Herbal Feasts and Sumptuous Suppers

April 28, 2010
Decorative and tasty.

Decorative and tasty.

Over the long history of Arkansas State Parks there have been a myriad of surprising delights and educational opportunities that cannot be found anywhere else. For example, the very first Lavish Herbal Feast occurred on April 22, 1989, at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Arkansas. It was a collaborative production of the all-woman volunteer organization, The Committee of 100 for the Ozark Folk Center, herbal experts Jim Long and Billy Joe Tatum and the Heritage Herb Garden and the park staff. The meal began with a Sweet Woodruff May Punch reception hosted by the Herb Garden Committee of the Committee of 100. The feast featured five courses with live violin music by Maestro James Gambino. The dinner was the opening event of the third annual Heritage Herb Weekend.

Cream Dill

Cream Dill

The Lavish Herbal Feast in the spring and the autumnal Herb Harvest Sumptuous Supper are a part of the herbal traditions that set the Ozark Folk Center Arkansas State Parks apart from any other park system. Arkansas State Parks boast a nationally noted herb garden at the Ozark Folk Center that was funded by monies raised by The Committee of 100. The collaborative spirit that was planted in the garden by the Committee of 100 has grown to include the participation of the Ozark Folk Center volunteers, Arkansas Master Gardeners, the Mountain View Garden Club and the Ozark Chapter of the Herb Society of America, and a small army of individual friends. Many young people have completed community service hours working in the greenhouse and gardens while helping to prepare for the herb dinners and events.

Pansy-Saled Burrnet

Pansy-Saled Burrnet

Today, at the entrance of the Skillet Restaurant, pause to stroke and inhale the essential oil of the rosemary bushes and pinch a bay leaf from the towering tree in the native stone alcove. Once inside, be seated at oak tables in high back chairs to enjoy a meal in comfortable elegance. Only glass separates you from birds feathered in every hue; catch the flash of a pileated woodpecker and the antics of chipmunks and squirrels. Admire the homestead antiques that are displayed on the cornice; cast iron chandeliers suspended from exposed wooden beams, shine light on an evening meal. The Skillet’s hospitable wait staff serves great country cooking every day, during the season, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m..

Garlic Flower and Flat Leaf Parsley.

Garlic Flower and Flat Leaf Parsley.

For future fun, foodies and herb enthusiasts might visit The Ozark Folk Center State Park and mark your calendars. Each spring and fall, preceding the Heritage Herb Spring Extravaganza and the Herb Harvest Fall Festival, The Skillet Restaurant becomes an epicurean destination. Fresh themes are explored at every event. The reception is comprised of live music, artful arrangements of flowers, multi-textured and scented leaves, herbal libations and tantalizing appetizers. Seasonal foods are selected for the menu with conscious consideration for the satisfaction of meat lovers and vegetarians. Fresh herbs and greens are harvested from the park’s Kitchen Garden. The Skillet is festooned, a special program is always included as a part of the evening and the appetite is whetted for more knowledge of herbs.

Kale and Pansy.

Kale and Pansy.

The next Lavish Herbal Feast is Thursday, April 29, 2010. The menu begins with a Summer Greek Salad followed by Tomato Bisque Soup with Dill, Herb of the Year 2010. There are three entrees from which to choose: Vegetables and Tempeh Au Gratin, Roast Leg of Lamb with Pistachio-Mint Pesto, Chicken with Amaretto Tarragon Sauce. The spring vegetables include New Potatoes with Dill and Lemon Zest and Fresh Snow Peas with Chervil. The grand finale is Tres Leche Cake served with Strawberries in Lemon Verbena Syrup.

Committee of 100 member Patricia French with cookbook authors Pat Crocker and Susan Belsinger have designed the dinner. Members of the Ozark Chapter of the Herb Society of America will assist the Committee of 100 with the reception. The Lavish Herbal Feast sells out every year. Reservations are required by April 21. The Herb Harvest Sumptuous Supper is Thursday, September 30, 2010. The reception begins at 6 p.m., with dinner at 6:30 both evenings.  Visit The Ozark Folk Center State Park for further details or call (870) 269-3851.

