one of the Civil War Commemorative Parks, people would come up and say why is this a state park because all the restrooms, campgrounds must have been there for the soldiers. I mean, they couldn’t just figure that. People ask the dumbest things.
There was a tourist attraction up in Eureka called Dinosaur World and people would call us and ask for the money back, because the Dinosaurs weren’t living. They were stone replicas.
[00:19:47] KM: We went there, didn’t we? Son, Gray?
[00:19:48] JDR: Yeah, and the Christ of the Ozarks. This is what you’re talking about, Kerry. We had actual tourist look up at the statue, Christ of the Ozarks, and they said, “Well, is that thing natural or manmade?” How do you answer those kinds of questions?
[00:20:01] KM: You’re like, “It’s concrete and 20 feet tall.”
[00:20:04] JDR: It’s like a time when I owned a canoe business, we put this couple in from Louisiana and it was a beautiful day, spring day in May. 17 degrees, no humidity, big white clouds against the deep blue sky and pushed them into the river and the guy does with his time out sign and over the rapids says, “Which way to we go?” I had to talk downstream.
[00:20:27] KM: Oh! Paddle up the whole day.
[00:20:29] JDR: What was interesting about that job was when you pick people up, at the end of the day, most of them had fallen in love with the state and they were ready to buy a piece of paradise now. I would say 95%, Kerry. You’re saying, “Well, Joe David. What about the other 5?” Well, we determined after a careful analysis, it was couples taking their canoe trip when they were having problems with their relationship and they thought a canoe trip would be a great way to patch things up, and that won’t work.
[00:20:51] KM: I tell you what, a canoe trip, it’s like having a baby, because you think it’s going to make your marriage better. You’re like, “No. That’s a lot of hard work.” People don’t realize also that canoeing is dangerous.
[00:21:06] JDR: Well, it can be in the right conditions – The wrong conditions.
[00:21:08] KM: I have almost died before. Don’t act like it’s not. More than once, I’ve almost died. Because you get out there in the spring when the water is high and you don’t know anything about it, and you’ve dumped over and you’re freezing and you don’t have a wetsuit on. Look. You’re grinning. That’s because you know –
[00:21:28] JDR: Maybe you should go in June and July when the water is the most slower and a little bit warmer.
[00:21:32] KM: I even dumped over on the Cato last summer. I want you to know.
[00:21:37] GM: It was hilarious.
[00:21:38] KM: It was my granddaughter’s fault.
[00:21:40] JDR: That’s one of those underappreciated streams down around Glenwood. It’s a very lovely float when you’re upright, I guess.
[00:21:47] KM: You can fish.
[00:21:48] JDR: Great gravel bars on the Cato.
[00:21:50] KM: Yes, and you can fish. I couldn’t believe how crowded it was. I’ve never been on the Cato and had it crowded, and it was crowded.
[00:21:57] JDR: Now that my wife and I had retired, we’ve discovered you can do things like Monday through Friday, nobody’s out there.
[00:22:02] KM: Awesome.
[00:22:03] JDR: Yeah. We’ve avoid doing stuff on weekends.
[00:22:06] KM: Yeah. That’s like not going to the beach on spring break anymore, because the kids are grown. You go anytime.
[00:22:12] JDR: Yes.
[00:22:13] KM: Now you’re an accomplished photographer. I guess you’ve been doing that all of your life. Now you’re an author. I’ve got your book. You brought me your book, Arkansas Back Stories. Thank you. Why is it not in color first of all?
[00:22:26] JDR: Color requires a heavier grade paper, and that quadruple the expenses when you do it in color.
[00:22:33] KM: Did you write the book Arkansas Back Stories Volume 1 and 2, essays about Arkansas because it was an exorcism for all, the Arkansas folklore that you had swimming around in your head for 30 years? Because it looks like you just wrote it in 2018.
[00:22:48] JDR: Well, it happened pretty quick. What happened is one of my favorite authors is guy named Peter Mayle. He is an English novelist who died about two years ago, and he had a great set of mysteries. They were English. No sex, no violence, but still pretty interesting.
[00:23:03] KM: I like that about English too. You must have watched channel 2 all the time.
