Let it grow? Arkansas debates roadside vegetation.

How natural should Arkansas be? That's the question sprouting here as folks recognize that one man's wildflower is another man's weed.

State Rep. Kim Hendren says letting wildflowers grow along the state's highways can obstruct drivers' views and look unsightly. But the highway department says it receives more compliments on its natural approach.

"I understand flowers, but we need to have more pride in our highways," says Mr. Hendren, who wants the highway department to consider increasing its mowing schedule.

A joint public transportation panel was to meet yesterday to discuss how often the mowers should come out of their sheds. Hendren says he requested a study after receiving a handful of complaints. "I'm a little bit concerned about safety in all these areas," he says.

In 1998, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department changed its mowing schedule for the 16,353 miles of state highways. The number of mowings was reduced from four to three times a year to encourage the natural growth of wildflowers like Queen Anne's lace, purple coneflower, butterfly weed, downy phlox, and black-eyed Susan.

Nearly every state has a program to let grasses and flowers grow. Some states spend money seeding the ground with native, and sometimes nonnative, flowers. In Arkansas, volunteers buy seed for certain areas, but there's no state-sponsored effort, says Ralph Hall, of the highway department.

Mr. Hall said the department hasn't heard from many who dislike the flowers. "We've actually had more calls and letters complimenting our mowing practices than complaining," he says.

He adds that all areas are mowed at least 10 feet from the pavement, so drivers can see and so motorists that pull off don't have to worry about grass catching fire.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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