Arkansas Heritage Trails System
The Arkansas Heritage Trails System is a network of driving tours created by the Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH), Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism (ADPT), and Arkansas Department of Transportation to mark the approximate routes through Arkansas of the Trail of Tears, Southwest Trail, Butterfield Overland Mail Route, and Civil War campaigns.
The Eighty-seventh Arkansas General Assembly mandated the development of a trails system through Act 728 of 2009, the Heritage Trails System Act. The act called for the system to include the Butterfield Overland Mail Company route, which included routes from the Missouri state line near Pea Ridge (Benton County) to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and from Memphis, Tennessee, to Fort Smith; the Southwest Trail from the Missouri border to the Texas border; the American Indian Removal routes of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw, and Seminole tribes; and Civil War troop movements.
The Department of Arkansas Heritage undertook the task of determining the probable routes of each mandated course, which was conducted by personnel of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP). DAH also determined that the Civil War troop movements marked should include the Pea Ridge Campaign, Prairie Grove Campaign, Confederate approaches to Fayetteville (Washington County), Confederate approaches to Helena (Phillips County), Little Rock Campaign, Confederate attack on Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), the Camden Expedition, and Sterling Price’s raid into Missouri. The AHPP staff received assistance from several individuals and organizations, including the Arkansas Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association on the Trail of Tears, Scott Akridge and the Arkansas Southwest Trail Research group on the Southwest Trail, and Kirby Sanders of Fayetteville on the Confederate approaches to Fayetteville. The AHPP staff also identified the modern highways that most closely coincided with the actual historic routes, which determined the routes to be marked.
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism then created a website to publicize the Arkansas Heritage Trails System, which included historical information on the various routes, maps showing their locations, and information on attractions that visitors can enjoy at various points along the routes. ADPT also created and printed a companion “Guide to Historic Arkansas Trails” for the use of motorists and a “Let’s Ride the Civil War Trail” brochure for motorcyclists (available online and at Arkansas Welcome Centers).
The Arkansas Department of Transportation completed the final phase of the project, which was the actual placement of the signage. Because some of the routes covered more than one theme—as when one highway contained elements of Indian Removal, the Butterfield Stage Route, and a Civil War campaign—AHTD opted to place signs with the Heritage Trail system logo at the top and smaller signs below indicating which historical events were relevant to the location. When the final signs were installed in summer 2012, AHTD had installed them at around 2,000 locations throughout the state.
The Heritage Trails System Act also called for the study of several other historic routes, many of which coincide with trails within the existing trail system. Research continues on several others.
For additional information:
Act 728 of 2009. Arkansas General Assembly. http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2009/R/Acts/Act728.pdf (accessed November 16, 2021).
Arkansas Heritage Trails System. http://www.arkansasheritagetrails.com/ (accessed November 16, 2021).
Schnedler, Jack. “Arkansas Heritage Trails Offer History on the Road.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 12, 2021, pp. 1E, 6E.
Wood, Ron. “Historic Butterfield Trail Gets New Life.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 6, 2022, pp. 1B, 5B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/nov/06/historic-butterfield-trail-cycling-route-being/ (accessed November 7, 2022).
Mark K. Christ
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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