Lemon Cheese Cake-nast, Pineapple, Sageleaf, Sunflower.

Lemon Cheese Cake-nast, Pineapple, Sageleaf, Sunflower.

Tina Wilcox, Park Gardener and Herbalist

Tina Wilcox, Park Gardener and Herbalist

Tina Marie Wilcox has been the head gardener and herbalist at the Ozark Folk Center’s Heritage Herb Garden in Mountain View, Arkansas since 1984. She tends the extensive gardens, plans and coordinates annual herbal events and workshops and facilitates the production of sale plants, seeds and herbal products for the park.  She is a well-seasoned herbal educator and entertainer and co-author of the creative herbal home, which has been translated into Japanese and will be released in Japan in 2010.

Tina is currently collaborating with co-Author, Susan Belsinger, on articles for The Herb Companion, and Grit magazines. She writes a weekly herb and garden column entitled “Yarb Tales” for the Stone County Leader.

Tina is a member of the Herb Society of America, the American Botanical Council, and serves on the board of the International Herb Association.

Tina Marie Wilcox sings and plays guitar with a women’s trio known as The Herbin’ League.  The trio performs traditional mountain folk music and an eclectic blend of favorite tunes with an emphasis on three-part harmony.

Tina’s philosophy is based upon experiencing the joy of the process, perpetrating no harm, and understanding life through play with plants and people.

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Whatever Floats Your Boat

April 19, 2010

There are many things I enjoy doing in my free time, but my favorite way to pass the time in spring and summer is fishing.  To begin with fishing helps me relax.  Sometimes after a stressful day, I grab my fishing pole and paddle my canoe up Moro Bay to places that motor boats seldom venture.  I like to go just before sunset when the water is still and the cypress trees take on a ghostly appearance. I don’t always go to catch fish; sometimes I like the solitude that nature offers.  It is a spiritual feeling that calms the soul.

It's always relaxing moving through the quiet backwaters at Moro Bay.

It's always relaxing moving through the quiet backwaters at Moro Bay.

Still, I enjoy fishing with other people as well.  In my youth, the hot summer days I spent fishing with my best friend Robert cannot easily be counted.  On several occasions Robert would wade out chest deep and grab a catfish with his bare hands while I reeled it in.   I still enjoy fishing with my father.  There are days when we do not catch a fish but that never keeps us from trying again.  Fishing for me has become more about the experience than catching my limit.  While fishing I have established two lifelong relationships.   One is with my best friend Robert.  He is like a brother to me

Nothing goes together like kids and fishing.

Nothing goes together like kids and fishing.

because our friendship cannot be broken.  The other is with my father.  I know that when he dies I will remember all the good times we had fishing and store those warm memories in my heart.  In the future I will reflect on the good advice he gave me on the long rides to the lake and pass it on to my children.

A reason to smile.

A reason to smile.

As a Park interpreter and now a Park Superintendent I have been able to share the experiences of fishing with a number of visitors.  Sometimes the experiences are with children who attend a day camp. I enjoying fishing with the kids who know how to fish and helping them become better at it.  However, I like to work with the kids who have never caught a fish before even more.  The look on child’s face when they reel in a slimy fish for the first time is priceless.  Many times they forget to reel and instead run backwards up the bank until the fish is dragged in.  In my time here at Moro Bay State Park I have seen some awesome fishing experiences.  Often times my role in them has been small.  In these photos all I did was say congratulations and took a picture.

Quality family time and a big 'ol fish!

Quality family time and a big 'ol fish!

I love to catch big fish.  However, these days I find myself more excited watching the next generation make memories like the ones I made when I was their age.  This is what our Perch Jerk Classic Fishing Tournament is about and this is one of the reasons many people visit Moro Bay State Park.

