-A / A / +A
Natural Environments

Arkansas is a wonderfully diverse place. And without question, Arkansas is a beautiful state. From the majestic mountains of the Arkansas Ozarks to the swampy lowlands of the Delta, there is a wealth of natural beauty and diversity found right here in "The Natural State."

Arkansas Working people handsOur varied natural environment shaped who we are and what we do. As Ellen Neaville of Rogers pointed out, "We tend to think we shaped the land. But the land shaped us, and that cultural connection is so important." The rich heritage of the people, the land and the art of the culture are an integral part of our past and present.

Our Arkansas heritage is part southern, part midwestern, part southwestern, part Appalachian. Our roots extend to Europe, Africa and Asia. However, we are not simply a compilation of all those things. Instead, we have benefited and built on the heritage of other countries and other regions from our own country, and created a distinct heritage of our own.

As Arkansans, we share an underlying common heritage; however, we are not all cut from the same cloth. The land and people of each part of the state are different from those of other parts.

When people arrived in Arkansas, they found mountains, prairies, swamps and much more. As they tried to fit their uses of the land to the environment, they changed it, and their own lives changed, sometimes dramatically. Sometimes the changes caused problems because the people didn't understand the needs and values of the land.

Arkansas plowing fields - black and whiteFor example, settlers of the northwestern Arkansas Ozarks often found these ancient mountains to be a rugged land with steep slopes, thin soil, bad roads and few prospects for "a good life." Cotton farming led to soil depletion, erosion and abandonment. Folks scratched out a meager existence and relied on each other but were suspicious of strangers. These are key elements of the Ozark mountaineer lifestyle. Today, the scenery of these mountains attracts visitors and residents from across the nation and they are the major growth areas of Arkansas. They are the image most people have when they envision "Arkansas, the Natural State."

However, in the Delta of eastern Arkansas people found a land with swamps, floods and mosquitoes, a wildlife paradise with deep soil that made cash-crop agriculture and plantations possible. Planters brought slaves from Africa, and eventually used mighty machines, to drain the swamps and clear the forest to grow cotton. Even long after emancipation, this is an area of both wealth and poverty, and an ecosystem that has been altered more than almost any other in North America. The forests have been cleared and the floods that created the system have been tamed by a huge network of levees and ditches. This area is the center of agricultural production in the state today, but is the focus of massive governmental programs to restore marginal crop lands to bottomland forest, along with the waterfowl and other wildlife that once occurred here in such abundance.

   The Ozarks and the Delta are just two of the six major natural divisions of Arkansas. In each of these regions of Arkansas the land has distinctive potentials and limitations. People have examined, embraced and exploited these potentials, and in doing so have shaped the landscape. In turn they have been shaped by it. To understand Arkansas we must understand each of these parts; then we can put the parts together to see the whole. Click here for additional information on Arkansas's diverse regions.