[00:23:06] JDR: Oh! We do. He also wrote a book called Provence A-Z, a nonfiction book about Southern France. I’ve never been to that part of the world, but I just spent hours poring through that book and I said, “Well, somebody able to do something like that for Arkansas.” My wife said, “Why don’t you?” My books were modeled on that Provence A-Z, alphabetical listings of lesson on aspects of the national state.
[00:23:31] KM: And they really are. You put on the cover right here, Quirks, Characters and Curiosities of the Natural State. Let’s just hear favorite quirks.
[00:23:47] JDR: Favorite quirk. I think one of them would be the fact that Helen Gurley Brown, who was born in Green Forest and lived about a dozen years in Little Rock. When she was growing up, she really despised her Arkansas upbringing and her Arkansas roots. She didn’t want to be viewed as somebody from rural areas.
Anyways, she went off to New York and wrote Sex and the Single Girl, which was a bestseller. That’s a book that really led to Kerry Bradshaw’s character that Sarah Jessica Parker played in Sex in the City. She’s the girl that got Bert Reynolds to take off his outfit for Cosmopolitan Magazine.
[00:24:31] KM: Oh! Wow!
[00:24:31] JDR: Anyway, when she died, she wound up being transported back to Arkansas and she’s buried in the little town of Osage, and there’s more people in this room than in Osage right now. She her and husband, David Brown, the producer of the Jaws, their gravesites are overlooking a cow pasture in Osage. I found it sort of interesting that she was such a worldly sophisticated lady and now she’s buried in a rural part of the state.
[00:24:57] KM: And a cow pasture. Next to a cow pasture. I’m watching Henry Louis Gates ancestor show, and he has a movie star on. I don’t know who she was. She’s a young movie star. When they’re going back through her ancestors, her grandfather started the town of Fargo.
[00:25:17] JDR: It’s over in East Arkansas, just north of Forest City.
[00:25:21] KM: Is it still around?
[00:25:22] JDR: Yeah! There’s the old Fargo School and her grandfather may have done that. It’s open now. It’s a historical site. A lot of famous African-American, Ted Roots, in that part of the state.
[00:25:32] KM: He was a slave. He was freed. People don’t realize this, but when they freed the slaves, all of them walked to Arkansas, because we were known to be open-minded. We were very progressive. Arkansas was very progressive. Thousands of slaves walked to Arkansas and set up homes here.
Her father had 40-acres. He plodded it and started an African-American or a slave community, freed slave community, really. She cried. She was so excited about it. I was wondering if that was still around. Fargo was still around.
[00:26:07] JDR: Still is. We have some pretty interesting aspects of African-American history that have gone largely unexplored. For instance, most of us don’t realize the first African-American to run for president was an Arkansan, a guy named George Edwin Taylor was born in 1957 here in Little Rock. His mom was a free black, one of 500 free blacks in the state. His dad was a slave, one of 500,000.
In 1859, two years he was born, the Arkansas Legislature passed a bill called the Free Negro Expulsion Act. Basically said if you were free and black in Arkansas, like this young Taylor kid, he could be arrested and sold back into slavery. He and his mom fled to St. Louis and he wound up getting a good education in Wisconsin, and he was a very informative and favorite speaker on this circuit back in those days, a newspaper man and all. In 1904, the National Negro Liberty Party drafted him as their candidate for president. He ran against Teddy Roosevelt in 1904, African-American in Little Rock, and that made people realize that.
[00:27:13] KM: I had no idea.
[00:27:15] JDR: There’s all these little tidbits like that are in my book.
[00:27:19] KM: We had more senators. I can’t remember how many senators we had, African-American senators in the late 1800s also. More than they’ve ever had – We had more senators, black senators in Washington than we’ve ever had in history in the late 1800s.
[00:27:38] JDR: The Jim Crow Laws came and ruined all that.
[00:27:39] KM: Changed it all.
[00:27:41] JDR: Along those same lines, Kerry, we had a U.S. congressman from Little Rock named James Hinds. In 1868, he was campaigning for U.S. Grant, and the local client folks tried to him warn him off. They put a calf on his door and said, “You got to cut this out.” He was insistent that the newly freed slaves could exercise property rights and vote and do other things expected of common citizens. The clan assassinated him in 1868 in Monroe County.
To this day, there’s not a single monument or marker in Arkansas about his assassination. He was the first sitting member of congress to be murdered while at office.
