Wings on the Wind

August 30, 2011

Sitting on a bluff overlooking a vast landscape is a great way to enjoy a September morning on Mount Magazine. Scanning the horizon with a good set of binoculars helps spot wings on the wind. Southward migration has started for many species of birds and some butterflies. The unpredictable nature of migration watching requires diligence. Some days are a bust due to weather conditions. But other days can be outstanding with a good diversity of species and numbers of individuals.

For the column of states including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana Mount Magazine is the highest point above sea level. Perhaps to a migrant it represents a landmark and/or an obstacle for navigation. For many it is a convenient rest stop.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

Broad-winged hawks usually top the tally. They rest overnight in forested areas. As thermals begin to build during the day, one by one, they leave the canopy to catch rising air. Circling in these unseen currents hawks gain elevation rapidly. It is possible to have over a hundred broad-winged hawks swirling in a thermal at one time.  This is called a kettle. Reaching the top of the thermal they slip out, with wings set, gliding southward. Losing elevation as they approach the northern edge of Mount Magazine where they take advantage of updrafts to lift them just over the bluffs.

Tall bluffs flanking Ross Hollow create a funnel which many birds of prey use to cross over the mountaintop as if it were a major highway. The northern tip of Cameron Bluff offers a great vantage point for scanning the horizon and the hollow. Birds can be above, below, or even at eye level, offering opportunities to study field marks for identification.

There are many other species seen migrating over Mount Magazine other than broad-winged hawks. Red-tailed, red-shouldered, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned hawks, northern harriers, ospreys, vultures, bald eagles, American kestrels, and even peregrine falcons have been seen from Cameron Bluff during September. White pelicans, song birds, and butterflies are also seen.

Monarchs and a few other migrating butterflies use the same updrafts to lift themselves over the mountain. Many will take the Mount Magazine exit to refuel on patches of wildflowers along park roadsides. Tickseed sunflower must appear like “golden arches” to these adolescent insects. Late arrivals often cluster together on “tree hotels” with southwestern views.  Some monarchs will be tagged and released to continue their way southward to their winter vacation in Mexican mountains.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

On the south side of the mountain migrating hawks seek out more thermals over the Petit Jean River Valley to help them get through the Ouachita Mountains. Turkey vultures are masters of riding updrafts and thermals. It seems as though some hawks key in on vultures to find thermals.

While sitting on Cameron Bluff, waiting for the next passerby, enjoy either solitude with a spectacular view or conversations with other watchers with various backgrounds and experiences. Pick up tips on hawk identification. Take advantage of unique photo opportunities.

A park interpreter is offering migration watching sessions at Mount Magazine State Park in September. Check the schedule.

So pack your binoculars, lawn chairs, water, and snacks, drive to the northern tip of Cameron Bluff Overlook Drive in Mount Magazine State Park, and watch wings on the wind.

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons is a Park Interpreter at Mount Magazine State Park. One of the state’s great naturalists, Don has been showing and explaining the “Natural State” to visitors for 29 years, at Daisy State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and now at Mount Magazine. Don is also an excellent photographer whose work can be seen throughout the Mount Magazine Lodge and Visitor Center and in publications. Don has the unique ability to entertain children and adults at the same time while also teaching about the world around them. Don is an active member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter.


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.


Distracted by the Birds at Petit Jean State Park

March 31, 2011
A goldfinch visits a feeder filled with sunflower seeds

A goldfinch visits a feeder filled with sunflower seeds

My office at Petit Jean State Park may be a bit cramped, but I am fortunate to have a window right beside my desk to let in the afternoon sunshine and allow me to see the comings and goings of some of the visitors to our park visitor center.  However, it can be a bit challenging to stay focused on my work at the computer when the birds come to visit.  We interpreters like to feed the songbirds, and this helps folks who come to the visitor center get a better look at them, especially if they go into the exhibit room and look out through the large window at the pond, manmade waterfall and feeders in the back.  From time to time we also put out birdseed and suet in front of the building, which is where my window is located.  The Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, pine siskin, Northern cardinal, and dark-eyed junco are just a few of the numerous bird species that may be observed hanging around bird feeders here on Petit Jean Mountain.

