Ryan McGeeney

Ryan McGeeney

Home school outside mainstream; Its focus is families, lessons in competence, resilience 

RED STAR — As Mary Margarett Harris, a 10-yearold home-school student from Red Star, coasts down a plywood ramp and across a concrete floor, the sounds of her skateboarding and squealing blend in with the buzz at Headwaters School.

It’s midmorning on a Wednesday, one of the two days the Headwaters School, located in Red Star along Arkansas 16, is open each week. About a dozen children ranging in age from 1-14 are simultaneously at work and play in the school’s main room, which is a combination of work desks, a kitchen, an activity table and a large, open floor. While some of the children prepare to go outside for a science experiment involving creating large soap bubbles, others freely rollerblade around the school’s interior.

The school, which is not accredited, is a cross between a one-room schoolhouse and an artistic community center. Headwaters — founded in nearby Pettigrew in the early 1970s — has served home-schoolers for about 40 years. It relocated to Red Star, which is in the Ozark National Forest, in 1997.

Rain Mako, Headwaters’ president and one of the school’s three teachers, emphasized that it isn’t simply for home-schooled children or their parents, but rather for the entire family.

“In home schooling, you see people who begin for religious reasons, or they’re dissatisfied with public education, but also people who see it as an extension of their family life,” Mako said. “There is a focus on family closeness, on competence and resiliency. It’s a choice to invest a lot of time with your kids — passing on your values and beliefs, but also enjoying life together.”

“There’s a common thread to the families that are involved here,” said Mako. “It has to be someone who’s willing to do things that are out of the mainstream.”

“It takes people who are adventurous and resourceful to home school in the first place. To have the less-directed sort of home schooling that works well at Headwaters takes a lot of confidence on the part of the parents,” Mako said.

Sara White, a home-schooler who also teaches at the school, said about 15 home-schooling families have children who attend Headwaters at least twice a month.

The school, which was registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit organization in 1976, runs with minimal funding from the community. Parents pay annual fees of $125 to cover the school’s utilities, phone line and insurance, Mako said. Teachers are paid directly by the parents.

An extended family of community members, many of whom are former students or parents of students, still actively participates in steering the school and planning fundraisers to fund it.

The school hosts home-schoolers each Wednesday and Thursday, although there is no mandatory attendance. Activities normally begin at 10 a.m., and the school day continues into midafternoon, with a break for lunch.

Mako and other teachers do not rely on a set curriculum, but instead design activities that put practical skills and knowledge to use.

While some families live within minutes of the school, others live more than an hour’s drive away. In those cases, the parents tend to stay the entire day with their children and assist in teaching.

The school attracts families from as far away as Fayetteville and Clarksville. Many share a back-to-the-land ethic. Some have homesteads that function without use of rural electrical grids. The religious leanings of the various families differ, and most now involved with the school did not choose home schooling for religious reasons.

“We don’t have any religion-purposed families at the moment,” White said. “We have had religious families in the past, and we all have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. What ties us together is our landscape and our tremendous belief in our ability to educate ourselves.”

The number of homeschooled students in Arkansas has climbed each year for the past two decades. Accordingto the Arkansas Department of Education, more than 16,400 children were enrolled in home-schooling programs in 2012. That’s more than five times the 3,140 number of home-school students reported in 1992.

Bill Ballard, Arkansas coordinator for home-school testing, said that outside of religion, parents typically report one of three reasons for wanting to home school their children.

“They feel they can actually do better for their children,” said Ballard, noting that in some locations, there may be no public school that satisfies a particular parent.

“Parents of special-needs kids often feel very strongly that they can help their children better than a special-education teacher in a public school. A big percentage of home-schooling parents just feel the public schools are an unsafe environment,” Ballard said. “And some of them just get mad at people.”

Kristin Hedges, who home schools her three children, ages 1, 4 and 6, with her husband in Clarksville, said she discovered Headwaters shortly after moving to Arkansas from Arizona in 2010. Although she initially recoiled at the idea of an hour-long commute to the school, her first visit changed her mind.

“After a month of trying to figure out what we were going to do, and feeling really lonely, I came up one Wednesday,” Hedges said. “As soon as I walked in, I let out a breath I’d been holding since we’d moved here — a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.”

Hedges said Headwaters persuaded her in part to commit to home schooling her children because she wanted them to have a learning experience than deviated from her perception of current public school teaching techniques.

