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Arkansas Great River Road

The face of the river, in time, became a wonderful book ... which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it had uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. - Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Along The Natural State’s eastern border flows a mighty river that has transformed the land and the people within its reach. It is the majestic Mississippi River, which starts as a stream in Minnesota, winding throughout America’s heartland to Louisiana, where it relinquishes its powerful waters into the Gulf of Mexico.

Arkansas’s 362-mile section of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway winds its way through the state’s eastern Delta region along the mighty torrent. The waterway created a scenic and natural border that has beckoned people to its banks for centuries. Visitors can gaze upon acres of cotton, soybeans or rice as they travel through some of the most fertile land in the country on a Mississippi River road trip. Along the trek, numerous historical and cultural sites preserve the history of Arkansas and its people and welcome visitors to learn more about this remarkable region. In The Natural State, Old Man River carved its way under its own terms…man tried to control it and failed miserably.

The Great River Road was established in 1938 when governors from the 10 states bordering the waterway decided to develop a network of rural roads and new highways to create a transcontinental parkway along the Mississippi River, crisscrossing the mighty river, totaling 2,340 miles. The Mississippi River Parkway Commission was formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to preserve, promote, and enhance the scenic, historic and recreational resources of the Mississippi River; to foster economic growth in the corridor; and to develop the national, scenic and historic Great River Road.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Great River Road and the Mississippi River Parkway Commission. Arkansas Tourism plans to celebrate the historic thoroughfare with a variety of Southern festivals and activities. Want to help us commemorate the byway’s “birthday?” Embark on a grand Mississippi River road trip by car or motorcycle, or just join us in Arkansas for fun Southern festivals and other events found below.

The Delta region of the United States is rich in historical, archaeological, geological, natural, and cultural assets. The Delta region also has tremendous human capital in the people who live there and hold strong hopes for the future. The Delta's human, natural, and cultural resources have the potential to contribute significantly to the region's future.
Memorandum for the Secretary of Agriculture, regarding the Arkansas Delta Circuit Rider Pilot Project, December 10, 1999
Map of the Great River Road
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Famous Arkansans
  • Charles “Sonny” Liston

    (1932-1970) More >

    Charles “Sonny” Liston

    (1932-1970)
    Nicknamed “the Bear” for his massive physique, Liston was born in the small St. Francis County community of Sand Slough; he won the world heavyweight boxing championship by knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round on September 25, 1962; Liston held the title until February 25, 1964 when he lost the title to Cassius Clay who later became Muhammed Ali. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991
  • Mike Utley

    (b. 1947) More >

    Mike Utley

    (b. 1947)
    Musician Mike Utley was born in Blytheville and graduated from the University of Arkansas with a zoology degree. Early in his career he worked with the house band for Atlantic Records, backing performers such as Aretha Franklin, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Allman Brothers. In February 1973, after Jimmy Buffett had moved to Key West from Nashville, he heard Utley playing keyboards on one of Jerry Jeff Walker’s albums. He liked what he heard and asked Utley to play on his first major label album, "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean." Utley continued to work with other performers in the mid-1970s while continuing to work with Buffett until the latter’s 1977 breakout "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” He then joined the Coral Reefer Band full-time, making him the longest active member of the band. He now serves as its musical director. Utley has recorded with an impressive list of artists over his career, including Aretha Franklin, Ronnie Hawkins, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Jimmy Cliff, Sam The Sham, Jackson Browne, Booker T. Jones, and John Kay of Steppenwolf. He's also produced many albums with Buffett. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
  • John H. Johnson

    (1918-2005) More >

    John H. Johnson

    (1918-2005)
    Arkansas City native and publisher who founded Negro Digest in 1942, followed by Ebony and Jet magazines. These became the most powerful African-American owned media company in the United States. He also created Fashion Fair Cosmetics. Johnson was the first African-American to be named to the Forbes list of the 400 Richest Americans. He was awarded the "Medal of Freedom" by President Clinton on September 9, 1996.
  • Beth Brickell

    (b. 1937) More >

    Beth Brickell

    (b. 1937)
    Actress who played Dennis Weaver's wife in the 1966-68 television series "Gentle Ben". This award-winning film producer was born in Brinkley, raised in Camden and now lives near Paron in Saline County. Ms. Brickell also appeared in "Marcus Welby, M.D." and "Dan August." The film, "Summers End," written, directed and produced by Beth Brickell won numerous awards. It is the story of a young girl in a small Arkansas town during the last days of summer in 1948. She enjoys the same things as boys including baseball, and playing marbles and pirates. She finds herself the focus of a family crisis when her mother insists it is time that she becomes "a girl." Her father who has always encouraged her individuality is caught in the middle. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
  • Albert King

    (1923-1992) More >

    Albert King

    (1923-1992)
    Born Albert Nelson on April 25, in Indianola, Mississippi, King is nicknamed "The Velvet Bulldozer." One of 13 children, King grew up picking cotton on plantations in Forrest City where the family moved in 1931, and performed near Osceola with a group called the Groove Boys. His first introduction to music was singing in church and listening to his father, Will Nelson, play guitar. Another early influence came from the family's records where he spent hours trying to copy the sounds of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson on his homemade cigar box guitars and one string diddley-bows. King obtained his first real guitar in 1942. He was fascinated by the playing of Blues musicians who frequented nearby West Memphis, Arkansas, most notably the works of Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James. He is considered one of the most influential blues guitarists ever and was the first blues guitarist to perform with a symphony (1969). In 1983, he was inducted into both the W.C. Handy International Blues Awards Hall of Fame and the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. Member Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame. 2013 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.