Hard Work and Sweat

September 14, 2011

Imagine a group of Indians sitting quietly under the shade of a tree, wiping sweat from their brow and calculating how many more trips they must make with their baskets to complete their newest mound.  They have made countless trips already and their efforts are almost complete.  Hard work and sweat were some of the tools used recently to preserve a piece of Arkansas’ history.  Recently, the staff at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park worked side by side with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, volunteers from the Arkansas Archeological Society, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commissions “Stream Team” to stop the erosion of one of the mound slopes at the park.  A sense of accomplishment was the end result, knowing that we had done our part to preserve this piece of the past.  Here is our story.

Artifacts

Artifacts

One fall afternoon, the park staff was picking up trash along the lake bank and discovered several artifacts that had surfaced on Mound P.  The fluctuating water levels of the lake had partly caused the erosion of the back side of this mound.  The survey archeologist at the time was Dr. Jane Anne Blakney-Bailey.  Under her direction, we surface collected the artifacts and started making plans to stabilize the slope.  The picture to the right shows some of the artifacts that were collected.

Bone disc

Bone disc

One of the first things that needed to be done was to excavate a portion of the mound.  This area of the site was uncharted territory for professional archeologist so this was an exciting opportunity to explore the mound.  The Arkansas Archeological Society and the Arkansas Archeological Survey held the annual training dig at Toltec Mounds during the summer of 2010.  Under the direction of Dr. Blakney-Bailey, Mound P was selected as a dig location.  There were six units opened up and a wide variety of artifacts and features were discovered at this location during excavation.  The picture shows a one of the artifacts  that was found as a result of this excavation.

Once the excavation was complete, further plans were made to stabilize the mound so that more artifacts were not lost to erosion.  Park Superintendent Stewart Carlton worked to find the best possible methods to get the job done.  He enlisted the advice and help of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Stream Team” and the current resident archeologist Dr. Elizabeth Horton.  They worked together to develop a preservation plan.  The plan was carried out on August 31st, 2011.  The loose vegetation was cleared away and coconut matting was placed directly on the mound surface and held in place with wooden stakes.  Large tree trunks were then laid down and secured at the base of the mound with metal cables.  The final step was to plant and encourage vegetation to grow on the mound slope.  Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words…

This long vanished culture (archeologists call them the Plum Bayou Culture) can speak to us only through artifacts and features like the mounds.  Archeologists get one chance to read the true story of the Plum Bayou Culture.  If erosion, animal burrows or looting get in the way, accurate information is lost forever.  Preserving archeological features allows archeologists a chance to see features of the site undisturbed.  Saving these 1,200 year old features provides priceless information for future generations.

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe has been a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park for eight years. She began her career with Arkansas State Park system as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Poinsett State Park. She grew up in Caldwell, Arkansas and received her Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 1997.


The Once and Future Mather Lodge

June 9, 2011
Restaurant after demo 3/12/11

Restaurant after demo 3/12/11

Restaurant during demo 2/17/11

Restaurant during demo 2/17/11

Restaurant pre-demo 12/8/10

Restaurant pre-demo 12/8/10

On December 1, 2010, Petit Jean State Park’s historic Mather Lodge closed its doors – but not forever.  The lodge closed for more than a year’s restoration, renovation and major rebuilding.  On the first of December, for the first time in nearly a half-century, the day had come again to begin construction on a modern new restaurant to adjoin the old lodge – a restaurant designed by architects to capture the park spirit and “parkitecture” of the original Mather Lodge’s rough-hewn, large stone and log structure.  The upcoming restaurant will offer a spacious and modern facility that is larger, more capable of seating guests and groups and will include a 75-person conference/dining room.  The next Mather Lodge Restaurant, due to be completed in spring 2012, as well as restoration of the original, historic Mather Lodge, mark yet another significant stepping stone into the interesting future of Arkansas State Parks.

Mather Lodge was originally completed in 1935, one of several Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects put in place during the first building phase of Petit Jean State Park.  In keeping with a nationwide park trend of offering rustic yet gracious amenities to the visiting public, a restaurant was built on the northern side of the lodge just off the main fireplace lobby.  A small kitchen, complete with wood stove for heat, adjoined the restaurant just north of the dining room’s large stone chimney. Hired cooks prepared meals for visiting groups, or sometimes the visitors came in, by reservation, and cooked up their own meals.  The old restaurant dining room is called the CCC Room today and will continue to be visited for its historic significance.

Dining Guests at Original Restaurant 1950s (Not being removed, now called the CCC room)

Dining Guests at Original Restaurant 1950s (Not being removed, now called the CCC room)

By the mid 1950s, the baby boom was underway, and parks were experiencing a swell in attendance but with deteriorating resources.  On the federal level a project called Mission 66, lasting from 1955 through 1966, drew funding for major recreational improvements nationwide, while Arkansas State Parks initiated improvements of their own.  In 1958, a swimming pool was constructed in the courtyard just behind Mather Lodge.  Six years after, in 1964, a second, larger Mather Lodge Restaurant was constructed adjoining the original lodge.  This was the restaurant that served the public until December 1, 2010.  The Mather Lodge Restaurant built during the baby boom era was extremely spacious by 1960s standards and featured plank beams in a vaulted ceiling above the dining area and an incredible view through large windows of the park’s lower canyon looking west toward the Arkansas River Valley.  Many today remember dining or conferencing there.