“It’s the whole idea of experiential learning,” Hedges said. “It’s not sitting at a desk and hammering facts into kids. It’s learning as we’re actually experiencing the environment, the world, and what’s going on around us.”

Other parents said they focused on curriculum-based teaching, while using gathering spaces such as Headwaters to put those lessons to practical use. Teachers at the school use nature walks through the Ozark National Forest to teach children to identify trees and plants, and use kayak floats on the Buffalo National River to teach about waterways and geology.

“It’s this experiential learning that’s become really valued for us,” Hedges said. “[The children] seem to have a higher value for what they’re learning, as opposed to adults just telling them what to memorize.”

The Arkansas Department of Education tracks reading-comprehension and conceptual problem- solving scores for home-schooled children, although only in the aggregate. While parents are not required to submit lesson plans or adhere to any established curricula, homeschooled children must take tests using the Iowa Basic Skills test criteria each year during grades three through nine. While parents have access to their children’s individual results, the results are not shared with the state, Ballard said.

According to data from the Education Department, homeschooled children in Arkansas scored on average as well or better than did 52 percent to 68 percent of children taught in public or private schools on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam or the Iowa Basic Skills test over the past five years.

Many of the parents interviewed at the Headwaters School said the most common concern they hear from inside their families and out is that home schooling isolates children from their peers and robs them of the opportunity to develop social skills.

White, whose husband and three brothers-in-law were all home-schooled and attended the Headwaters School in their younger years, said she thinks that daily interaction between parent and child combined with that of children of different ages, is more effective at socializing than is the public school system.

“Look at public school’s idea of socialization: ‘sit down, be still, be quiet,’” White said. “I really didn’t want my children to experience that whole public school scene. I wanted them to experience a smaller environment where they would have really close friends that would be encouraging.”

She said there are tangible benefits in the educational style of the Headwaters School.

“I’ve found that kids learn better from other kids. I like the one-room schoolhouse environment where they’re learning from the kids who are older than them,” White said. “That really helps both the older kids and the younger kids — it gives the younger kids somebody to look up to, and it gives older kids a reason to be responsible.”


Originally published April 28, 2013 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


Teams compete for prizes at annual event in Harrison

HARRISON, Ark. — Ten minutes before the sun broke over the horizon Saturday morning, Rick and Rayne Davidson were frenetic.

The Harrison couple had been racing around the rural outskirts of the city in their Chevrolet pickup, trailer in tow, taking wind measurements at key sites. They were trying to find the perfect location to set up their hot air balloon and ride the prevailing winds to their target goal.

And they were not alone.

A dozen teams, all participants in the 18th annual Arkansas Hot Air Balloon Festival, were rambling around the roads, trying to find fields that would give them an advantage.

The Davidsons had the home-field advantage: Rick has piloted hot-air balloons in the area for more than 20 years, and he knows how to access most of the surrounding fields, as well as where to find the landowners to ask permission for access. At one point, Rayne ordered Rick to pull over, then sprinted across Arkansas 43 to knock on the front door of a small farm home. Less than a minute later, she hurried back to the truck.

“We got it! Go!” she yelled.

The truck rambled through a narrow gate, over a small creek bridge, and stopped in a spot of short grass in a field, with the rest of the Davidsons’ ground crew close behind.

After Rick Davidson filled a small helium balloon, a “pie ball” in ballooning parlance, and released it to give a final indication of the morning winds, he, Rayne, and eight friends quickly unpacked the materials of his hot air balloon and fully assembled it within about 10 minutes. Rick Davidson keyed the propane burner to heat the air trapped in the “envelope,” and after a last-second scramble to get into the basket, he was off.

Other than the intermittent roar of the burner, the commotion on the ground was replaced by complete, silent calm.

The morning’s event, a challenge to hit two of about a dozen ground targets with bean bags dropped or thrown from the hot-air balloons, was the second in a series of challenges that began Friday night and ends this morning in Harrison. Although Davidson said he had never won the event in the years he had competed, he said he usually finishes in the top five.

Patty Methvin, president of the Harrison Chamber of Commerce, said the event is intended to help foster community involvement, rather than raise funds for the chamber or the city.

“We budget to break even,” said Methvin, who estimated the total cost of the festival to be about $10,000.

Methvin said that events Saturday evening included $5 tethered rides in the balloons, allowing residents to get a short taste of life off the ground.

“We have multiple people who say this is a ‘bucket list’ item,” Methvin said.