[00:28:17] KM: I think I know what you need to do in your retirement. You’re good at raising money. There you go.
[00:28:23] JDR: I’ve actually thought about doing some of those crowd funding things, because Mr. Hinds deserves some recognition.
[00:28:29] KM: I love that story. Abe Lincoln, you said. I read somewhere that you said Abe Lincoln worked cutting lawns.
[00:28:36] JDR: Yes. There’s a little town on Mississippi River, north of present day West Memphis, and there was a prominent plantation over there named Wapanocca Ferguson. Wapanocca was sort of his nickname, but there’s now Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge over there. Lincoln worked for a short time for Col. Ferguson during one of those trips when he went up and down the river on those Mississippi flatboats from Illinois. He chopped cord wood and he was there for a short time.
[00:29:03] KM: And he lived in Northwest Arkansas?
[00:29:04] JDR: Northeast.
[00:29:05] KM: Northeast Arkansas.
[00:29:06] JDR: Yeah. That’s something you don’t learn in your history books.
[00:29:10] KM: I know it. I love your book. It’s got – Each of these is a little essay. So they’re only one page long. You didn’t number these. How many do you think there are essays in your book?
[00:29:19] JDR: There’s about 130 altogether. I had over 300 to begin with, but I had to call some out, like I had written that Edgar Allan Poe lived in Arkansas and I couldn’t get that confirmed. I had read that Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan had some Arkansas connections.
I talked to his official biographer and he said, “Well, Mr. Rice. No files in the family files that I’ve seen that mentioned Hot Springs.” I said, “Well, do you think those would be in the official files?” I’m sort of a chronic smartass, but I let it go. Kennedy fell by the wayside, and so did Aldo Leopold who wrote A Sand County Almanac, because I didn’t find much about him. I had also seen that pythons had gotten to start in southeast of Arkansas.
[00:30:02] KM: The snake?
[00:30:03] JDR: Yeah, and I talked to the herpetologist and he said that he doesn’t think they’re breeding yet. Those were the results of some irresponsible pet owners. But he also said with climate change, watch out.
[00:30:12] KM: Pythons in Arkansas. All right. This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with the very interesting author and historian of Arkansas, Mr. Joe David Rice, who after 30 years has retired as the director of Arkansas State Parks and Tourisms. For more stories and his favorite places to visit when we come back.
[00:30:29] GS: Flagandbanner.com is proud to sponsor Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Housed in 100-year-old building in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, we offer an old-school shopping experience with free front door parking, friendly clerks and department store variety.
Come in and check out our new Valentine’s Day décor, our seasonal garden banners and door hangers add a pop of color to any home’s walkway. Can’t make it downtown? Don’t worry, the internet is always open. You can browse our website 24/7 and live chat during office hours with customer service representatives that are eager to help you, and if online shopping isn’t your thing, our customer service experts are available by phone six days a week.
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[00:31:14] KM: Thank you, son, Gray. You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with retired director of Arkansas State Parks and author of the book aptly named Arkansas Back Stories, Mr. Joe David Rice.
Before the break we were talking about live growing up in Arkansas, little Joe David. Then we were talking about life as a state parks director. Then we started talking about his book and the funny stories, and that’s really the best part, and that’s where we want to stay, because the stories were really good. Not that your life is not interesting, Joe David, but the stories are amazing. This one, it really caught me, Acropolis.
[00:31:55] JDR: Oh, yes. Back in the 1820s, I think some of our leaders were trying to be sort of grandiose in this new territory we had here called the Arkansas Territory, and they changed the name of Little Rock or Acropolis, and that is actually found on a bunch of maps published in the 1820, 1822 era, but it’s a short lived and it’s back to Little Rock as a result.
[00:32:26] KM: I like – Now, was the state kept – Are you talking about the city was named that or the state capital building was named that?
[00:32:33] JDR: The city itself was named Acropolis.
[00:32:35] KM: I think that’s a great name. It’s a play on words don’t you think?
[00:32:40] JDR: Yeah. It was I think based on some – A fine building over in Greece.
[00:32:46] KM: That’s right. That was on a hill.
[00:32:48] JDR: Yes.
[00:32:48] KM: Then so they took Acropolis and turned it into Arcopolis, which is really tricky for everybody out there.
[00:32:58] JDR: It looks funny on maps, but in my book I think I actually show a map that shows Arcopolis, where Little Rock is presently located.