By the turn of the century, Arkansas State Park visitation was higher than ever.  Petit Jean State Park alone had approximately a half million visitors every year.  On a busy day during the first decade of the 2000s, parking space near the lodge was limited, the Mather Lodge Restaurant was often packed with people, and lines formed getting into the few restroom facilities available.  It was time, yet again, to meet public demand with more up-to-date park facilities.

The last photo of the 1964 Restaurant (tables & chairs removed).

The last photo of the 1964 Restaurant (tables & chairs removed).

As of this writing, the construction of the new Mather Lodge Restaurant, designed by Little Rock firm SCM Architects is well underway.  The foundation has been laid, and the SAMCO Construction Company, based in Cabot, Arkansas, is at work sealing the base and readying the outer building.  The SCM Architectural firm describes the project as follows:

“An interior and exterior renovation is underway at historic Mather Lodge which will expand the hospitality offerings of Petit Jean State Park. A new inviting lobby and restaurant waiting area will provide improved access and increase the lodge’s capacity to welcome guests and operate efficiently. The existing restaurant and kitchen, built in 1964, will be demolished and replaced by the new lobby, new restaurant and new kitchen. The lobby and restaurant will feature exposed log construction, use of natural materials, and extensive glass window walls to provide a full view of the natural beauty surrounding Mather Lodge. The addition will also include lodge and restaurant offices, a private dining room, and public restrooms, as well as a new pool and new outdoor spaces.”

Looking at the new addition from the west. The current lobby (historic) is to the right of the restaurant, the rest of the lodge is out of frame.

Looking at the new addition from the west. The current lobby (historic) is to the right of the restaurant, the rest of the lodge is out of frame.

Arkansas’s first state park proudly welcomes this next step into the future.  Since the park’s beginning in 1923, Petit Jean has been a place for lifelong memories to be made.  Petit Jean State Park offers calming, scenic views, hikes along a diverse series of beautiful park trails, comfortable, rustic cabins and lodge rooms, great camping spots and – in the near future – a fine, new, hospitable lodge restaurant to enjoy at leisure.  We welcome everyone to join us at Mather Lodge in the coming years for some of the best moments of your lives.

(note: Although the lodge & restaurant are unavailable during new construction, the cabins are available. Contact the park for more information.)

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones is a park interpreter at Petit Jean State Park and has worked there since 2005.  He holds a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  BT is a member of the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) and holds a Certified Interpretive Guide credential.  He is also a Leave No Trace (LNT) master educator and works as an advocate for Arkansas wilderness as a wilderness ranger.  BT’s pasttimes are nature and wildlife photography, hiking and backpacking, and helping to preserve Arkansas’s wilderness and natural areas.  He most enjoys hiking with park visitors and presenting programs on Petit Jean’s natural and historical features.


Laughing and Learning

April 28, 2011

One more time, I go over the list in my hand.

The author showing how it's done.

The author showing how it's done.

Baskets of wool, mohair and cotton, check drop spindles, check koolaid for dyeing, check gallon jars for koolaid, check Hand cards, check Niddy noddy, check and on down the row.

I think I’m all packed to teach the first day of the Sheep to Shawl class at the Ozark Folk Center’s Folk School. The students in the class will be spending three days immersed in fiber, the language of fiber, the techniques of fiber and the skills of working with fiber to make finished, usable items. Hopefully, they’ll have a lot of fun along the way.

Fiber arts are my passion. I’ve been crocheting since I was eight and picking up the other skills throughout my life’s journey. A love of critters and desire to have a part in the production of my raw materials led me to raising fiber critters in the early 1980’s. Like the other Folk School teachers, my craft is woven through my life.

The Ozark Folk Center was founded to preserve and perpetuate the crafts and music of the Ozark Mountain region. The center’s set up allows crafts people to work on their craft on a daily basis and to produce a volume of work that leads them to achieve a mastery in their craft that is uncommon in the modern United States. They sell their handmade items to visitors to the center and this enables many of them to make their living from their craft.

To perpetuate the crafts, most of the crafts people at the Folk Center teach. They share what they have learned in their experience and pass on what they’ve learned from their teachers.

Learning a new skill at Folk School.

Learning a new skill at Folk School.

My grandmother was my first fiber arts teacher. She spent a summer teaching me to crochet and to organize my dresser drawers. Both things are firmly embedded in my psyche.

Because the crafts people at the Ozark Folk Center live their craft, they can expand it in ways that are unique. Our potter, John Perry is working to develop a vegetable oil fired pottery kiln, one of the first of it’s kind. Our gunsmith, Jim Purdom, is putting his lifetime of skills to work in building a shop that can create a muzzle loading rifle from metal and wood to finished working piece. We have quilters who preserve and teach hand stitching, basket weavers who share the making of a variety of baskets and a printer who is happy to share his love of the old letterpress. These are just a few of the crafts we treasure, teach and share at the Ozark Folk Center.

Shear the wool, Spin the wool and make something.

Shear the wool, Spin the wool and make something.