In addition to points awarded for hitting two ground targets among the dozen or so mapped out for contestants before the challenge, participants also had the chance to win a cash award by grasping a ring that rested atop a 20-foot pole along the course.

“That pole has $10,000 at the top of it, and they don’t want it in an easy location,” Rick Davidson said.

The choice of where to take off is an essential one. Although pilots can control the altitude of their balloons by heating the air trapped in the envelope with a propane burner to ascend or releasing the air to descend, there is no steering mechanism. Winds blow differently depending on the altitude, and a pilot who is on course one moment can quickly be blown astray if he rises or falls too quickly.

“You gotta be able to to read the winds and have that gut feeling,” Rayne Davidson said. “Sort of move without thinking. Every little action [Rick Davidson] takes changes the path of the balloon.”

Pilots in competitive events typically rely on ground crews that navigate terrain and radio advice from locations along the course. Although the use of GPS devices aboard the balloons is allowed, Rick Davidson said he doesn’t use them.

“I am old-school,” he said. “I’ve learned to fly the way I fly today, and I’ve stayed with that because it’s been accurate for me.”

Contrary to popular images of balloon festivals in which pilots fill the sky hundreds of feet above the ground, Davidson and the other pilots mostly stayed 20 or 30 feet off the ground Saturday in an effort to stay on course. At several points, Davidson was close enough to chat with his ground crew, only slightly raising his voice as he passed overhead. Other moments found him steadily gunning the propane burner to rise above the tree line, branches brushing against the basket.

As Davidson approached his first target, he quickly gained about 30 feet in altitude, trying to catch a crosswind to get him closer to the large “X” etched into a field before hurling a small bean bag toward it. The bag landed about 12 feet from the mark.

A few moments later, Allen Lawson of Branson, who won Friday night’s Hare and Hound chase event, brought his balloon almost directly over the target and seemed to momentarily hover about 20 feet above it. With an easy underhand toss, he dropped a bean bag that landed within 2 feet of the mark.

“Not too bad,” Davidson said with a grin.

As the morning progressed, pilots gradually made their way through the course, trying their luck with the individual targets. They landed after they took their two shots or determined that there was no way to tack back against the winds to get to any remaining goals. After strong westward winds blew Davidson off his course when he ascended to avoid electrical lines in downtown Harrison, he radioed his ground crew and arranged to land alongside another pilot behind a local hotel.

Once Davidson’s team disassembled the balloon and wrestled its components back into the trailer, they met other teams at the Ranch House Coffee Shop, where pilots and team members traded stories from the morning’s flights.

“My favorite part was being able to drive that balloon today,” Davidson said. “Especially in those low valley draws, to be able to maneuver my way over to the target. I didn’t just get up in the air and fly straight. I actually worked the balloon. Knowing I had to drive and steer it — that was the exciting part.”


Originally published Sept. 8, 2013, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


Ultrarunners make great strides in Arkansas Traveller 100

OUACHITA NATIONAL FOREST, Ark. — Nearly halfway into the 23rd annual Arkansas Traveller 100, N. Wesley Hunt thought something might be wrong.

Hunt, a 30-year-old lawyer who lives in Little Rock with his wife and three small children, had hoped to make it through the entire 100-mile footrace without spending more than a few seconds at any of the event’s two dozen aid stations. But eight hours into the race, as he left the aid station at Mile 48.2 in second place, just minutes after 22-year-old Brock Hime, Hunt decided to switch his minimalist trail running shoes for a more highly cushioned pair, in hopes they would help him cope with what was beginning to feel like ceaseless pounding.

Twenty-one hours later — 11 hours after Hunt crossed the finish line — the skin over the large metatarsal in his right foot was an angry-looking purple swell.

“I’m pretty sure I ran the last 60 miles on a fractured bone,” he said.

Hunt completed the Traveller, which began at 6 a.m. Oct. 5, in 18 hours, 6 minutes and 42 seconds — exactly one minute and eight seconds behind Hime, who won. It was the first 100-mile event either of the men had ever run.

People use words — staggering combinations of words — when crossing the finish line that cannot be reprinted in a newspaper. While the Traveller is not considered the most grueling ultra distance event in the country, it frequently exacts a toll that leaves participants simultaneously depleted and euphoric.

The race, which takes most who finish between 20 and 30 hours, is Arkansas’ premier event in the world of “ultramarathons” — defined as any distance longer than 26.2 miles. It attracts an anomalous hodgepodge of amateur athletes, most of whom get into the sport in their mid-30s or later, sometimes becoming runners for the first time so they can be ultrarunners.

