In December 2022, then Go.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders (left) announced her plan to nominate Mike Mills (right) as secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday named State Parks Director Shea Lewis as interim secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Lewis replaces Mike Mills, founder of the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Newton County and a member of the department’s outdoor tourism board.
Mills leaves the administration after less than six months. No official reason was given for his departure, but social media posts over the weekend indicate he was pushed out.
Sanders’ announcement about Lewis’s appointment said Mills was “[stepping] away from the administration.” She thanked Mills for his service and “years of work as a pioneer in Arkansas’ tourism industry.”
Lewis, she said in a press release, “is perfectly equipped to step seamlessly into this new role and continue our work to grow our outdoor economy and make Arkansas an unparalleled place to live, work, and raise a family.”
When Sanders announced Mills’ appointment in December, she said he would help “expand and grow the tourism industry in a way that Arkansas has never done before.”
“There is nobody who has spent more time living, loving, enjoying and promoting the Natural State than Mike Mills,” the newly elected governor said at a Little Rock press conference.
The change in the top post at the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism followed by a day the announced departure of state Tourism Director Travis Napper, who was hired in April 2020. Napper is leaving to take a job as director of Destination Partnerships for Oxford, England-based Oxford Economics.
Growing Arkansas’ outdoor economy has been a major part of Sanders’ first six months in office. In January, she announced the creation of the Natural State Advisory Council as part of her Natural State Initiative to promote outdoor recreation and the outdoor economy and named her husband Bryan Sanders chairman.
Lewis has been state parks director since 2022, responsible for the day-to-day operation of 52 state parks in 48 counties, covering 55,000 acres across the state.
Lewis started his career with Arkansas State Parks as a seasonal park interpreter in 1995. He has worked as a full-time interpreter, park superintendent, region supervisor, and deputy director for Arkansas State Parks.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in parks, recreation and leisure studies from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree in educational/instructional media design from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
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