As I set up my classroom, I think about the students who are in my class. Most of our spaces are small, so our classes are very limited in student numbers. I like to have at least three people, to keep it fun, but don’t have room to teach any more than eight. Because of the hands-on nature of teaching a craft, this size limitation is a good thing. Keeping the classes small lets me, and the other teachers, work with students one-on-one. I have three ladies in my Sheep to Shawl class, so there is plenty of room. We’ve emailed back and forth a bit. One of them wants to focus on getting her spinning down and the other really wants the weaving section. I’ll feature those parts of the Sheep to Shawl class. But, with only three students, we can spend time on any part of the process that they get excited about.

Learning skills you can take home.

Learning skills you can take home.

Folk Center teachers and crafts people have studied the history and foundations of their craft. During our open season, from April through October, they demonstrate their crafts to visitors and talk about how the craft was practiced in the past. In their classes, they share how it is done today. Our wood carver, Bill Standard, is teaching his carving classes at this year’s Folk School using dremels and other power carving tools. There are electric spinning wheels and fancy powered carding machines, but I still enjoy the relaxing pace of my foot treadled wheel.

My classroom set, I head on over to the Administration Building to meet my students in person. Folk School has an added fun energy for everyone, because there are not just the students in your class, there are several other classes going on at the same time. People who are interested in making things themselves share many similar characteristic. Lifetime friendships are forged at Folk School.

My students chatter happily with each other as we walk down the concrete pathways to our classroom at the back of the large auditorium. The weather is beautiful and some of the flowers are thinking about blooming. These three adult ladies sound like a group of day-campers as they explore the fiber and equipment set up in the classroom. And then, they discover the koolaid! Suddenly they can’t wait to learn about fiber dyeing.

I settle them down a bit, for a little explanation before we begin to fill the jars with hot water and the wild-colored, sweet smelling powder that makes a great fabric dye. We’ve started on a three-day exploration of fibery fun.

The mission of the Ozark Folk Center is to perpetuate the crafts and music of the Ozark region. One of the ways we do this is by encouraging our crafts people to offer classes. They teach Folk School classes in March and November (So make your plans for November). They offer scheduled classes throughout the year and many are willing to work with students to Design-your-own class. Some of our crafts people will teach one-on-one classes. Others need to get a group together to teach a class.

Jeanette Larson, Craft Director

Jeanette Larson, Craft Director

Jeanette Larson has been a fiber artist all her life, weaving the threads of her art through her careers in journalism and management. In 2006 the fates conspired to send her to the Mountain View area and settle her in her niche as Craft Director at the Ozark Folk Center, where her passion for handwork and the people who use their hands to create has brought new life to the old ways.


When All is Lost

January 25, 2011

Interpreters, like most educators, know what it is like to operate on a shoe string budget – utilizing the resources at hand (leaves, seeds, and scenic vistas) and re-utilizing everyday materials (popsicle sticks, material scraps, and my favorite – peanut butter jars). There is something gratifying about not needing all the bells and whistles to highlight the significance of a place as special as Devil’s Den State Park.  However, when the tidbits of ideas, pictures, outlines, and contacts are all taken away, you realize how much time and research has gone into making the history of your park come to life.

On December 20, the interpreters’ office at Devil’s Den State Park was broken into. The perpetrators stole a range of items from our computers that stored things from contact information to pictures to amphitheater programs as well as personal effects like backpacks and hats and program materials like animal skins and binoculars. The saddest part about the loss is not the personal violation one feels when being broken into, but that those items were to help our visitors’ experience the park. These were the tangible items and thoughts that we had accumulated through the years to help tell the unique history of the park.

Although the loss was hard to accept as we walked around in a cloud of disbelief making a list of all the items gone from our repertoire, I am appeased to realize that the story of the park is still here! There was nothing in the office as precious as the materials found throughout the park. I look to the challenge of the days to come as a fresh start, a reason to get out taking photos around the park, a chance to brainstorm ideas, and revamp programs. If my programs were in a rut, they have just been given a fresh start! It will take time to rebuild our interpretive programs, but at least I have a good foundation and a great team to work with. This is a learning experience that has reconnected me to the resources outside my office and the fundamental things that no one can take from you – your ideas, knowledge, and Elmer’s glue (just try it!).

 

The history of Devil's Den is intact, in the park.

The history of Devil's Den is intact, in the park.

Please consider sharing your program ideas with me! What would you like to do on a visit to Devil’s Den State Park?

 

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

(Interpreter Spurlock is determined to keep walking! Join her on one of her many fascinating, guided hikes through Devil’s Den State Park.)

Rebekah Spurlock, Devil's Den State Park

Rebekah Spurlock, Interpreter, Devil's Den State Park

Rebekah Spurlock is a native Arkansan, originally from the Delta. Since graduating with her Master’s in Geography in 2007 from the University of Memphis, Rebekah has called Devil’s Den State Park home.


The Hoo Doo Woman of Arkansas

January 18, 2011

I have an atypical Park Interpreter station here at Parkin Archeological State Park.  The largest part of my job seems to be researching Arkansas History. Arkansas is an exceptionally colorful state, with complex and vivid stories about things you wouldn’t believe, not even if I told you.  This is one of those great Arkansas stories- the story of Aunt Caroline Dye.