For Chrissy Ferguson, who has organized the race for the last 13 years with her husband, Stan Ferguson, the event is more than a pastime. It’s nearly an all-consuming culture.

“The Traveller’s changed my life,” Chrissy Ferguson said. “I’m not close to the person I was before I started running the Traveller.”

In her late 20s, Ferguson left a career as an electronics development engineer in California and became a firefighter. She began ultrarunning two years later and discovered the Arkansas Traveller 100 in 1992. Now 52, she has run the event 16 times with completion times ranging from 17 hours, 53 minutes to 28 hours, 40 minutes. (She has also completed dozens of other ultras around the nation.)

“Your idea of distance drastically changes,” Ferguson said, adding that shorter events like 10K runs didn’t seem worth her time anymore, although she likes to compete and will enter shorter races in the Arkansas Grand Prix Series when she can. “You find out a lot about who you are, and how far you can push yourself. How tough you can really be.”

The Traveller visits abuse on the entire body, but reserves an especially intense punishment for the feet. At every aid station, many runners change out shoes and socks, revealing bandages made of everything from moleskin to duct tape, applying balms ranging from baby powder to Vagisil. It is not unusual to see them lancing blisters the size of quarters with pocket knives before hurriedly taping the wound shut and hobbling onto the course.

Blackened toenails are considered a rite of passage, and ligaments and tendons of the feet and ankles are a frequent source of pain or failure. Near the end of this year’s Traveller, at about Mile 97, David Stafford of North Little Rock lost the ability to flex either foot. After staggering the final three miles with the gait of a man literally walking on his heels, he was placed on a gurney and wheeled into the medical area at the Lake Sylvia shelter. He finished in 28 hours, 43 minutes and 27 seconds.

The effects of dehydration are the main danger to extreme distance runners. Matt Ganio, a professor of exercise science at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said that as runners lose bodily fluids to perspiration, heat stress can take an increasing toll on the body.

“You’re sweating a lot, and if you’re not adequately replacing the fluids, a lot of things can happen,” Ganio said. “Your body has a harder time regulating temperature. This can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be deadly.”

Ferguson, who takes pride in the fact that the Traveller has never lost anyone, said the race abides by a strict adherence to the “3-5-7 rule.” All runners are weighed the day before the race and their weight is inscribed on a wristband, which they’re required to wear for the duration of the event.

At several critical aid stations, runners must stop and be weighed. If they have lost 3 percent of their body weight, organizers will warn them to increase their food and fluid intake. At 5 percent, the captains at aid stations have the right to hold runners at the station until they have ingested plenty of food and water.

If a runner loses 7 percent or more of body weight, organizers have the right to drop the runner — take him off the course.

“If you come into an aid station and you don’t have a freaking clue who you are, we have problems,” Ferguson said. “When [a runner is] that messed up, people get angry if you say they’re not fit to go on. But they’re not in their right mind anyway. Usually, they’ll come back the next day and say, ‘Thank you.’”

Lee Galbraith, an advanced emergency medical technician based in Perryville who has worked with the medical staff of the Traveller for about a decade, said he and other health-care professionals arrive prepared to start an intravenous saline drip on every runner who starts the race, if necessary.

“A lot of what happens is that people push themselves too far,” Galbraith said. “You have to understand, for 100-mile runners, they are very attuned to their bodies, and they really know how to run themselves. But they push themselves too hard for whatever reason.”

Galbraith said he had talked to runners who actually factor receiving an IV into their race strategy, although his crew tries to discourage that approach, and will not allow a runner to return to the race once that runner has received an IV.

“When they get dehydrated, their kidneys are shutting down,” Galbraith said. “So we only offer IVs at the finish point. If you’re here, you’re either finished, or you’ve dropped.”

The difference between a marathon and a 100-mile event is as stark as the difference between a 10K and a marathon. A runner’s comfort at one level could augur nothing at all for races of a larger magnitude.

In shorter races, runners can rely on accumulated glucose stores, burning through sugars in the blood stream to power through short distances. At the marathon level, skilled runners depend on their ability to hold back, spending stores of glycogen over several hours.

But at 100 miles, there is no real calorie budgeting for most runners. Just a constant feeding of the beast, shoveling in food and water in a desperate attempt to stave off absolute depletion for another five miles, and then another and another. The foods runners are able to tolerate changes over the course of the exertion.