 

Brown-headed nuthatch at Petit Jean State Park

Brown-headed nuthatch at Petit Jean State Park

In the time it has been taking me to write this, I have seen quite a few species of  birds, including white-throated sparrow, pine warbler, red-bellied woodpecker, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, brown-headed nuthatch, brown creeper, Carolina chickadee, and American goldfinch.  (Not to mention that expert raider of bird feeders, the gray squirrel, busily stuffing itself and close enough to

 

touch if the window were open.)  The woodpecker is particularly distracting, with its brilliant red coloration on its head catching my eye, and the less noticeable red on its belly (which gives it its name) sometimes visible.  The male warblers are also eye catching, with their mixed coloration that includes olive green and vibrant yellow.  (As a co-worker of mine commented about an especially brightly colored male, “If that one doesn’t attract a mate, he’ll just be really unlucky!”)

This woodpecker has red on both its head and belly

This woodpecker has red on both its head and belly

It’s also interesting to observe the “pecking order” among the different kinds of birds.  Some birds give the appearance of being downright “mean” to other birds when competing for food (which is actually just a natural thing for them to do.)  A nuthatch may be chased away from the suet by a warbler.  The warbler is intimidated enough to move out of the way if a woodpecker comes along.  And if a crow comes to feed, all the other birds give him plenty of room as he hacks away and makes short work of the suet block!  (It’s typical to see the smaller birds scrounging on the ground after the crow leaves, cleaning up some of the mess he left behind.)

Educating the public about birds and presenting bird related programs is one of my favorite things about my job.  I am continually getting better at bird identification, and I enjoy observing and learning about birds, as well as inspiring park visitors to get interested in bird watching and make their own observations.

Well, it looks like the birds have consumed most of the birdseed it seems like we just put out for them.  Time to go give them some more!

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel is a native Arkansan and a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, with a Bachelor of Science in biology.  Her interpretive experience includes work as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Dardanelle State Park, 1997 -1999, and as a full-time interpreter at Crater of Diamonds State Park, 2003 – 2007.   She has been a full-time interpreter at Petit Jean State Park since September of 2007.  Rachel is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and became a Certified Heritage Interpreter in 2009.  “One of my favorite things I do in my job is helping park visitors discover new ways to enjoy and learn from nature.”

 


Exploring Nature on the Trails at Cossatot River State Park

March 15, 2011

“The book of nature has no beginning as it has no end.” (Jim Corbett)

I am excited to tell you about the four trails we have and how our longest trail (“River Corridor”) is now completed for you to “experience the seasonal natural beauty along this wild and scenic river.”

The Visitor Center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a good place to start before any hike.

The Visitor Center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a good place to start before any hike.

Starting with our shortest trail, “The Waterleaf Interpretive Trail.”   This trail begins at the Visitor Center and includes a section of barrier-free trail along the ridge top.  This ½ mile trail goes down the North Slope to the Highway 278 river access.  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.  The trail is marked with yellow medallions with a backpacker in the middle to help guide you along.  This trail is rated easy to moderate (moderate meaning a hill to climb either way back to the top of the ridge).

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Our next shortest trail is, “Brushy Creek Interpretive Trail.”  This trail starts on the west side of the river and provides barrier-free access to a pedestrian walkway over the river.  The trail continues to the picnic area on the east side of this recreation area.  This ¾ mile trail meanders through mixed—Pine and hardwood, and offers a scenic view overlooking the Cossatot River/Brushy Creek union.  The numbered trees in the Trail Guide brochure corresponds with numeric labels placed near matching species along the trail.  The Trail head is located 9 miles east of Vandervoort on the east side of Brushy Creek Recreation Area.  It will end after you descend a flight of stairs into the parking lot.  This trail is also marked with yellow medallions with a backpacker in the middle to help guide you along.  This trail is rated easy to moderate (moderate meaning stairs to climb and a few small hills to get to the top of the ridge).  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Starting with our longer trails, the “Harris Creek Trail,” begins just off of Highway 278 near the Baker Creek Bridge and meanders through 3.5 miles of mature forest between Harris Creek and the river.  The trail is marked with a blue medallion with a backpacker in the middle to show you the way.  The trail is scenic, and sections of the trail are rugged and steep.  Wear appropriate shoes and clothing and carry water.  This trail is rated easy (short section of the trail), then moderate to difficult (moderate meaning several inclines and then it changes into steep switch backs.  After you have made it to the top of the switch backs you will be walking on an old log road back to the parking area/trail head area.)  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.

