Conservationist, hiker and wildlife watcher Bob Phelps talks legacy and keeping Arkansas beautiful
By: Lacey Thacker Photography: Deede Phelps
Where are you from? I was born in Hot Springs, but spent all my life in El Dorado before leaving to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I’ve lived in Little Rock, which I consider home, since 1962.
How did you become involved with Keep Arkansas Beautiful? In 1993, my wife, Deede, and I were returning from a trip east, where we were mesmerized by the natural beauty we encountered across Tennessee and throughout Virginia. But as we returned to Arkansas we encountered trash and neglect that made us ashamed. Our love for Arkansas’ environment led us to create and distribute bumper stickers stating, “Only Trash Litters,” hoping to awaken the pride we felt for our home in others. After I retired from my marketing agency, I was offered the position of Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission director. I began in August 1998 and have just recently retired.
What legacy have you left with Keep Arkansas Beautiful? I’ve worked to create a culture change in Arkansas, one that is intolerant of litter, trash, dumping, pollution and the behaviors that contribute to this blight. We’re better than this; our natural beauty deserves respect, care and protection. The message of conservation depends on each citizen taking personal responsibility for their own waste through to recycling whatever can be usefully recovered. When I see evidence of volunteerism that embraces these ideals, I am filled with optimism that together we will become a cleaner, greener state.
What outdoor activities do you currently enjoy? My involvement with the Boy Scouts (I’m an Eagle Scout) taught me to love all things outdoors, and formed my deep love of Arkansas’ natural environment. I’m at the point in life that I can enjoy a long walk or a quiet retreat that permits marveling at the wonder of nature, enjoying simply being a spectator, observing birds, wildlife and our abundant natural beauty. My love for the physical environment has not diminished, but it has mellowed into a deep appreciation and desire to protect it for future generations. I still enjoy just about anything to do with water and swim often. My knees won’t support running now, but I still walk as much as possible. I want to learn to fly fish and catch some trout and I am hopeful that my good buddy Jim will share his secrets with me. I’d also like to attract a hummingbird to feed in my hand, like the chipmunk that greets me each morning.
How does conservation impact enjoyment of the outdoors? Habitat preservation, even in urban areas, is essential if we are to continue to fully enjoy our natural world. We must include the needs of all creatures, flora and fauna as we conserve and preserve. Litter and dumping harms our wildlife as it also blemishes and degrades our natural beauty, enjoyment and quality of life. As more and more people come to realize the natural treasures that Arkansas abundantly holds, I hold great hope for our future and for continuation of environmental stewardship. I believe we can develop a caring culture that values our state’s pristine and beautiful outdoors.