The Traveller is widely noted for having extremely well-stocked aid stations offering every treat from M&M’s and potato soup to pickles, but many runners have “drop bags” at one or more station anyway. These bags will contain personal items such as additional clothing, flashlights and food. Many chug a can of Ensure, the dietary supplement, at several stations. One runner has three to four slices of cold pizza wrapped in tinfoil waiting for him at multiple points.

While the most determined competitors spend as little time as possible at each aid station, relying on volunteers to rapidly refill water bottles with ice water and electrolyte mixes, others take their time, noshing on sandwiches, fruit, potatoes and candy bars.

“Cheesy toast? That’s amazing,” said Monica Sholz of Ontario, Canada, a veteran distance runner, pausing at an aid station about 16 miles into the race. “I don’t know if I want to go on.”

“The reality of this event is that it is a 100-mile buffet,” said Joyce Taylor, an aid station volunteer from Little Rock.

Of 120 runners to begin this year’s Traveller, 77 finished the race. According to data maintained by race organizers, the race has an average completion rate of about 67 percent.

Like many long distance events, the Traveller attracts an older crowd: Of this year’s finishers, nearly a third were 50 or older. Hime, a senior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is the youngest winner. Sarah Miller of Starkville, Miss., was the youngest woman to win the women’s division in 2012, also at the age of 22.

But most of the Traveller’s racers come to the world of 50- and 100-milers at a point in life when the technical focus shifts from running hard and fast to gliding along, relatively slowly. Over the past century, the average mile pace of male world-class marathoners has decreased from 7 minutes to 5. Hime’s pace at the Traveller averaged 10 minutes and 51 seconds per mile, a virtual crawl in most any other running competition, but fast enough that only 18 men and three women have completed the course in less time.

As Ferguson puts it, “I used to be fast and mean. Now I’m just slow and mean.”

It’s an effect of adrenaline that many racers feel the urge to sprint off the starting line, pushing a pace that will ultimately diminish their endurance. It’s an acquired skill to recognize and deny the impulse, forcing you to start slowly and easily.

Hime, who trained for the Traveller with a small cadre of race veterans including Stan Ferguson, said he had been warned by older runners not to give in to the urge to sprint through the early phases of the race.

“They said the one thing you can do [wrong] is go out too fast,” Hime said. “I was actually surprised when we took off Saturday morning — everyone took out so fast.”

Hime said his boss at the athletic shoe store where he works in Little Rock had promised him: “Go out slow tomorrow, and you’re going to win.”

“I went out pretty slow,” Hime said. “And it ended up paying off.”

Seven hours into Saturday’s race, however, Dustin Speer of Hot Springs was not thinking of Hime’s pace as “slow.” Like many competitors, Hime had asked for pacers to run alongside him to keep his progress steady and motivation high. Speer, a veteran distance racer himself, had volunteered to run with Hime from about Mile 48 to about Mile 67.

But as Speer monitored Hime’s progress through radio traffic at an aid station near the halfway point, he became worried that Hime would quickly leave him behind.

“I’m afraid my story is going to be the one of ‘the pacer who couldn’t keep up with his runner,’” Speer said with a grin. 

Several of the station’s volunteers, many of whom had served as pacers for Traveller participants, wondered if Hime would be able to finish the race before things completely unraveled.

“That 100-mile pace, it affects you differently,” said Speer, who was aware that this was Hime’s first 100-miler. “It’s on your hips differently, it’s on your knees differently, it’s on your ankles differently.” As it turned out, Hime managed his time well. But he’s not “most cases.”
Michael DuPriest, a physical therapist from Little Rock and a six-time Traveller veteran, said that the lessons of ultradistance running have to be learned the hard way by most. “You get 100 miles under you,” DuPriest said, “it’ll change your behavior.”


Originally published Oct. 14, 2013 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


OZARK — When Loren and Beverly Maier set up approximately 2 acres of grape trellises on their 300-acre property near Ozark four years ago, it was just for looks.

“We thought it’d be pretty, that it would look nice for wedding pictures,” said Beverly Maier, standing beneath the roof of the unfinished, 2,500-square-foot wedding chapel the Maiers are building near the edge of Four Dogs Ranch, overlooking the Arkansas River.

But after harvesting more than 1,400 pounds of muscadine grapes in 2013, the small vineyard is more than an affectation: It’s a business plan.