Finally, our last trail is the “River Corridor Trail.”  The River Corridor trail has been reconstructed over the last two years and is now a first class hiking facility. This trail is 14 miles long with several access points along the way.  The trail is divided into three segments the first section starting at the park’s Brushy Creek Recreational Area on Arkansas Highway 246; approximately nine miles east of Vandervoort.  It ends at Ed Banks, which is a five mile hike.  The second section is from Ed Banks to the Falls, and it is a 2 mile hike.  The third and final section is the longest part.  It is a 7 mile hike from the Falls to the U.S. Highway 278 Access Area, below the Visitor Center.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

This entire trail is blazed in blue and is rated strenuous.  Hikers have the option of walking the entire trail or choosing a particular segment.  The trail is excellent for a two-to-three-day backpacking adventure; however, hikers are asked to camp at the park’s designated camping facilities located at the Cossatot Falls, Sandbar Area, and the Ed Banks Area, or the undeveloped U.S. Highway 278 Access.  Also you need to stop in at the Visitor Center (located on the U.S. Highway 278 Area) to fill out a Yellow Slip (Trail Register) to hang on your mirror.

According to Park Superintendent Stan Speight, “hikers have the opportunity to choose a trail length that best fits the amount of time they have to go hiking.”  He noted that the shortest segment is the middle section which stretches two miles in length.  “Trail enthusiasts can enjoy a morning or afternoon hike, and all-day hike, or a weekend of adventure experiencing the entire 14 miles,” said Speight.  “And since the trail follows the Cossatot River Corridor, each segment offers the opportunity to experience the seasonal natural beauty along this wild and scenic river.”

With all four of our trails, Please take only pictures and leave only footprints.  We support the LNT (Leave No Trace) Principles, which are:  Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave what you Find, Respect Wildlife, and Be Considerate of other Visitors.

If you have any questions or comments contact a park ranger or call (870) 385-2201.  We hope you enjoy your stay at the Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area.

From start to finish there are 20 –miles of different diverse hiking trails.  Trails are a great way to engage in nature.  There are amazing things to see if you look close enough.  Start with experiencing aspects of nature that you can directly relate to with your physical, sensory, or emotional senses.  You can also join or make reservations to have a personal Interpreter Guide as you hike along a trail.Your connections with nature will continue to go deeper and deeper as you ask questions and follow your sense of wonder.  This connection is what brings about a sense of meaning in our lives—it deepens in each one of us a sense that we have a special place in this precious world.

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary is a park interpreter at Cossatot River State Park – Natural Area. She has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2001, starting out as a seasonal interpreter at DeGray Lake Resort, Lake Catherine, and Petit Jean State Parks. Shelley earned her degree in Parks and Recreation Management from Henderson State University in 2005. She is also an NAI Certified Interpretive Guide, recreational kayak instructor, and emergency first responder.


An Adventure in Spring

April 5, 2010
The main trailhead for three of the trails at Lake Catherine.

The main trailhead for three of the trails at Lake Catherine.

Spring has come to the park once again. I love the smells and sounds of this time of year. There are tiny buds all over the trees. The spring birds are back and filling up the air with their songs.  The winter bleakness is behind us. The warm air hits my face as I hike on one of our trails here at Lake Catherine State Park. I decide to hike Falls Branch.

There is so much to see on this trail. There is a nice little creek that greets you at the beginning. There are a series o f bridges that you must cross to traverse the trail. In front of me, I find a fern garden. The fiddleheads are poking through.

As I start to climb upwards I am greeted by the novaculite glade. Novaculite is a very special rock found in Hot Springs. The Native Americans used this rock extensively in their everyday life. You may know it as the knife sharpening stone or whetstone. This rock weathers very slowly.

I continue on my journey stopping for a moment at a bench to rest and take a drink. There is a slight breeze blowing that gently pushes my hair from my face. I hike on. There is a group of rocks to my left that overlooks the area I just came from, I affectionately nicknamed them the Pulpit Rock as I can imagine someone standing in front of them and reading a verse or two.

Serviceberry is one of the early blooms of spring.

Serviceberry is one of the early blooms of spring.

There is no creek on top of the mountain right now, but I know that I will pick up Falls Creek Falls soon. Upwards I climb, I pass the intersection of where Falls Branch meets Horseshoe Mountain and I know that I am on the downward stretch.  All around the Serviceberry has bloomed. I hear that they received their name because of the early days when there were traveling preachers, this was the bloom that coincided with the first services of the year as the snow melted and roads became passable again.  I start hearing the creek and I know that I will be on the home stretch soon.