[00:33:05] KM: How many state parks are there in Arkansas?
[00:33:07] JDR: 52.
[00:33:09] KM: Now we got to put another one on that pig farm at the top of the Buffalo River where we got access to it?
[00:33:13] JDR: I think we’ll just sort of let that quietly fade away. Let the smells and all go back. In addition, the 52 state parks, we have 8 national park units in the state too.
[00:33:24] KM: Hot Springs National Park.
[00:33:25] JDR: Yeah. The Buffalo, the Arkansas Post, Clinton, Hot Springs, Fort Smith.
[00:33:33] KM: Arkansas Post. Where is that?
[00:33:35] JDR: It’s over in East Arkansas. Near where the Arkansas River flows into the Mississippi.
[00:33:42] KM: Oh! Because it used to be such an important port.
[00:33:46] JDR: In fact, it’s probably the oldest continual settlement, Anglo-American settlement on the west side of Mississippi River. It’s worth a visit. Big alligators over there in the summer. You might enjoy those.
[00:33:59] KM: Do you have a favorite park? I just want to mention this too though. It’s weird that they build parks on top of waste management sites. Do you know what I’m talking about?
[00:34:11] JDR: Like city parks?
[00:34:12] KM: Yeah.
[00:34:14] JDR: Well, sometimes maybe the best use of that land – It’s like here in Little Rock.
[00:34:19] KM: The ball park.
[00:34:20] JDR: Yeah, but we’ve got like build parks in flood plains, which like Murray Park, Rosen Park. That’s a fine use of land because if the water comes up and it goes out of the way. Building parks on landfills, if the landfill has been properly done, it’s not a bad way to use a property.
[00:34:38] KM: Yeah, but then when you slide in the base and you – Piece of glasses.
[00:34:42] JDR: Well. You hope they put enough top soil on there. You’re not going to be hit with jagged metal or glass or anything, or methane leaks or anything like that.
[00:34:50] KM: It’s just weird to me, I think. But anyway, do you have a favorite park?
[00:34:54] JDR: A favorite park? Gee! I’ve got several. Depends on where you go. I think the Petit Jean of course is a great park. It’s a flagship with the state park system. Got great cabins there, rebuilt lodge, good food. It’s close by. Some really wonderful trails there, Cedar Falls. I like the new lodge at Mt. Magazine.
[00:35:15] KM: If you haven’t been to the new lodge at Mt. Magazine, people.
[00:35:19] GM: It’s lovely.
[00:35:19] KM: That’s right. You went up there and talked me into going up there, and I went up there. It’s beautiful.
[00:35:25] GM: It’s an island in the sky.
[00:35:27] JDR: Then there’s some private parks. I love the grounds at Crystal Bridges. If you’ve not checked those out, and the museum alone is worth the visit because of the building and the arts collection. But the grounds are wonderful. Four seasons, you get different views of the grounds.
[00:35:43] KM: Son Gray is about to die over there.
[00:35:44] GM: Yeah. That’s actually probably my favorite park. I lived two blocks from there. It was incredible.
[00:35:48] JDR: If you’re going to ask about favorite towns, I’m a big advocate for El Dorado. I don’t know if you’ve been down there lately, but they’re doing great with that Murphy Art District. You got a brand new hotel going up. They probably have the most vibrant public square in the entire state, in downtown El Dorado. I went down there just this past weekend. It’s just a great place to go to South Arkansas Art Center that it can hold its own with any of them.
[00:36:11] KM: I thought it had carcinogen problems down there? It used to.
[00:36:15] JDR: Back in the day, they did have big waste disposals. They were burning all kinds of nasty stuff. But as far as I know, those days were history. It’s a good town.
[00:36:25] KM: Well, I’ll be darned. I didn’t know that either. That’s really interesting.
[00:36:28] JDR: Plus, they’ve got the road from here to there fixed. They’ve been trying to put a four-laner in. It’s all the way to [inaudible 00:36:35] now and soon will be on the way down through Hampton and to El Dorado.
[00:36:40] KM: You testified in 1980 before the U.S. Senate Committee on behalf of the Arkansas Wilderness Act. What does that mean?