Mrs Caroline Dye

Aunt Caroline Dye

One of Arkansas’ biggest Blues legends wasn’t even a Blues singer at all.  “Aunt” Caroline Dye, of Newport Arkansas, passed away September 26, 1918. Born a slave in Spartanburg South Carolina, immigrating to Arkansas some time in young adulthood, much of the rest of Caroline’s history is the stuff of Arkansas legend.

Well, I’m going to Newport just to see Aunt Caroline Dye.

Well, I’m going to Newport just to see Aunt Caroline Dye.

She’s a fortune teller, Ooh Lord, She sure don’t tell no lie.

- Hoo Doo Women, Johnny Temple

Caroline’s exceptional abilities started as a young child.  When she was 10 years old and still a slave on the plantation, she was helping to set the table for Thanksgiving Dinner.  She started insisting that they had not set enough plates, that Mister Charley was coming.  Charley was the Plantation owner’s brother, who was thought to have been killed four years earlier in the Civil War.  Sure enough, later that day Charley came walking in the door. The family couldn’t believe it! He relayed the fact that he had been wounded, taken prisoner, and had not had the chance to come home until that day. No one ever knew how she could have guessed such a thing, and all her little coincidences really started to be noticed after that.

“White and colored would go to her. You sick in bed, she raise the sick. … Had that much brains — smart lady. … That’s the kind of woman she was. Aunt Caroline Dye, she was the worst woman in the world. Had that much sense.”

– Band Leader Will Shade

Hers is an interesting Arkansas story-  the story of an uneducated, African American woman who amassed a small fortune as a wealthy landowner, rental property entrepreneur, and most importantly, as a seer and rumored hoodoo woman- all of this while being unable to read or write.  She is one of the most prominently featured women in the Delta Blues- though she herself was never a musician. The great Blues artists couldn’t keep away from her legend in their songs, too numerous for me to list them all here.

And she told my fortune as I walked through the door.

And she told my fortune as I walked through the door.

Said, “I’m sorry for you Buddy. Ooh Lord, your woman don’t want you no more.”

- Hoo Doo Women, Johnny Temple

Caroline became famous all over the Midsouth for her otherworldly abilities. She never advertised or charged for her services, but everyone always paid for them, one way or another. Affluent people from far and wide sought her services and feared her verdicts. Many prominent people would not make major decisions without at first consulting her, and if they could not bring themselves to consult her because of whatever reason, they did their best to avoid her altogether.

(Of Dye in her heyday) “…it is doubtful that even the name of President Wilson was more generally known.”

- John Quincy Wolf, Arkansas Folklorist

Speaking of the President, there was at least one Governor who took complete stock in her abilities. Governor-elect Donaghey refused to be inaugurated on either the 13th of the month, or on a Friday. He declared he had no desire to take the oath of office on “hoodoo” day. When asked when he thought the inauguration would take place, he replied “Probably Thursday the 14th or Monday the 18th. Wednesday the 13th, would of course be a bad day. Friday would never do.” – New York Times article, published January 6, 1909.

Aunt Caroline Dye she told me, “Son, these women don’t mean you no good.” Aunt Caroline Dye she told me, “Son, these women don’t mean you no good.”Said, “Take my advice and don’t monkey with none in your neighborhood”

- Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues, The Memphis Jug Band 1930

Celebrated by many, feared by most, Caroline Dye is an excellent example of a strong Arkansas woman having a profound effect on our history.  Through the Delta Blues, many of her lessons are still available to the masses. An atypical muse, Caroline influenced some of the greatest blues songs ever written, maybe even the best blues song ever written- W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues.

Now dat gyspy tole her, “Don’t you wear no black,

Now dat gyspy tole her, “Don’t you wear no black,

Go to St. Louis, you can win him back”

- St. Louis Blues, W.C. Handy

Do you believe her?  Get out sometime in our own backyard and explore history here in Arkansas- Aunt Caroline would tell you it’s a good idea.

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker has been with Arkansas State Parks since 2005, and as Interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park since 2006.  Mary Anne’s primary focus at Parkin has been on the African American Experience in the Delta, and she is extremely proud of the growth in community support the park has experienced with the renovation and opening of the Northern Ohio School in 2006. Her other interests and activities include running the Parker Homestead, which she owns and operated with her husband and his parents, and writing grants to further educational opportunities for students attending Arkansas Delta public schools.


Winter at the Ozark Folk Center State Park

November 19, 2010
Walking among the rocks and leaves.

Walking among the rocks and leaves.

The fallen leaves crunch under my feet as I walk down the path from the Administration building to the Homespun Gift Shop. The sunlight has a strobe effect through the newly barren limbs.  I pull my jacket snug in front and wish I had remembered a hat.

John the potter hollers a friendly, “Hello,” from the front of his workshop. I reply in kind and continue on my errand. It’s a typical relaxed November afternoon at the Ozark Folk Center.

The Ozark Folk Center State Park is in Mountain View, Arkansas. This energetic little town has less than 3,000 residents. It is hard to reach and not really on the way to anywhere. However, the creativity of the mountain music and crafts and the genuine friendliness of the residents offered here draw many thousand visitors over steep and winding Ozark roads every year.

I’ve often said that local people are so friendly because it is so hard to get here. Whenever someone makes the effort to visit with us, we let them know how much we appreciate it by smiling, talking their ears off and offering to feed them.

