The Timelessness of Petit Jean State Park

In a world where the pace of change sometimes seems to accelerate daily, it’s nice to know that there are still places that don’t change so rapidly or so much.  One of my favorites of these special places is Petit Jean State Park.  When I compare the natural beauty I see here now with what I saw more than a quarter of a century ago, I can’t think of anything that has altered significantly.  And that’s the way I like it.

Cedar Falls, below Mather Lodge, is one of the most beautiful settings in Arkansas.

Cedar Falls, below Mather Lodge, is one of the most beautiful natural settings in Arkansas. Thousands of visitors a year hike the Cedar Falls Trail for the view.

Dr. T.W. Hardison was one of the early architects of Petit

Dr. T.W. Hardison was one of the early architects of Petit Jean State Park

One of the purposes of establishing Petit Jean State Park in 1923 was to protect an exceptional piece of Arkansas for the future enjoyment of the public.  The 2,658-acre park has the distinction of being Arkansas’s first state park.  Part of the reason for this is that Petit Jean Mountain was a very special place for a physician who began practicing in the area in the early 1900’s.  Dr. T.W. Hardison was a staunch advocate for setting aside and protecting some of the mountain’s most scenic areas, and it is largely due to his efforts that the park exists today.

Petit Jean Mountain is actually one of many plateaus in the Arkansas River Valley Region, shaped from millions of years of erosion.   But it has natural features that set it apart from other nearby areas, such as sandstone rocks which resemble the shells of giant turtles, a large bluff shelter (Rock House Cave) was inhabited and decorated by prehistoric Native Americans, and Cedar Falls, an exceptionally scenic waterfall cascading from the upper Cedar Creek Canyon into the lower canyon.

The Davies Bridge over Cedar Creek has endured for over 75 years.

The Davies Bridge over Cedar Creek has endured for over 75 years.

Man-made features also help to set Petit Jean State Park apart.  Many of these were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, and they were built to last.  Historic Mather Lodge and some of the park’s cabins were built in a rustic style that has a timeless appeal, and these have served park visitors for many decades.  We make renovations when needed, but the historical integrity of the structures is maintained.  For example, the historic Davies Bridge, which is one of only 8 masonry arch bridges in Arkansas and was originally constructed in 1934, served park visitors and mountain residents for more than 70 years with little need for maintenance.  But eventually,

Interpreter lead park programs are a great way to experience the diverse flora and fauna of the park.

Interpreter led park programs are a great way to experience the the park.

years of hard use necessitated major repairs which were begun in 2006.  Although stones had to be removed, each one was numbered and replaced in the same position it had originally occupied, so that the overall appearance of the bridge hardly changed at all.

I and the other staff members of Petit Jean State Park are committed to preserving the park as a place of timeless beauty for present and future generations to enjoy.  This commitment may be best summed up in the park’s mission statement: “Petit Jean State Park is a natural and historical area which has been set aside by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism for protecting and preserving in its original habitat and native beauty the flora, fauna, and cultural history within its boundaries.  A highly trained professional staff is dedicated to managing and preserving the many unique natural resources, historical structures, and facilities for the benefit of park visitors and future generations.  Recreational activities, natural and cultural interpretations, outdoor education, and other goods and services are provided to accommodate the public’s need for leisure time and to attract leisure travel to the state.”

"Here is the place to rest, eat, sleep, dance, play and enjoy a summer's vacation...The view from here is inspiring."

"Here is the place to rest, eat, sleep, dance, play and enjoy a summer's vacation...The view from here is inspiring." - 1940's publication

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.”

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2 Responses to The Timelessness of Petit Jean State Park

  1. Kelli says:

    This is such a beautiful park. The staff is great. You will not find a hotel anywhere in the nation with a better staff than the ones at Mather Lodge. They are friendly and alway super helpful. They are well informed about the park and the surrounding areas. If you have a question they will either have an answer or find you the answer. The Park has some of the most beautiful settings and is great to visit anytime of the year. My kids and I love to go up and hike. They love to explore and I love to capture the important childhood moments in pictures they can look back on and share with thier children. They love to look back and see how the park always has new things to explore everytime we go. It never gets old to me or to them. It is by far my favorite place in the whole state to visit.

    • Rachel Engebrecht says:

      Kelli,
      Thanks so much for your comment! Hope you & your family make lots more visits to Petit Jean State Park.

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