Arkansas – The GIS State

When it comes to GIS – Arkansas is getting it right.

I just got home from spending the past few days in Arkansas as a guest of the Arkansas GIS Users Forum. I was there to teach a four-hour Geospatial Law class, and present the Keynote Address at lunch the following day.  Here is what I learned:

1. Cooperation: The Arkansas GIS community works together to support each other. They share their geospatial data, expertise, and enthusiasm.  I heard many examples of government organizations and commercial enterprises working together. I talked with a lot of people while I was there and everyone I asked said, ‘that is the way it is done in Arkansas.’  Allow me to paraphrase the most common theme I encountered, “This is a small state.  We know each other, and our limited budgets necessitate working together.” From my experience, that isn’t always the case in other states. The Arkansas GIS community just naturally seems to understand the benefits that come from collaboration and cooperation. And they appear to be very good at working towards the common good.

2. Open GIS Records: The Arkansas laws on GIS data do not cut GIS data out from under their State’s Freedom of Information Act.  They treat their GIS data as I believe a good GIS data dissemination public policy ought to. It is my impression that the people working in the State’s GIS community understand how important a sharing attitude is towards advancing the economic and civil development of their state.  While there are some arguments for using GIS data sales as a potential budget augmenter, everyone I talked with seemed to feel that there is a far better benefit to be obtained from pushing their data out to the public. Go Arkansas!

3. The Natural State: The State’s abundant natural beauty is being protected, promoted, and marketed in many ways because some very capable GIS people working behind the scenes.  I learned that Arkansas has some very complex geology, and I learned how that geology contributes to the State’s natural beauty. I was impressed with the number of GIS people I met who were working to assess and manage their state’s natural resources. I especially enjoyed Dr, Van Brahana’s presentation.  He explained how vulnerable groundwater can be to CAFO waste contamination, even while there appears to be a massive geological barrier between the potential contamination source and the test site.  He also, very bravely for a self-proclaimed “tree hugger,” challenged some of the conventional wisdom surrounding fracking, water contamination, and earthquakes.  He is a passionate and articulate voice on several important state issues.
4. Elk:  I learned from Deano Traywick that they have elk in Arkansas.  I didn’t know that before.

5. Pizza in an Old Hotel:  I was treated to a pizza dinner by the group at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs.  That was some darn good pizza; it was for sure in the top 10 pizzas of my life.  Also the Crescent Hotel is beautiful and its history and artifacts are fascinating.  Sunny Farmahan’s ghost stories were really cool – also sort of tragic – but, I am glad he shared them with us.

6. Unexpected Thesaurus: I learned a few new words while I was there.  My favorite was: Defactato.  As found in in Rodrigo Fernández de Santaella’s seminal work, the Vocabularium Ecclesiasticum. Defactato translates as poop, but it sounds so much more sophisticated rolling off the tongue than poop. Thanks for the cool new word Dr. Brahana.

7. Curious:  The GIS people I talked with had lots of questions about the law pertaining to geospatial issues, products, and people.  I was asked so many good questions while I was there.  I am also curious about how they do things in Arkansas.  The issue of municipal annexations seems to be handled very different from the law I have encountered elsewhere.  I have more to learn from Arkansas.

8. Decorous:  The people of Arkansas are just nice.  I know that is a pretty broad statement, but I stand by it.  From the time I crossed the border into Arkansas on my way to Eureka Springs until I left the State, every encounter I had with anyone was nothing short of pleasant.  I didn’t arrive with any preconceptions, but I left with a wonderful impression.  I especially want to thank Kimberly Bogart, Brian Culpepper, Elizabeth Bowen, Malcolm Williamson, and Sunny Farmahan for the time they took out of their conference schedule to be such gracious hosts.

9. Proud Hosts:  The people of Arkansas are very proud of their heritage and many of the people at the conference went out of their way to take the time to give me some of the history of the town, various historic sites, and they described some of the colorful characters who helped to shape Arkansas. I’m coming back.  I don’t know when, but I know the next time I want to take some time to explore Eureka Springs, and then the rest of the state.

10. Mad GIS Skilz!: The Arkansas GIS community has some pretty impressive people with some pretty impressive technical skills.  I listened to a lot of people describe their work – I was always impressed. I am already looking forward to watching the PBS and National Geographic Channel show Time Scanners which Malcolm Williamson and his team worked to create.

Thank you, Arkansas!
Chris Dunn

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