Disappearing leaves equals reappearing views.

Disappearing leaves equals reappearing views.

As the trees lose their leaves and the days get shorter, visitors to the area seem to disappear. The area does have one winter event that is incredibly popular, Caroling in the Caverns at Blanchard Caverns, so people do venture into these hills in November and December. But we wanted to find a way to connect those visitors to our town, and to draw others to our relaxing holiday atmosphere. Ozark Folk Center staff members got together with local bed and breakfast owners, town merchants and other crafts people to try to bring people to our area in the winter months.

We started working on this project three years ago. Each group planned separate events and did separate promotions. Some events worked and some failed to draw people in. This year we worked on coordinating and cooperating as much as possible on winter events. We published a combined winter schedule and printed 10,000 rack cards which were distributed throughout the state. The events listed range from the Handmade Christmas Folk School classes here at the Ozark Folk Center State Park to the local churches candlelight services and the Christmas Tree lighting on the historic courthouse square. We want to share our relaxed version of the holidays with people.

Here at the Ozark Folk Center, we do slow down for the winter, just like the natural world, but we have some of our most treasured events in the winter months. These include:

1.       Thanksgiving buffet and Ozark Holidays Craft Show

2.       Loco Ropes tree top adventures

3.       Extended Season in the Craft Village

4.       Christmas Feast and holiday weekend

5.       January and February cooking classes

6.       Valentines get-away with Cupid in the Caverns

7.       Quilt Retreat

8.       Spring Bluegrass & Handpicked and Handmade Craft Show

9.       Ozark Folk School, sessions 1 and 2

10.   Our Cabins at Dry Creek are open year-around.

11.    See more below…

A restful place amidst all the activity.

A restful place amidst all the activity.

Our winter weather can be rough at times, but much of the winter is sunny and gentle. Gathering firewood is our Sunday afternoon family chore. We do it in the winter, because the weather is cool, the bugs are gone and you can see to get around in the woods. It is a rare Sunday when we cannot make our trek into the forest because of weather.

A friend recently asked me what my favorite season of the year was.

I replied “Fall. The weather is cool, the leaves are beautiful, its harvest time in the garden and breeding season for the sheep and goats. It’s fall shearing time for the angora goats and I have such beautiful new fleeces to spin!”

But after thinking about it, I realized I would have said “Spring” in that season, or “Summer” in June, July and August. I love winter when it is cold and the days are short and the leaves are off the trees and you can see all the beautiful vistas that hide in the other seasons. The Ozarks are always beautiful and I love all four of our seasons.

Many people don’t think of enjoying their state parks in the winter, but it is a wonderful time to visit them here in Arkansas. Events and hours may be different than they are during the rest of the year, so contact the park before heading out to visit.

Jeanette Larson, Crafts Director

Jeanette Larson, Crafts Director

Jeanette Larson has been a fiber artist all her life, weaving the threads of her art through her careers in journalism and management. In 2006 the fates conspired to send her to the Mountain View area and settle her in her niche as Craft Director at the Ozark Folk Center, where her passion for handwork and the people who use their hands to create has brought new life to the old ways.

 

 

 

More stuff happening in Mountain View and the Ozark Folk Center State Park (click for larger image):

Mountains, Music & Mistletoe

Mountains, Music & Mistletoe


What? No Dinosaurs?

September 22, 2010

As an interpreter at an archeological park, I have my work cut out for me.  I do not have the geology or the beauty of Lake Ouachita, nor do I have Mt. Magazine’s View to draw visitors to my door.  What I do have, is a fabulous resource- an incomparable resource- that never ceases to amaze and astound me.  But, admittedly, it is a resource that only a fraction of a percent of people know and care about.

Parkin Archeological State Park is the location where, in 1541, Hernando de Soto held the first Catholic mass west of the Mississippi.  We are the home of Casqui- the toughest, most feared chief of his time and the chief that de Soto himself mentions about above all others encountered on his 4 year hike though the American southeast.  Pretty cool, huh?  Yeah, maybe if you’re an archeologist or a park interpreter with a few anthropology courses under her belt.

Who doesn't like some good pottery?

Who doesn't like some good pottery?

Then there’s everybody else. I have to work pretty hard to make people interested in this resource.  They are people who are, if truth be told, truly on their way somewhere else but thought this might be a great place to stop and stretch their legs.  I cannot tell you how many people see the “Archeological park” sign on I-40 and exit because they think we’ve got dinosaurs.  When a 9 year old boy thinks he is coming inside to see t-rex only to find that what I have is pottery… that is supreme disappointment.  But what an interpretive opportunity!

Be a Conquistador for a day!

Be a Conquistador for a day!

Here at Parkin, we have an entire collection of Spanish conquistador clothing, armor and weapons. When kids dress like a conquistador, they forget they wanted to see dinosaurs at all.  They put on that helmet and pow! Instantly, they assume the Conquistador pose (you know the one- with one boot clad foot on the mound, hands on hips, hair blowing in the breeze underneath their helmet- don’t act like you’ve never struck this pose before) and from there, they are hooked on Parkin.  Add the conquistador gear to the collection of replica Native American spears, arrows, and atl atls, and we are the coolest thing kids of any age have seen in a while.

Somebody likes history...

Somebody likes history...

