I have a pair of hiking poles that I bought a few years ago at REI in Portland, OR, in preparation for a climb of Mt. Hood. They were definitely needed in climbing through the snow fields of that mountain. I have found them less useful in Arkansas, although occasionally I will take one of them with me when I go geocaching. The poles are quite handy in turning over rocks, or logs, or poking into places, to avoid snakes and other critters. I have tried hiking sticks in the past, but I really don't care for them because they are heavier and cannot collapse down to a small, compact length. But, like I said, I really haven't found much use for either poles or sticks in Arkansas while doing just general hiking. However, I have seen some backpackers using them on the Ozark Highlands Trail, and they may be handy if you plan on doing some backpacking. As far as where to get good hiking poles, you cannot go wrong with REI. Or you may want to pick up a good quality pair from one of the hiking / outdoors speciality stores here in Arkansas, like Take A Hike or Lewis & Clark. I would shy away from the Wal-Mart poles, unless you just want to get a cheap pair to try them out to see if you like them before investing in a more expensive pair. Remember, you get what you pay for, and the more expensive poles will have a lot better quality and give you better service than the cheapos from Wal-Mart.
"Wildness is a necessity." -- John Muir
"When you go to hide a geocache, think of the reason you are bringing people to that spot. If the only reason is for the geocache, then find a better spot." – briansnat