Arkansas is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty. Chances are there’s an area near you where you can get away and enjoy hiking, bird-watching, photographing nature or even “hammocking.” Yes, that’s a real thing – you tie a hammock up between two trees, crawl in and just enjoy nature. And some of those areas are designated as part of our state’s System of Natural Areas and cared for by one of our divisions, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC). The division focuses on conserving Arkansas’s important heritage landscapes through the survey, study and maintenance of this System of Natural Areas.

The stunning diversity of Arkansas’s ecosystems is evident in our state’s conserved areas. Have you ever hiked in the Ouachita Mountains near the Cossatot River, fished a crystal clear river at Cow Shoals, kayaked the bayous of the Delta at Seven Devils Swamp or enjoyed the wildflowers at Cherokee Prairie? If so, you have experienced a designated Arkansas natural area.

The Department of Arkansas Heritage, through ANHC, is dedicated to preserving for the public this valuable piece of our heritage. There are 73 designated natural areas that protect the best or last remaining examples of species or habitats, totaling about 67,000 acres in all six ecoregions of Arkansas.

While some of these areas exist primarily for conservation, there are many natural areas that offer visitors low-impact recreation, such as water trails and hiking trails to explore. Others provide opportunities for more rugged activities like rock-climbing, while some natural areas even permit hunting within season. Natural areas offer wilderness experiences where visitors can engage these authentic Arkansas landscapes with the respect and care they deserve.

Each natural area is a statement of the value of conservation and partnerships. Our newest addition to the System of Natural Areas, Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area, was dedicated on May 2, 2018, in central Arkansas. As Governor Asa Hutchinson mentioned in his recent weekly column, many groups and individuals came together to make this land available to the public. The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, the Little Rock Zoo, Central Arkansas Trail Alliance, nearby property owners, and generous benefactors all contributed to this worthwhile effort. ANHC has a conservation easement and will manage the 373-acre tract.

The Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area dedication marked the beginning of the 2018 Arkansas Heritage Month, themed “Off the Beaten Path: Explore and Enjoy Arkansas’s Natural Heritage.” During May, we encourage Arkansans to celebrate, discover and enjoy our state’s heritage. Many communities across the state are offering free local events, exhibits and activities supported by grants from the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Experience Arkansas’s authentic natural heritage this month. Get off the beaten path and explore a designated natural area or join your community at a Heritage Month event. Head to ArkansasHeritage.com to find an event or natural area nearby, and celebrate Arkansas and the full splendor of its natural beauty.