We do have other types of visitors besides the interstate exit crowd- visitors who actually know we are about Indian mounds, but are under the impression that they can dig here.  That is another interpretive opportunity completely.  You see, what we have is a finite resource- they just aren’t making Indian mounds anymore.  We cannot let you dig in our mound and expect to have anything left for people to see next week.  What we try and do, diplomatically, firmly, yet with a smile on our face, is tell them about the Federal laws which prohibit such activities and then hand them a Park Informational Brochure about the digging opportunities at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Then there are the immutable types of visitors.  The rockhounds.  The Aztec enthusiasts.  The people who want to establish a connection between our site, the pyramids of Egypt, and possibly even aliens.  These guys are hard sells.  I had a man last week who was disappointed that we did not have more arrowheads on display.  I tried to explain to him that our pottery in the museum is world renowned, and that is what we choose to focus on.  He just would not let it go.  “Well, Cahokia has points everywhere,” he said.  I tried explaining for 20 minutes that I had visited Cahokia and that I was surprised by their lack of pottery on display (with the exception of pieces that were credited as coming from Arkansas) but this did not seem to phase him.  Education did not work with this guy.  He was disinterested in de Soto.  He could care less about headpots.  He told me he wanted to come back, and fully expected us to “make our museum just like everybody else’s.” Well, in the end all I could wonder was if the Interpreters at the Grand Canyon have problems with people wanting a beach.  Probably not.

A little "hands on" history!

A little "hands on" history!

I do welcome the challenge of educating people like him, and the beauty of the job is that very next person to walk in the door could be a visitor like me.  The “one half of one percent” visitors who love de Soto, are familiar with his trek through Arkansas, and who are yearning for me to tell them more.  I love to share the stories de Soto left with us- how Parkin’s Chief Casqui was the most feared chief in Arkansas, and how rich the culture was here in Arkansas.  I love to show our artifacts and leave people pleasantly surprised about our Arkansas history and heritage.

In short, we get all kinds of visitors here.  I like the people who dress like de Soto.  I look for the chance to educate potential collectors about NAGPRA legislation (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and why it’s important.  I even relish the opportunity to hear an interesting new twist on the Stargate series and how it applies to Parkin.  But as for the man who wants us to make out museum just like everybody else’s… there’s an old adage that gets me through those experiences with sanity and a smile.  “Never try and teach a pig to sing- it wastes your time and just annoys the pig.”

(Note to reader: Ms. Parker in no way is relating visitors to pigs, though she thinks pigs are wonderful and admirable animals.  The adage was meant to be a funny tagline to an exhaustive experience she recently had with a visitor.)

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

~Mary Anne Parker has been with Arkansas State Parks since 2005, and as Interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park since 2006.  Mary Anne’s primary focus at Parkin has been on the African American Experience in the Delta, and she is extremely proud of the growth in community support the park has experienced with the renovation and opening of the Northern Ohio School in 2006. Her other interests and activities include running the Parker Homestead, which she owns and operated with her husband and his parents, and writing grants to further educational opportunities for students attending Arkansas Delta public schools.


Connecting Kids’ Minds and Hearts to State Parks…

July 12, 2010

…Announcing the State Park Explorer Program

“Throwing rocks in the river

Is oh so very fun

Rocks splashing in the water

The fun has just begun!

Hiking along the many trails

Are fun things to do here too!

But throwing rocks in the river

Is my favorite thing to do!”

–Poem by Linda S., Arkansas State Parks’ first official State Park Explorer, May 30, 2010

Linda S., first to complete the Arkansas State Park Explorer Program.

Linda S., first to complete the Arkansas State Park Explorer Program.

On May 30, 2010, ten year old Linda S. wrote this poem as one of the activities in her quest to become the first recipient of an Arkansas State Parks Explorer badge and certificate. To earn this honor, she completed nine park-related activities and took an official pledge, promising to love and respect State Parks and help spread the word that conservation is “cool.”

Starting this summer, Linda and other young people across Arkansas are exploring the Natural State in new ways, thanks to the launch of the State Park Explorer program.  Our aim is to help kids connect with State Parks in ways they might not otherwise. The concept is simple: Kids receive an Explorer Field Guide at any State Park, complete a series of activities, take a pledge, and earn a certificate and badge.

What is the State Park Explorer program?

The Arkansas State Parks Explorer is our new youth conservation program. It replaces our former Junior Naturalist and Junior Explorer programs.

Our previous program required attendance at five interpretive programs and completion of a service project. The new program keeps the heart of those requirements, but also goes more in-depth, promoting deeper intellectual and emotional connections with State Parks. It should also foster a greater sense of accomplishment, without being too difficult or lengthy to complete in a short time. Most questions and activities are open ended, allow kids with a range of ages and life experiences to participate. Activities fall into four component areas, listed below. Kids will:

Another Arkansas State Park Explorer!

Another Arkansas State Park Explorer!

Discover what State Parks are (activities related to understanding us and our mission)

These four activities help children begin to explore and understand the identity, mission, and resources of State Parks.

Prepare to be safe (activities related to safety)

These activities help children understand the importance of being proactive about safety in State Parks. They also help promote an awareness of the quality and quantity of safety training our employees receive, in order to best protect resources and serve guests. Finally, they help children approach and interact with employees in a positive, friendly way.