In February, the Maiers applied to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration to become the state’s 25th winery.

The Maiers’ push into the small-farm winery business is part of a recent surge in new wineries. Zachary Taylor, director of marketing for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, said that of the 24 wineries holding permits from the state, 10 of those permits were issued in the past four years.

“I think a lot of it has to do with interest in the ‘local food’ movement,” Taylor said. “In tourism, there’s a big push in the foodie sector.”

Wineries in Arkansas have been slow to make a comeback since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 under the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Joseph Post, vice-president of Post Familie Vineyards and Winery in Altus, said his family’s winery was one of more than 40 in the town before Prohibition. Now, more than 80 years after the 18th Amendment’s repeal, there are just five wineries in the area.

“When Prohibition hit, it decimated our town,” Post said. “We went from a town approaching 10,000 people to a ghost town of 200, specifically Altus.”

Post said a small number of European immigrant families with wine-making traditions had flocked to Altus because of its geography. Altus is sheltered from frost by its relatively high elevation and its location in an oxbow — or U-shaped bend — of the Arkansas River.

Post said that 23 of the remaining families formed the Altus Cooperative Winery. In 1947, the Post family bought out all controlling shares of the cooperative, becoming over time both one of the leading producers and the largest buyers of grapes in Arkansas.

The expansion of wineries in recent years coincides with efforts from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, which began promoting the Arkansas Wine Trail about two years ago, said Tourism Director Joe David Rice.

The Arkansas Wine Trail is a conceptual road map linking the high concentration of wineries in Altus with other wineries across the state, which both state tourism administrators and winery owners hope will make Arkansas more of a tourist destination for wine enthusiasts.

Rice said that in addition to information about the state’s wineries posted online, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has posted signs along highways throughout the state guiding motorists to the wineries.

“Our job is to help get motorists off the highways and help them see the interior of the state,” Rice said.

Rice said that while the idea for a wine trail was essentially “borrowed” from several other states that have successfully used the concept, they also received strong encouragement from organizations like the Arkansas Wine Producers Council.

Missouri is among the other states pushing a wine trail. Jim Anderson, executive director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, said that in the past 10 years, the number of Missouri wineries has increased from about 50 to 125. During the same period, the number of wineries across the country increased from about 3,000 to about 10,000, Anderson said.

“We had a strategy, but there was some luck involved, too,” Anderson said. “The growth of wineries, both in Missouri and the U.S., is strongly tied to agri-tourism. It’s local and regional food, craft brewing, microdistilleries. And wine is something people can take home with them, something that will keep longer than a batch of blueberries.”

Anderson said his board began investing in marketing and research in 1984. According to the board’s most recent economic impact study, published in 2009, wineries in Missouri generate about $1.6 billion in sales, wages and tax revenue annually, and represent about 14,000 full-time equivalent positions. About 800,000 tourists visit Missouri wineries each year, Anderson said.

According to a 2012 study measuring the economic effect of wine and grape growing in Arkansas, the industries accounted for more that 1,600 full-time equivalent jobs, $42 million in wages and $21 million in wine-related tourism expenditures. When data for the survey were collected in 2010, Arkansas had 13 wineries.

The study was commissioned by Arkansas Tech University, and completed by Frank, Rimerman and Co., a California-based research partnership.

In 2010, according to the study, Arkansas ranked 21st among all wine-producing states, producing less than 0.5 percent of the approximately 700 million gallons of wine fermented nationwide.

According to data from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau, Arkansas produced approximately 157,000 gallons of wine in 2012, out of more than 754 million gallons nationwide.

While business owners in many industries might discourage new competitors from entering the marketplace, Post said more wineries in the state can only help boost a tourism draw.

“I’m a real advocate of having multiple wineries to visit, of having a wine trail,” Post said. “I think it makes a tremendous amount of sense. The trick is, you need everyone making good wine on your trail. And certainly, everyone being hospitable and open to visitors. People can have a great experience coming out to visit.”

Post cautioned that while he wants to see more growers in the region, he’s looking for competence over capital, having seen plenty of first-time grape growers attempt to grow the wrong grapes in the wrong climate.

“I’d love to see more folks growing grapes, but we need folks that understand grapes, that don’t have delusions of grandeur,” Post said.

The Parks and Tourism Department’s guide to the Arkansas Wine Trail can be found at http://www.arkansas.com/places-to-go/trips-trails/.


Originally published Oct. 14, 2013, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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