There are many downed trees from previous storms around me and I am in awe to see the root system that they have and know that this tree had stood for 50 years before an ice storm or a mighty wind took it down.

Sitting and listening to Falls Creek Falls is a great way to spend an early spring day.

Sitting and listening to Falls Creek Falls is a great way to spend an early spring day.

CCC steps along the trail.

CCC steps along the trail.

As I continue my journey down, I start seeing the series of waterfalls that will lead to the major waterfall. One waterfall has moss growing down and the water drips off the moss into the pool below.  I watch my footing as I descend steps built by the Civilian Conservation Corps many  years ago. Finally, I am at the waterfall. It is flowing pretty well as we had rain and it filled the creek. I take a few pictures and head on. I am almost to the finish now.  I see the lake in front of me and then there is Remmel Dam. The dam was built in 1924 and was the first hydroelectric dam in the state of Arkansas. This dam created Lake Catherine.

The Swinging Bridge on the Falls Branch Trail.

The Swinging Bridge on the Falls Branch Trail.

I come to the swinging bridge. I love this part, wobbling across this bridge that expands over a small ditch.  I round the curve and see Bald Cypress trees to my right. This about the only place in the park that these trees are found. They love wet soil.

I walk on to the parking lot and my journey is finished for now.

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp is the park interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park and has worked there since 2006. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide and a member of the National Association for Interpretation. Julie enjoys photography and playing with her dogs in her spare time. She grew up camping in the state parks and likes to share nature with park visitors.


One of these days…to the moon!

April 1, 2010
Moon Phases

Moon Phases

Some people believe it can foretell bad weather; others say it heralds good fortune. Some say it’s made of cheese while others think it controls their moods and mental state.  Superstition or no, the moon does hold a certain sway over many people. The first people to study the moon were Babylonian astronomers, beginning a science still cultivated in nearly every country. It’s the only other rock in space which mankind has bothered to visit, spending decades of time and billions of dollars for the right to plant a flag and be the first there. And nearly everyone can recall a time when they have heard, or said, “Wow! Look at the moon!”

Where's the Cheese?

Where's the Cheese?

Simply viewed from Earth with the unaided eye the moon can be a beautiful sight, but have you ever taken a closer look?

Solidified volcanic pools and giant impact craters cover the moon, giving evidence of its violent past. When viewed with the naked eye, these features appear as various black, white and gray areas. The first astronomers to map the moon believed these areas to be full of water and named many of them as seas. The name has stuck, even though today’s astronomers know there is no liquid water on the moon.

When viewed with even low power binoculars, these formations sharpen into an impressive three dimensional picture. Many people are amazed to discover that the edges of the moon are not smooth, but riddled with craters, giving it a “chewed” or torn appearance. Cracks feather out from the point of impact, giving them depth and showing the force behind their creation. Each phase of the moon creates a new “edge” on the moon, highlighting different formations, making each of these nights spent with the moon a new treat.

The moon has created wonder and legend for centuries.

The moon has created wonder and legend for centuries.

Just as you have a story for each scar earned, each formation on the moon has its own story. A moon map or astronomical field guide can help you learn more of the moon’s tale. Many astronomy web sites offer free moon maps, with natural features and moon landings marked. Looking more closely at these features on the moon can help you imagine the sites welcoming our astronauts.

As the moon rises and the sky darkens, the shadows cast across its surface give our natural satellite even more depth. As with the stargazing, the best moon watching is often done from dark areas. The lack of light pollution helps create a sharper image and increase clarity. Parks are a great place to go when looking for darker skies, but any remote, open area will work.

Throughout time, people have held many beliefs centered on the moon, with some cultures even worshiping it as a deity. While we know the moon is made of rock, and not cheese, it still holds a fair amount of mystery. Whatever your astronomical and astrological beliefs about the moon may be, head out into the dark and take a closer look at your moon.

Arkansas State Parks has numerous moon oriented programs, events and tours. Try a Full Moon Cruise or Kayak Tour, Astronomy Program or other evening program. The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park was designed with dark skies in mind and is a perfect place to view the moon and other celestial bodies.

Brandy Oliver, Park Interpreter

Brandy Oliver, Park Interpreter

Brandy Oliver is the lodge activities director at Mt. Magazine State Park. She has been a seasonal interpreter at Lake DeGray and Lake Catherine State Park. She has a Bachelors Degree in Outdoor Recreation and Park Management from Henderson State University and is a Certified Interpretive Guide.