Connect your mind and heart to State Parks (attend interpretive programs)

This section is adapted from the previous “Junior Naturalist” program, requiring attendance at

park interpretive programs. However, it goes beyond asking kids what they learned at a program,

instead asking them to reflect on how they made connections with their minds and hearts.

Share your experience (activities promote thinking beyond self, serving park and others)

These two sections prompt thoughts and actions outside of the self, asking kids to consider helping the resources and other visitors. These activities foster a sense of ownership of the parks, responsibility for actions, and service to others.

Who can become a State Park Explorer?

The program is suggested for kids ages 6-14 who care about nature, history, safety, and FUN!

A group of kids receive their Explorer Certificates at Parkin Archeological State Park.

A group of kids receive their Explorer Certificates at Parkin Archeological State Park.

What is the purpose?

For participants, the purpose is to have fun, gain a sense of accomplishment, get to know the parks’ resources, meet park staff, and make positive memories in State Parks.

For Arkansas State Parks, the goal is to connect young people to Arkansas’s State Park system through a variety of in-park, open-ended, self-initiated activities that are designed to introduce

them to the system and cultivate future generations of park stewards.

Where can Explorer be completed?

The program is designed to be completed at any Arkansas State Park, including historic parks and museums. Activities can be completed at several different locations, or all at one site.

When is the Explorer program available?

The program is available year round. It is designed to be simple enough to be completed in a single

weekend, but also could be stretched out across multiple visits throughout the year.

How much does it cost?

This program is free to all who wish to participate.

How does the Explorer program work? What do I do to get my child started?

• Interested children request and receive Field Guides from park staff.

• They complete all the activities, filling in the yellow circles in the upper right corner of each section as they go. Activities can be completed in any order.

• Upon completion, they present the Field Guide to a park official for review. Most of the questions/activities are open-ended, meaning the responses are not judged for “correctness” but simply for completion.

• Staff sign completed Field Guides and either 1) immediately invite children to take the Explorer pledge and then present them with official Explorer badges and certificates, or 2) schedule a time when they will receive awards as part of a special ceremony (e.g. with other kids at the start of that night’s evening program in the campground). We are able to be flexible depending on that child’s family or group schedule.

• Children fill in their names and addresses on the top (inside cover) portion of the Field Guide. Staff carefully cut that section off and keep it for our records, leaving the majority of the Field Guide for the children to keep as a memento. (Records are kept for the purposes of tracking overall program data and estimating materials numbers for future materials orders.)

Another young park visitor starts the road to appreciating Arkansas natural and historical treasures.

Another young park visitor starts down the road to appreciating Arkansas natural and historical treasures.

Doing our part to walk the walk: Green Practices

Part of our purpose of forging connections between young people and State Parks is to build a more conservation-minded citizenship. Participants naturally progress through a continuum, beginning with curiosity and awareness and moving toward personal stewardship ethics. It is important, then, to let Explorers and their families know we try to practice what we teach. In developing new Explorer materials, we worked hard to reduce our environmental impact:

Badges: The plastic part of our Explorer badges are 100% recycled (90% post industrial and 10% post consumer). They are also made in the USA.

Field Guides & Certificates: The Explorer Field Guides are designed for two-sided printing, with two pieces per sheet using a maximum printing area on the largest paper that fits our press. This means our printing requires very little trimming and is extremely low-waste. The Field Guides are printed on cover stock that is Forest Stewardship Council certified to contain product from well-managed forests, controlled sources and recycled wood or fiber. It is also Green Seal™ certified, containing recycled post-consumer fiber. Our Explorer certificates are printed on the same cardstock as the Field Guides.

For further information:

Contact any Arkansas State Park office.


Petit Jean State Park’s Archeological Treasures

July 1, 2010
Bison Drawing

Bison Drawing

Most visitors to Petit Jean State Park in the Arkansas River Valley remember it as a place of majestic scenery, beautiful trails, and hospitable, friendly people at the park’s visitor center or historic Mather Lodge.  But those interested in the distant past will also remember fascinating geology, as well as rare rock art found in the park’s primary archeological site: the Rock House Cave.  Petit Jean State Park holds a treasure trove of archeological significance.

By 900 AD, Native Americans across the southeast began to settle along main waterways, including the great Mississippi River as well the Arkansas River to the west.  This time

Footprint Drawing

Footprint Drawing

period is known as the Mississippian Era.  A new way of life developed based on the agricultural production of beans and squash, as well as corn imported from long-distance trade with people from the south.  Fortified towns arose, and platform mounds were used for ceremonial purposes.  Societies developed that were highly organized, and there were powerful leaders among provinces.

One such province was called Cayas, and it was located near Petit Jean Mountain.  The Arkansas River, which flows just north of Petit Jean Mountain, was then called the River of Cayas.  The people of the scattered settlement of Tanico, in the province of Cayas just

Head Dress Drawing

Head Dress Drawing

west of Petit Jean Mountain, made beautiful pottery, gathered crops, made excursions to find wild game, and to gather salt – a highly-valued element necessary to the survival of the people.  Salt was also traded for other goods when enough could be gleaned by boiling it from brackish ponds.  It is highly probable that rock art found today in Petit Jean State Park was created by the culture that inhabited Tanico.

