aka: Tourist Information Centers
People traveling in or through Arkansas often find assistance at one of the state’s fourteen Welcome Centers. Formerly designated as Tourist Information Centers, these facilities are located at thirteen points alongside major highways near the borders of the state; an additional center is in Little Rock (Pulaski County) at 1 Capitol Mall, which also contains many state government offices. Most of the centers are open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the fall and winter and 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the spring and summer. They include amenities such as restrooms and picnic tables, as well as displays of brochures and other information about the state and its attractions.
The centers are jointly operated by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the Arkansas Department of Transportation. In 2010, the centers assisted 903,420 visitors. The forty-five employees at the centers answered questions about the state and its resources and provided literature of various kinds, including highway maps. They also collected information from these visitors, including their country or state of origin and the reason for their travels. This information is used to help improve the departments’ services to visitors as well as to inform state employees preparing marketing campaigns for Arkansas. Staff members also communicate travel information, such as highway conditions due to weather and construction.
The first center opened north of Bentonville (Benton County) on July 29, 1967. Since that time, the city of Bella Vista (Benton County) has developed along the Highway 71 corridor surrounding that center. Additional centers opened in Corning (Clay County) in 1968 and El Dorado (Union County) in 1969. During the 1970s, centers were added along interstate routes in Texarkana (Miller County), between Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and Van Buren (Crawford County), in West Memphis (Crittenden County), and north of Blytheville (Mississippi County). In 1978, a center was opened in Helena (Phillips County), and another opened in Lake Village (Chicot County) in 1980. The tenth center opened in Mammoth Spring (Fulton County) in 1987 in combination with the visitor center at Mammoth Spring State Park; it is the only Arkansas Welcome Center located inside a state park. Two more centers opened in the late 1980s, one in Harrison (Boone County) and the other north of Texarkana next to Highway 71, near the point where the Red River crosses into Arkansas. In 1992, a center opened in Siloam Springs (Benton County) along U.S. Highway 412.
In 2002, the Department of Parks and Tourism announced that it would begin upgrading the centers, choosing three of the older facilities (in Corning, in El Dorado, and between Van Buren and Fort Smith) for repair and improvements at a cost of roughly $7 million. Eighty percent of the cost of renovation came from federal highway funds, with the remainder provided from the state’s budget. The upgraded centers feature displays of items from around the state, grouped by region, as well as refurbished restrooms and grounds. New construction replaced old welcome centers later in the decade (Blytheville, Lake Village, and Texarkana). Remodeling at the West Memphis center was completed in April 2013 and at the Helena-West Helena center in October 2013. In 2017, the old Texarkana center along State Line Avenue was replaced with a new facility at the same address (Texarkana also has a welcome center along Interstate 30).
According to the Department of Parks and Tourism, the primary function of the Welcome Centers is “to provide Arkansas travelers with information on scenic, historic, and recreational points of interest within the state, presenting the positive first impression of Arkansas that is so critical in persuading guests to stay longer and discover new attractions.” Employees at the centers are certified after passing an examination on Arkansas attractions, history, geography, geology, and map skills.
For additional information:
Arkansas Welcome Centers. http://www.arkansas.com/welcome-centers/ (accessed January 19, 2022).
“TIC Upgrades in Progress.” Arkansas, the Natural State: News from the Department of Parks and Tourism (Fall 2002): 3.
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
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