School’s Out – State Parks Are In!

March 15, 2010

Anyone with grade school or college-age kids already knows that Arkansas’s spring break is coming up fast, March 19-28. Arkansas State Parks are open for business and ready for guests who want safe, outdoor, family-friendly places to play and make memories!

Today’s blog is from Sarah Keating, one of our park staff who has made a family tradition of going Spring Break camping in the State Parks of Arkansas.

Why I Take My Kids Camping in Arkansas State Parks

Every year as my girls get older, they become more involved in school, sports, and other activities. It seems I have less and less time to spend with them doing the things that I love, such as exploring nature and watching sunsets. These are activities that for me hold fond memories of my childhood, and I want to share these things with my children.

Several years ago, my oldest daughter, Courtney, and I took our first spring break camping trip to Woolly Hollow State Park. After much planning, packing, and eager anticipation of sunny days and spring wildflowers, it turned out to be a cold and rainy week. Some people would have just cancelled the plans and stayed home, indoors, but I had made a promise that we would go camping and Courtney’s heart was set on it. Our camping trip was on.

It was one of the most memorable trips we have ever taken and it began our family’s Spring Break camping tradition.

The rain did keep us in our tent at times, where we had tons of fun just spending quiet time together, playing cards, talking about whatever came to our minds, and listening to the rain drip-dropping on our tent’s rain fly.

The Huckleberry Trail at Woolly Hollow State Park.

The Huckleberry Trail at Woolly Hollow State Park.

Finally, it stopped raining, and we took the chance to explore Woolly Hollow’s Huckleberry Trail. We reached a spot where a creek’s high water was up over the trail. It was not unsafe, but it was enough water that we’d need to get our shoes wet to continue our hike. I silently wondered if we should turn back, but Courtney insisted that we take our shoes and socks off and wade out across the icy cold water barefooted.  On the other side, we could put our socks and shoes back on and continue our walk comfortably.

Kids can come up with some of the best ideas.

Kids can come up with some of the best ideas.

To me, this was just a small inconvenience, but to my child, this was one of the most fun, adventuresome things we did all week! Such a simple experience–crossing that cold creek barefoot– was exhilarating for us both. I was proud of my daughter for insisting that we keep going. She was tickled that we worked together to solved a problem, and that we did something a bit on the wild side. I love that we will always share the memory of that moment.

Now, I have a second daughter who is old enough to go camping too, and my husband and I make an annual effort to schedule a family camping trip every Spring Break.  We have hung onto several activities over the years that are a must on every trip:

  • We always bring a Goosebumps book and read it around the campfire each night.
  • We try a new Dutch oven recipe each trip, and some of those recipes have become part of our camping tradition because we liked them so much.
  • We keep a journal of all the activities that we do and all the funny things that happen on each trip.
  • We always have powdered donuts.
  • We always take a family vote to decide which Arkansas State Park we will camp at next. All four of us have different requirements of our destination…Joe wants it to be someplace new that we have never visited as a family, the girls prefer somewhere with a playground, and I want somewhere with water to put my kayak in.
  • We like to go to the parks’ interpretive programs, and it’s nice that they usually have a variety of them so we can choose what’s best for our family.
  • Besides the programs, we don’t plan out our days. We just go on nature time, and explore whatever the park gives us when we get there.

Our family has now taken many fantastic Spring and Fall Break camping trips, at some wonderful Arkansas State Parks. Here are a few favorite excerpts from our journals:

  • “We woke up to a chilly morning today at Lake Ouachita State Park, with birds singing and crows calling. A gentle fog hovered over the calm surface of the water, and we all enjoyed a slow morning as the sun rose. We made a Dutch oven breakfast casserole and it was delicious.”
  • “At Lake Dardanelle State Park, we used driftwood and other natural materials found along the shoreline to make little boats. They actually floated! This was a fun, easy, free activity we all had fun working on these together.”
Emily sends her driftwood boat on its maiden voyage.

Emily sends her driftwood boat on its maiden voyage.

Courtney's boat was more of a cruise ship.

Courtney's boat was more of a cruise ship.

  • “While Daddy was setting up the tent on our first night Mount Nebo State Park, Emily (age 4) was awed by the owl we were hearing in the distance and marveled at all the stars shining so bright above us.  It’s these moments that make all the preparation of camping worthwhile.”
Childhood is all about discovery.