[00:36:48] JDR: Well, as you know, we’ve got a couple of million acres in Arkansas, the National Forest Lands. Most of those are open for any kind of public use, multiple use. You can do logging there, hunting, fishing and all. Well, a very small percentage, like 2% of the lands were set aside as wilderness areas, which means they can’t do any logging in there. You can’t go in there with ATVs. But for people who like to walk and turkey hunt or backpack or hike, it’s a place you can go and get away from the noises. You don’t hear any leaf blowers. You don’t hear any camp ground music. It’s just –
[00:37:23] KM: Oh! Praise the Lord. No leaf blowers.
[00:37:23] JDR: Yeah, I’m an advocate for wilderness areas. You can go out there, Kerry, and look up and see the Milky Way at night.
[00:37:34] KM: Pretty hard to do these days.
[00:37:36] JDR: It is. Light population is a big problem here even in Arkansas and some of those wilderness areas. You can hear owls and whippoorwills and beaver slapping its tail, and you can see the Milky Way and you don’t have to worry about stuff.
[00:37:51] KM: Noise pollution and light pollution are not talked about enough.
[00:37:57] JDR: That’s right.
[00:37:57] KM: I guess because we’ve got bigger pollution problems than that, but probably like me growing up, noise pollution was a big deal.
[00:38:03] JDR: I’m sort of shamelessly promoting my book, but I have a chapter on quiet in there, about where you can go and find some quiet places and have a chapter on darkness where you can go to get away from the day noise, light pollution.
[00:38:13] KM: I think that’s a wonderful reason to just even buy your book. Gray, be sure that we put a link on flagandbanner.com’s website to his book. I think book is a great coffee table book for anybody that lives in Arkansas. The essays are really short and it’s just very interesting. I mean, who knew Abe Lincoln lived – Who knew the CIA had secret contracts with an Arkansas organization to train – Just train animals for clandestine activities.
[00:38:43] JDR: Or that we have oblations in Arkansas.
[00:38:45] KM: I didn’t know we had that.
[00:38:47] JDR: Where [inaudible 00:38:49] State Park is near Mina, the next ridge to the north is called Black Rock Mountain, and there are very large glaziers that are made entirely out of rock. They fill up these little valleys and it’s just creeping down the coves, like 50-acre glazier, just big boulder fields.
[00:39:06] KM: Yeah. Nobody knew that. Oh! That’s interesting. That’s really interesting. Nobody knows that. Do we have a caller? Is he – My daughter? All right. Come on, girl. Give me what you got.
[00:39:19] MP: Hello, Kerry McCoy.
[00:39:20] KM: Hey, Megan Pittman.
[00:39:22] MP: I want to know what they’re going to do with our pipes.
[00:39:27] KM: Oh! Where it flooded that time?
[00:39:28] MP: Yes.
[00:39:30] JDR: For your listeners out there, Albert Pike was at Great Camp Ground on the Little Missouri River down around Glenwood and, well, a town called Langley in South West Arkansas, and maybe 20 years ago there had a horrendous weather event of flashflood wiped through there and I think it killed 18 or 20 people.
The Washita National Forest decided to close the campground because they didn’t feel they had adequate means for warning future campers if a weather event like that were to happen. They made it a day use area and the last I heard is still can be a day use area, but I don’t believe they’re going to establish any campsites there, Megan.
[00:40:13] MP: All right. I was just wondering. But thank you.
[00:40:16] JDR: That’s still a great place to visit. I saw a black bear down there not too long ago with that various spot.
[00:40:23] MP: They have the most beautiful trail [inaudible 00:40:25] I’ve ever seen.
[00:40:26] JDR: They do, if you can walk on down the winding stair area or upstream to the Little Missouri. Either one of those trails are outstanding.
[00:40:33] MP: Thank you.
[00:40:34] JDR: Thank you.
[00:40:35] KM: What should be on everybody’s bucket list? We’ve named a bunch. But if you were going to say this – We’ve only got a few minutes left. If you were going to say this should be on your bucket list to do in Arkansas if you don’t anything else, what would it be?
[00:40:49] JDR: I would say, as your son pointed out a moment ago, the Crystal Bridges is spectacular. It’s not just Crystal Bridges. That whole little town of Bentonville. They’ve got some great restaurants on the square. They’ve got a world-class hotel there. They’ve got probably the best mountain bike community in the state, and then of course Crystal Bridges.
