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Arkansas Governors Conference on Tourism

BBQ, tigers and baseball! My trip to the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

Last week I had the opportunity to travel back to Springdale, Arkansas, where we filmed last summer for Travels with Darley, for the 42nd annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. As the breakfast keynote speaker, I had the opportunity and challenge of speaking early in the morning to a group of over 550 tourism professionals and getting them energized for a day of networking and learning at the Team Coaches Breakfast.

My breakfast keynote at the Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

My breakfast keynote at the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism/ Casey Crocker.

I am an enthusiastic speaker. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism/ Casey .

I am an enthusiastic speaker. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism/ Casey Crocker.

But, I’ll take you back to the day before, when I got a greater taste of Springdale area and was able to get more involved with the conference and attendees at the auction. A silent auction is a great way to raise money for a good cause and this conference held both a silent and live auction. I’m always enamored by auctioneers, who with great speed and rhythm almost sing their auction chant, which I just discovered is actually a thing.

After enjoying a bit of the live auction festivities, I took a stroll around the silent auction, where two particular items caught my eye. One was an amazing set for outdoor grilling that might have been just too big to transport back to my home on the East Coast and the other, a striking stuffed tiger and her cub. Yes, it might be for kids, but I do love cats and the story behind it made me want to bid on it even more.

Eye on the prize. That's the tiger in the left hand corner amid other auction items.

Eye on the prize. That’s the tiger in the left hand corner amid other auction items.

The stuffed tiger was donated by Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, whose mission is to serve as a lifetime refuge for abandoned, abused, and neglected “Big Cats” with emphasis on Tigers, Lions, Leopards and Cougars. As an animal lover in general and in particular horses, dogs and cats, this item struck a cord. I bid and bid again, securing this prize and at the same time supporting the Arkansas Tourism Development Foundation scholarship program.

Meeting Tanya Smith, who founded the Turpentine Creek refuge for big cats. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

Meeting Tanya Smith, who founded the Turpentine Creek refuge for big cats. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism/ Kirk Jordan.

At the auction with Joe David Rice, Tourism Director, and Arkansas travel writer Jill Rohrbach. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

At the auction with Joe David Rice, Tourism Director, and Arkansas travel writer Jill Rohrbach. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

The auction also gave me an opportunity to learn about more of the authentic and quirky attractions in the state of Arkansas, including the big cat refuge, an October blues festival in Helena, and a state park where you can search for diamonds and keep what you find. I would find another quirky attraction at dinner that evening at Penguin Ed’s. Not only can you order classic BBQ ribs and pulled pork, but you can order it on a big red, retro telephone from your booth. Sure, your waiter may be in your sightline, picking up the other line in the kitchen, but it’s a funky, memorable experience. The baked beans and mac and cheese are also really good.

You can call in your order table-side at Penguin Ed's BBQ.

You can call in your order table-side at Penguin Ed’s BBQ.

So with a belly full of BBQ and a brand new (stuffed) tiger, I was ready to take on the next morning’s speech. That’s where the baseball comes into play. Northwest Arkansas is home to one of only 30 Class AA Minor League Baseball teams in the USA, the Arkansas Naturals, so it was fitting that the conference had a baseball theme. At the Coaches Breakfast, I was able to coach folks on working with local people to tell their own personal and authentic stories about their destination, as well as give tips on how destinations can work with the media to make the most of their social, TV and digital video projects.

More tips and tricks for great storytelling with locals. I am an enthusiastic speaker. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

More tips and tricks for great storytelling with locals. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

From my work filming and producing the Emmy-winning Equitrekking series on PBS and now Travels with Darley, I get the chance to travel the US and world meeting wonderful locals in every location. It’s these locals that are the best people to share their home area, which is a hallmark of both of my series.


One of the videos of my travels in Arkansas, where a local serves as my guide to Cycle the Razorback Greenway Trail by TravelswithDarley 

Photo opp with the lovely Monika Rued, Arkansas State Parks Public Information Officer.

Photo opp with the lovely Monika Rued, Arkansas State Parks Public Information Officer. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism/ Kirk Jordan.

The event was a fun trip back to Arkansas and a great way for me to also learn more about issues surrounding travel and tourism on the local, national and global level. It always feels good to know that through your own travels, you can support small businesses and in turn help families and communities around the world.

1 Comment

  1. Tanya Smith

    March 23, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Thank you Darley for coming to Arkansas and for mentioning Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in your blog. I look forward to showing you the animals up close and personal when you visit. I know you will love the refuge and all the people that make this Big Cat refuge work on a day to day basis.

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Travels with Darley is a travel TV series broadcast on PBS stations and on digital networks, including the AOL On Network. Host Darley Newman of "Equitrekking" fame joins locals to showcase the top food, culture and adventure attractions in the USA and around the globe.

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