Education never ends

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When I was still in school, I always loved field trips. Once the state achievement tests had been completed, field trips were offered. As much as I learned in classrooms, the education sticking with me over the years was from things I learned on field trips. I can recall going to Fantastic Caverns and various museums over the years. I loved guided tours complete with a question-and-answer session. Learning by doing and seeing has not changed for me in adulthood.

This past month, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s leadership program LeadAR Class 20 met up in beautiful Hot Springs, Ark. We met for a leadership study on infrastructure and public health. 

First stop was Hot Springs City Hall. We were welcomed by the city mayor, two deputy city managers and a city engineer. We learned about the hospitality and tourism industry allowing the city to thrive post-pandemic. The city has a rocky terrain and infrastructure for new roads and improvements are difficult and costly. The city enjoys a good relationship with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to continuously improve road conditions. Hot Springs has also undergone a major water treatment project to provide additional potable water and currently operates a solar farm providing 6.01 megawatts of power to city buildings and the pump station. We learned that two keys to a city’s success included communication and relationships. These are keys to starting, funding, and finishing important work.

After the morning session concluded, we boarded a Hot Springs Public School bus. Our next stop for lunch was at Crystal Ridge Distillery. When some folks think of Hot Springs, they think of its early days when mobsters and bootleggers ran all kinds of illegal activities in the city’s underground. We enjoyed a catered lunch hosted by LeadAR alumni from the area in this lovely venue. We were able to tour the distillery and learn more about this unique small business from its owners.

After lunch, we hopped back on the bus and toured a water treatment plant. We learned about water flow, treatment processes and what it takes to keep water flowing even in a weather emergency. 

We enjoyed a steak dinner hosted by more LeadAR alumni from the area. The best learning often comes over a good dessert and conversation. 

The group stayed overnight at Oaklawn Casino & Resort. This was completed two years ago and hosts many events to attract visitors near and far. Gaming, just like mobsters and bootlegged whiskey, also has a history in Hot Springs. Our class enjoyed the beautiful rooms overlooking Oaklawn racetrack, home to the Arkansas Derby. 

We kicked off our second day by taking a bus ride out to the Jessieville area to learn more about the forestry industry. We were able to meet with a forester from a packaging company who shared his knowledge of clear cutting, stream-side management zones, site preparation and regeneration. The class viewed the growth differences for a 3-year-old tree stand and an 18-year-old stand and harvest. The timber industry plays a big role in our state’s economy. Arkansas is the #3 state for economic impact of forestry and #1 among southern states. This entity of agriculture contributes to consumer needs and the Arkansas workforce. Learning in the woods was a great field trip.

We enjoyed a barbecue lunch in town. We discussed our upcoming National Study Tour priorities for a week planned in Washington, D.C. in September. We concluded with some valuable community leadership building exercises.

Known for its natural hot springs and National park – the city of Hot Springs has a motto, “We bathe the world.” LeadAR class 20 was bathed in two days of discovering unique challenges and strengths of this community. My classmates and I are walked with knowledge and ideas for how to overcome challenges in each local community by capitalizing on community strengths – people. Field trip learning is still my favorite, neighbor.

Jody Harris is a freelance communications specialist, gardener, ranch wife and mother of four. She and her family raise Angus beef cattle and other critters on their northwest Arkansas ranch. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Jody, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’

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