Bentonville would be there. I think El Dorado would be on the list. Fort Smith has got some good stuff. Then my hometown, Jonesboro is doing wonderful things at Crick Head Forest. Then they have some great restaurants downtown and loft living up now. Good places everywhere if you look around.
[00:41:28] KM: Arkansas is just booming. I like to say keep it a secret, everybody wants to bring tourism here and I know as a state park tourism guy, you want to bring tourism here. I sometimes like want to keep it a secret.
[00:41:40] JDR: As long as we can keep the natural state natural and do things like the governor did, dismantling the hog farm and realizing that if we’re not careful, we will kill the goose that laid the golden egg, I think that we’re in good shape.
[00:41:54] KM: I just don’t want it to get overcrowded.
[00:41:57] JDR: Yeah. My sister, one of them lives down in Plano, Texas, and she comes up here for relief as often as she can because it’s just gridlock down there.
[00:42:06] KM: People have – they worship the almighty dollar, and it’s not always the thing you should be chasing.
[00:42:16] JDR: Along those lines, Kerry, Arkansas has so many things you can do at no charge. We’ve mentioned our state parks. There are no fees there. You can go walk along the Buffalo, throw rocks, hunt [inaudible 00:42:29]. We have a lot of things that can be done at no cost. I’ve got an article in AY Magazine about touring to the Boston Mountains, and you could just go up through there and it’s just spectacular and it’s largely unappreciated.
[00:42:43] KM: Is it true that the baseball spring training routine originated in Hot Springs?
[00:42:52] JDR: Yes. At one time, many of the Major Leagues players were in Hot Springs, the Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, they were all down there and they would supposedly go to the track and some of the southern clubs, places like that, in the evenings. Then play baseball during the day. Then they would go get the massages to wash the toxins out of their body.
[00:43:15] KM: And drink that water that comes out of the mountain.
[00:43:17] JDR: Yeah, that wasn’t the only thing they drank, but the water was supposed to offset the rest.
[00:43:20] KM: Moonshine probably down there. The Vapor’s Club, was it down there?
[00:43:24] JDR: It was. It really was. It was downtown. I saw in the paperwork they’re going to revitalize the old Ohio Club. That’s worth a visit for your folks. We haven’t been there. Also, Garvin Gardens.
[00:43:37] KM: Oh, yeah. That’s right. Joe David, thank you so much.
[00:43:41] JDR: I’ve enjoyed this, Kerry. I’ve been a big fan of you and your entrepreneurial activities for years. As I told you earlier, I’ve spent some good money at your store. I hope to get back.
[00:43:50] KM: Good. Thank you. I want to tell everybody that you’ve listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and that I’ve been speaking today with Joe David Rice. He is the retired director of the Arkansas State Parks and author of a book aptly named Arkansas Back Stories Volume 1 and Volume 2. You got a little snippet of it today, and they’re short reads. I’m not a person that likes to read a lot, so these little essays in this book. How many did you say essays?
[00:44:18] JDR: About 140.
[00:44:19] KM: These 140 essays in this 237-page book. So that tells you how short they are. They’re really interesting quick reads. I loved it. I brought you a gift today too.
[00:44:30] JDR: Well, that’s so kind. Thank you so much.
[00:44:31] KM: Look, Arkansas State flag, U.S. flag desk set. Do you have one of those?
[00:44:35] JDR: I do not.
[00:44:37] KM: I’m amazed how many people do not have a desk set with the Arkansas and State flag.
[00:44:40] JDR: I had one when I was employed by the state, but I had an inventory number and had to leave it there when I left.
[00:44:47] KM: Gray, do you know who our guest is next week?
[00:44:49] JDR: I do, because it’s the New Year and we’re all trying to get back in shape, we’re doing to do a reprise of the personal trainer, Jean-Paul Francoeur of JP Fitness.
[00:44:58] KM: Oh, yes. That’s good. Joe David, thank you again for all of your good works. Arkansas is a better place. The planet is a better place because of you and what you’ve done.
[00:45:12] JDR: Thanks. We had a good team at Parks and Tourism and I’m proud to have worked for them.
[00:45:16] KM: There he goes again, giving away the credit just like a real pro. I want to thank all my listeners for spending time with us. We hope that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy, and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:45:41] GM: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today’s guest. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you like to listen.
Kerry’s goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.