Childhood is all about discovery.

  • “The girls found an inchworm on the walk back to our camp at Petit Jean State Park. Emily really enjoyed letting it crawl all over her hands.  After I convinced her to let it go she talked about how she thought she could still see his little footprints on her hand.”
Kids love an adventure.

Kids love an adventure.

  • “The whole family spent a great evening on a sunset kayak tour with the park interpreter [at Cane Creek State Park]. We saw a beaver, several beaver lodges, lots of woodpeckers and other birds, and tons of lilypads.  It was a fun trip and the interpreter was a great guide.”
  • Today we decided to walk the short, easy ¼-mile Bear Cave Trail at Petit Jean State Park. There isn’t really a “cave” on it, but believe me, there is no disappointment about that, because the path winds you through a forest of humongous sandstone boulders. We all agreed there is a magical feeling there.
Insturctions: Just add water!

Instructions: Just add water!

  • “The first thing the girls wanted to do when we arrived at Lake Ouachita State Park was sit in the lake in their clothes so of course, I let them. Emily’s laughing face in the picture shows just how much they enjoyed doing something silly and out of the ordinary!”
  • “Our whole family spent the afternoon exploring nature at Petit Jean State Park today. We love looking up close at woodpecker marks in tree bark, bright colors of small wildflowers, amazing patterns in the rock formations, and of course, we are excited when a lizard darts across our path! Emily wanted to catch this one for a closer look, but she never was fast enough. There are so many little science and life lessons in these moments.”
Experiencing a day of discovery.

Experiencing a day of discovery.

  • “You can rub two small sandstone or shale rocks together with water to make nature paint! We used it to make designs on our bodies today. (It’s really just mud, so it washes off with water.) If you look carefully you can find resources to make white, gray, yellow, and red paint! The girls loved that it goes on wet as one color, and it dries another color! Here is Courtney’s “tattoo” of a kayaker and kayak.”
  • “We did a little geocaching today at Cane Creek State Park! Our family is just getting into this popular hobby, but we love the thrill of a scavenger hunt that leads us to neat history and nature places we might otherwise not see. The girls love looking at the logbook to see who’s been there recently, and we like leaving our note for the next people.”

Introducing the kids to a bigger world.

Introducing the kids to a bigger world.

  • “Today all four of us took a hike on the Bench Trail at Mount Nebo State Park. Not only did we enjoy the forest and little spring-fed waterfalls, but the views off the mountain into the Arkansas River valley were incredible. We took time to just sit and stare at Arkansas’s beauty.”
  • Evenings together around the campfire, like the one we had tonight at Petit Jean State Park, are one our family’s favorite things about camping in Arkansas State Parks. We do different things to pass the time, including tending the fire, cooking over it, reading aloud, telling jokes, talking about the day’s adventures, and of course, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores!

I just made our reservations for this year at Daisy State Park on Lake Greeson, and we’re looking forward to sharing all these traditions again and making new ones to add to our list.

* * *

State park interpreters in over 25 locations have scheduled daily programs during Arkansas Spring Break 2010, and quite a few actually have programs scheduled throughout the month to also accommodate different spring break dates from neighboring states like Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

Programs include guided nature hikes, kayak tours, arts and crafts, hands-on workshops, historic site tours, and much more. Programs are scheduled at different times throughout the day, with additional evening activities such as night hikes, campfires, and owl prowls. In addition, many historic state park sites offer daily tours. Most programs are free of charge. Those requiring fees include most lake cruises, kayak tours, and site tours. Fees are minimal in most cases.

Park Finder Map:

Every town in the Natural State has at least one state park within an hour’s drive! CLICK HERE to see a Park Finder map.

Online Calendar of Events:

You can also check out our online calendar of events to see what’s scheduled at your local park, or to help plan a day or overnight trip to a park further from home. CLICK HERE to find a program that fits your schedule. You can customize your search by date, park location, city, zip code, and keyword (such as “kayak,” “hike,” “archeology,” or “birding”).

Besides scheduled, interpreter-led programs the State Parks of Arkansas provide facilities and settings for plenty of things you can do on your own in the parks, including geocaching, hiking, mountain biking, watching wildlife, studying Arkansas history, exploring nature and history exhibits in our visitor centers, and more.