During tours to the Rock House Cave, visitors often ask if Indians once lived on the mountain.  The answer is yes, especially in earlier eras dating back to the Paleoindiantime, around 10,000 years ago.  By the time of Mississippian culture, though,

Mississipian Symbol Drawing

Mississipian Symbol Drawing

what we know today as Rock House Cave, above Cedar Creek’s lower canyon, was only inhabited during special rites of passage or sacred ceremonies.  In fact, the Petit Jean Mountain plateau was possibly considered a sacred area – a great temple mound above the River of Cayas.

The meaning of the rock art that remains today is still mysterious in many regards.  Some figures clearly represent animals – zoomorphic.  Others are in the likeness of people – anthropomorphic.  Painted images are called pictographs.  Etched or carved images are called petroglyphs.  Long-lasting paint was probably made by adding ground-up mineral pigments of hematite, magnetite, or possibly charcoal to a sticky substance such as

Paddlefish in Trap Drawing

Paddlefish in Trap Drawing

blood, animal fat or even egg white.

In the Rock House Cave today, interested people may find the likeness of a paddlefish, next to a fish trap made of woven wood, or an often-used symbol which also appeared on Tanico pottery but whose meaning has been lost, or the likeness of a woodland bison, or a symbol of an important person in headdress, or a strange snake-like, or river-like, curved image next to a footprint.  The visitor’s guess may be as good as the local archeologist’s.

Those who come to Petit Jean State Park are invited to see this authentic Native American rock art first hand.  But please treat it with care.  Graffiti and wear-and-tear from heavy park visitation takes its toll.  The Rock House Cave is one of the few places where anyone, with no special permission required, may discover such precious windows to the past on any day of the week, from 8:00 AM until dusk.  Come and see them for yourself.

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones is a park interpreter at Petit Jean State Park and has worked there since 2005.  He holds a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  BT is a member of the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) and holds a Certified Interpretive Guide credential.  He is also a Leave No Trace (LNT) master educator and works as an advocate for Arkansas wilderness as a wilderness ranger.  BT’s pasttimes are nature and wildlife photography, hiking and backpacking, and helping to preserve Arkansas’s wilderness and natural areas.  He most enjoys hiking with park visitors and presenting programs on Petit Jean’s natural and historical features.


Artifact Tales

March 25, 2010
More than a collection of rocks. How did they get here?

More than a collection of rocks. How did they get here?

Artifacts amaze me. It is a simple statement but every word is true. In certain cases, they are the only link that we have to past cultures. This is true at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. The American Indians that lived here are called the Plum Bayou Culture and they left clues to their way of life in the form of artifacts. They lived at this site around 1,200 years ago and were resourceful, innovative human beings that were not that much different from you and I. They probably got up in the morning with a mental “to do” list that may have included going hunting, making pottery or repairing a thatched hut. There is so much that we are still trying to learn about their way of life. We are learning more and more every day thanks to the artifacts and features that were left.

At first glance, stone artifacts are simply pieces of rock that have been shaped into something useful. But upon closer examination, stone artifacts tell a story. I grew up in the natural division of Arkansas known as the Delta. I played in the farm fields, explored wooded areas around my house and helped my parents plant a garden during my childhood. I never thought about it then but looking back, not one time did I ever find a rock in the ground. Toltec Mounds is in the delta and there are no rocks here, yet we find artifacts made of stone. That stone is not native to this natural division. Where did it come from? Some of it can be traced back to the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains as well as the Arkansas River Valley. Whatever the origin, it had to be brought in from a great distance.

Each artifact tells a story.

Each artifact tells a story.

Today, moving supplies over long distances is as simple as getting in the car, driving for a few hours, loading your supplies in the trunk and driving home. Now let yourself go back in time for a moment. Travel wasn’t as easy then as it is now. There were really only two modes of transportation at that time; walking or dugout canoes. If walking was the chosen way to travel, then following a foot path through the woods would have taken you to your destination. Fast, no. Imagine the return journey. Packing heavy loads of chert, novaculite or quartz would have certainly added to the burden. Dugout canoes might have lightened the load but only after you took the time to learn the art of making one strong enough to carry you and your treasure. Cutting/burning down a tree and using coals from a fire along with stone tools to hollow it out was no easy task. What a difference time has made.

When stone artifacts are found here at Toltec, they tell a tale. The material that the artifact is made out of tells where and how far people traveled to get the raw material. The shape and style of the projectile points can help to determine its age. What it was used for helps to reveal a little about the cultures lifestyle. The more artifacts that we find, the clearer the picture becomes.

Could this have once been a major commerce area?

Could this have once been a major commerce area?

Artifacts amaze me. They are the only voice of the Plum Bayou Culture. Something made so long ago can still speak to us if we know how to listen. Archeologists are still uncovering the stories of the past at Toltec. With every artifact that we find, we learn more about this long vanished culture. Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park is hosting the annual training dig June 5th through the 20th of 2010. This dig is coordinated by the Arkansas Archeological Society and they invite you to participate. If you would like more information about how to be involved in this dig, contact the park.

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe has been a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park for eight years. She began her career with Arkansas State Park system as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Poinsett State Park. She grew up in Caldwell, Arkansas and received her Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 1997.


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