State tourism head to preside over ES Mardi Gras parade

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 ~ Updated 2:02 PM

EUREKA SPRINGS -- When the 2011 Eureka Gras Mardi Gras parade rolls through Eureka Springs' historic downtown this year, the affable head of state tourism will be its Grand Marshal.

Joe David Rice will preside over parade festivities March 5 beginning at 2 p.m.

The Eureka Gras Mardi Gras Extravaganza gets in full swing with the annual Hookers and Jokers Ball March 3 and officially ends March 8 with the "St. 'Lizbeth's King Cake Ball and Mardi Gras Dinner" at 6 p.m. This is the sixth annual local Mardi Gras celebration. It will be the biggest thus far, with more than a dozen events planned.

Rice has served as Arkansas's Tourism Director since 1987. He and his team of 65 employees have two major responsibilities: enhancing the image of Arkansas and enticing more visitors to the state.

Prior to his transfer to the tourism division, Rice was employed by the Arkansas State Parks system where he worked on the Arkansas Wilderness Act of 1983, the Cossatot River State Park and Natural Area, and the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Trust Fund. He wrote the department's award-winning community park handbook, edited its festival manual, and produced the "Arkansas Floater's Kit." In addition, Rice was a partner in a canoe outfitting service on the Buffalo National River.

Rice, who was born in Paragould and raised in Jonesboro, graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1974. He also obtained a Master's degree -- with an emphasis in environmental planning -- from the University of Illinois. He's received commendations from both the National Recreation & Parks Association and the National Park Service for his work, and was recognized by then Governor Bill Clinton as an "outstanding state employee."

He headed up Arkansas' delegation to the 1995 White House Conference on Travel and Tourism. In 2003 his peers selected him as the country's State Tourism Director of the Year. He is also past Chair of the National Council of State Tourism Directors. In 2008 Rice was inducted into the Arkansas Hospitality Association Hall of Fame.

For details on this year's Eureka Gras Mardi Gras Extravaganza, go online to or call (479) 981-9551.

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