Additional resources:

Parents wanting additional resources for year-round outdoor activity ideas might check out the following Web sites:

No matter what your family does this year during Spring Break, remember, your Arkansas State Parks are here for you. Make plans now to visit one soon.

School’s Out, State Parks Are In! Arkansas Spring Break 2010

Sarah Keating, Asst. Park Superintendent

Sarah Keating, Asst. Park Superintendent

Sarah Keating has been stationed at Lake Dardanelle State Park since 2001. She is currently Assistant Park Superintendent, and preceded that by six years as a Park Interpreter there. Sarah has also worked at Crater of Diamonds, Withrow Springs, and Lake Fort Smith. Sarah holds a bachelors degree in park resource management from Kansas State University. She is also an NAI Certified Heritage Interpreter and Trainer. Each fall she serves as an adjunct professor of Interpretive Methods  and Interpretive Field Studies at Arkansas Tech University. Most importantly, she works hard to ensure that her family goes camping in Arkansas State Parks as often as possible!


Because words can’t describe…

March 11, 2010

Instead of a regular post today we decided to leave you with a lovely visit to The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park.

The Lodge at Mount Magazine opened in the Spring of 2006 and is one of the great vacation attractions of Arkansas. All rooms and cabins have a view off the bluff-line overlooking the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. All cabins have a hot tub on the deck with the same view. Amenities include the Skycrest Restaurant, Conference center, free broadband internet access, indoor pool and fitness center, business center and gift shop.

Also in the park are miles of hiking trails including the Signal Hill Trail which takes you to the highest point in Arkansas. A state-of-the-art Visitor Center greats visitors with exhibits of the mountains’ natural and cultural history and wildlife viewing areas. The park is also known for its wonderful programs that immerse you into the flora and fauna of the mountain. A slow drive through the park should include the Cameron’s Bluff Drive which has several overlooks.

Besides the lodge and cabins the park has a beautiful modern campground. Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-479-963-8502 for the campground or 1-877-MM-Lodge for the lodge and cabins. We look forward to your next visit.


Parks—Places Where “Everlasting Moments” Are Born

March 8, 2010

If you asked me what I ate for dinner yesterday, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t remember. Yet, I can recall in such detail—and with such clarity—encounters I’ve experienced in Arkansas’s state parks over the past 37 years since that winter day in 1973 when I, like so many of my colleagues here at Arkansas State Parks, choose this park system to be my life’s work, too. Those myriad moments—personal, poignant and often profound encounters that I lived through—are always with me. Some occurred in solitude. Others were shared experiences with park visitors, or friends and family. But these encounters when I connected with nature or history, or with another human being whose life was being enhanced by that time in that park, too, are etched in my mind, and in my heart, forever. Like the parks themselves, these memories are something I can always reconnect to. George B. Hartzog , Jr, who served as director of the National Park Service in the 1960s and early 1970s, keenly called these heart-moving minutes in a park that stay with us forever “everlasting moments.”

I’m picturing some of those everlasting park moments right now that occurred in early September in 2002. Back then during the final years of my beloved mother’s life, she lived near my two older sisters in northwest Arkansas. I would often drive from Little Rock to spend a day or two with Mother on weekends. While traveling back to Little Rock late that September afternoon after spending the day with her, I couldn’t shake this sense that I was supposed to take a detour off I-40 and go across Petit Jean Mountain.  As I approached the Russellville Hwy. 7 exit, I gave in to the mountain’s pull, took the detour and headed towards Petit Jean State Park. I’m glad I did.

For over 75 years the overlook behind Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park has been a favorite place to watch the sunset.

For over 75 years the overlook behind Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park has been a favorite place to watch the sunset.

I hoped to watch the sunset from behind Mather Lodge, the park’s 1930s-era CCC lodge there on the bluff overlooking rugged Cedar Creek Canyon, but I missed being at that vantage point by just minutes. Instead, I watched the sunset through my rearview mirror as I drove along Ark. 154 from Centerville past Holla Bend. The months of August and September are when sunsets viewed from the lodge are often their most dramatic, and it was a spectacular sunset, although not viewed from where I hoped to watch it. I stopped briefly at the lodge, an Arkansas historic treasure where I worked in the mid-70s and which was the setting of so many cherished park memories.  Then, I headed through the park to Stout’s Point on the mountain’s east brow to enjoy the sweeping scenery from that overlook. I walked around the overlook’s elevated walkway and then climbed up a large rock so I could sit and enjoy the view of the Arkansas River and valley below. Twilight darkened to dusk.  As the minutes went by, the night grew darker. Far down below in Morrilton, located there alongside a big curve in the river, the lights of the city were shining brightly. As far as I could see, lights marked where other smaller communities were scattered through the Arkansas landscape.  Those lights were mirrored by stars shining in the clear sky above me.

