In 1995 Robert McAfee of Hackett, Arkansas and the board of Peaceable Kingdom Inc., a nonprofit headed by McAfee, realized there was a lack of a coordinated, statewide effort in Arkansas to promote environmental education. They began efforts to establish the Arkansas Environmental Education Association.
Under the direction of an Advisory Council, AEEA began to form. AEEA would serve to provide communications among groups, to provide a network to share information and ideas, avoiding duplication of efforts and providing members with the opportunity to share with others with similar interests.
In August 1995, AEEA applied for and was granted affiliate status with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).
On March 1, 1996 the first statewide meeting of AEEA was held in Ft. Smith with about 35 environmental educators in attendance. The motto: To promote learning about and sustaining the natural State was adopted and plans moved forward to further build the organization.
Under McAfee’s leadership, as AEEA’s first Executive Director, AEEA published a quarterly newsletter, The Natural State. The first AEEA Board of Directors was elected and met quarterly, drafting a Strategic Plan, By-Laws, and acquired 501 c 3 nonprofit status. During this first year, AEEA recruited 50 members and over 20 affiliate organizations, schools, and government agencies. Under McAfee’s direction, AEEA began pursuit of hosting NAAEE’s Annual Conference.
In 1998, NAAEE announced Little Rock as the site to host the 2001 NAAEE Annual Conference. More than 500 participants found professional collegiality, ideas, and inspiration at the 30th annual NAAEE conference in Little Rock in October 2001. Although the challenges of post-September 11 air travel reduced attendance, the conference was a success in terms of content, fun, and finances. Co-chairs Bob McAfee and Emilio Williams, and many other volunteers and staff members, put together a rich program. NAAEE’s 30th anniversary was celebrated with a exhibit of banners with photos and text, as well as handsome scrapbooks showing the highlights of its history.
2006 marked the 10 year anniversary of AEEA. EE Expo 2006 was held April 20-21 at U of A – Ft. Smith. The keynote speakers included: Bill Kopsky of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and Scott Simon with the Arkansas Nature Conservancy. Guest speaker Gene Sparling spoke on the re-discovery of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker and search efforts to collect more evidence.
In 2006, Robert McAfee announced his resignation as Executive Director to pursue other opportunities in the EE field. The AEEA Board of Directors maintained the organization during the long transition period in the absence of an Executive Director. In 2008, April Layher was hired as the part time Executive Director.
In 2009, Layher resigned as Executive Director. Brad Robertson joined AEEA in the fall as its third Executive Director. Through his leadership the organization has increased its membership numbers and programs supporting EE in the Natural State.