Eventually, all the other sightseers left, but I was in no hurry to go. That time there in that park was so peaceful, and so perfect.

Then I noticed a man with long dark hair walking along the opposite side of the walkway. He didn’t see me. The man stopped and looked to the east at the view across the Arkansas River. He stood there perfectly still in that position for several minutes. As I watched his dark silhouette against the darkening blue of the night sky, I saw him reach down and pull something out of a long slender bag. He raised the long straight object to his face. Suddenly, I felt panic wondering if he was about to take his own life and I would be the silent witness to his act. Just as I was drawing my breath to call out and make my presence known, he began to softly play his American Indian flute. I sat there spellbound listening as he played the Cherokee courting flute. I’ve attended many a musical performance in my life. None were more memorable than this. I’ve sat in many a concert hall featuring acoustic ceiling panels and walls, but none were more beautiful, or offered any better acoustics that I can remember, than this park setting. He continued to play for, I guessed, well over half an hour. The only sounds accompanying his flute were crickets, cicadas and the wind rustling leaves.

Only two people were experiencing this park experience—a Cherokee playing his love flute in thanks to Mother Earth and Father Sky and an unnoticed Arkansas State Parks staffer who took a detour off a busy highway.

As he played, I quietly, and reverently, took it all in—his music, the view from the mountain, the night sky. I thought about the time I’d watched a sunrise from this same overlook almost three decades earlier with two park colleagues the day before I left Petit Jean to go work at another Arkansas state park. I can still remember every moment, color and detail of that sunrise. I knew I’d remember every detail of this starlit concert, too.

I finally made my presence known as he was heading towards his car, and we spent about an hour talking. The story he shared with me was as moving as the earlier sounds from his flute. He said that an elder Cherokee had dreamed about him and then sought him out to tell him to learn to play the flute. It would be part of his destiny. And so, this young Cherokee would drive from Russellville to Petit Jean Mountain in the evenings and play his flute from points north, south, east, and west there on the mountain in tribute to earth and sky. Ironically, because of the lure of the mountain and my detour that late afternoon, I was destined, too, to be there and witness his flute playing at the park’s overlook on the mountain’s east brow.

Stout's Point on the East brow of Petit Jean Mountain is a wonderful place to enjoy one a scenic views of the Arkansas River.

Stout's Point on the East brow of Petit Jean Mountain is a wonderful place to enjoy scenic views of the Arkansas River.

Arkansas’s state parks are here to protect natural and cultural resources.  They’re here for outdoor recreation and to support tourism, too. And the parks are here to connect us to those natural and historic resources, and to inspire those personal and profound “everlasting moments” that become memories we cherish a lifetime. As George Hartzog said as he reflected on the first time he stood on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and looked at that magnificent view in front of him, “These are everlasting moments that stay with you and influence your life all your life.”

The next time your travels present the opportunity for a detour to an Arkansas state park, I hope you take it so you can experience some everlasting moments, too.

 
 

 

Joan Ellison, Public Information Officer

Joan Ellison, Public Information Officer

Joan Ellison is a 37-year veteran of the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. She has served as the Division’s public information officer since 1987. Prior to that she held positions as administrative assistant to the state parks director, state field naturalist, park naturalist at Lake Catherine, and in lodge management at two state parks. A creative force in the Arkansas state park system’s advertising and promotion efforts in print, electronic and outdoor media, she has written and produced hundreds of Arkansas State Parks television and radio spots. Her work is featured in state travel brochures, regional and national magazines, and the park system’s 12 Web sites. Ellison holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Park Administration from Arkansas Tech University. She has served in leadership and membership roles in a wide array of parks, recreation, environmental education, and government communications organizations including the Arkansas Information Coordinators Association, Arkansas Recreation and Parks Association, Arkansas Advisory Council on Environmental Education, the Southern Regional Environmental Education Council, Training Resources in Environmental Education, Project Learning Tree, Project Wild, Outdoor Biological Instructional Strategies, Arkansas Native Plant Society, and the Arkansas Herpetological Society.

 


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