Another beautiful sunset at Moro Bay State Park.

Another beautiful sunset at Moro Bay State Park.

Paul Butler, Park Superintendent

Paul Butler, Park Superintendent

Paul Butler grew up in the Suburbs of Little Rock.  In 1999 he went to college at the University of Arkansas at Monticello to play baseball.  He worked for the fisheries department of The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for three years in college performing fish sampling and other duties as assigned.  In May of 2005 he received a degree in Wildlife Management and began his Career with Arkansas State Parks that same month as a seasonal Interpreter at Cane Creek State Park.  In August of 2005 he was hired as the full time Interpreter for Moro Bay State Park.  In July of 2009 Paul became Superintendent of Moro Bay State Park.


Hidden Treasures

April 12, 2010
Artist rendering of Davidsonville.

Artist rendering of Davidsonville.

In mid-March, I gave a talk to the Woman’s Club of Cherokee Village, AR. When I was first asked to speak to them, I thought they wanted me to give a general “What do Arkansas State Parks have to offer?” presentation, which is a fairly common request. I was very excited, though, when I realized they wanted me to talk specifically about the park I am an interpreter for, Davidsonville Historic State Park in Northeastern Arkansas. Never heard of it? Neither had these ladies, which is why they wanted to learn more.

In 1815, Davidsonville was the first planned town in Arkansas and held Arkansas’s first post office, land use office and courthouse. This is the original town plat of Davidsonville.

In 1815, Davidsonville was the first planned town in Arkansas and held Arkansas’s first post office, land use office and courthouse. This is the original town plat of Davidsonville.

During my talk with the Woman’s Club, I explored Davidsonville’s rich history. I gave them the facts: created in 1815, Davidsonville was Arkansas’s first planned town; it was the location of Arkansas’s first post office, land use office and courthouse; by 1830, the town was no more; today, nothing above ground remains of the town.  I also tried to breathe life into those facts: nearly two hundred years ago, this state park had been home to many frontier families; babies were born here; couples were married; others were buried; this was a bustling town where lives had been lived. After painting them a picture of the town that once was, I explained how we know so much about

Artifacts like these jaw harps and dice, unearthed at  Davidsonville, show the townspeople lived lives that included leisure  time.
Artifacts like these jaw harps and dice, unearthed at Davidsonville, show the townspeople lived lives that included leisure time.

Davidsonville: archeological excavations by the Arkansas Archeological Survey, which have uncovered hundreds of thousands of artifacts, and court documents that have managed to survive all this time. When my presentation ended, I had more than one woman tell me, “I can’t believe I never knew about Davidsonville!”

Unfortunately, that is a common response of many visitors to Davidsonville Historic State Park. Like many of the smaller parks in Arkansas’s State Park system, Davidsonville is well known only by those who live near it or happen upon it by accident. Those who do know it, though, find they have come across one of the many hidden treasures within Arkansas’s state park system. Although Davidsonville Historic State Park may be too far for you to visit, there is bound to be a hidden treasure of a state park near you just waiting to be discovered.  Like Davidsonville, each of those hidden treasures has a unique story to tell and amazing opportunities for making memories.

Davidsonville Historic State Park as it appears today.

Davidsonville Historic State Park as it appears today.

Heather Hoey, Park Interpreter

Heather Hoey, Park Interpreter

Heather Hoey has been the Park Interpreter at Davidsonville Historic State Park for a year and a half. Before becoming a full time interpreter, she was a seasonal interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park for six months. She grew up in the Little Rock area and graduated Earlham College in Richmond, IN with a degree in Geosciences.


Old-fashioned Community Energy

April 8, 2010

Volunteer Days at the Ozark Folk Center

Volunteer Days is a great time to try out new food ideas, like kettle corn.

Volunteer Days is a great time to try out new food ideas, like kettle corn.

The Ozarks is a unique and special place. Well-known for their beauty, these hills are also known for being challenging to live in or travel through. The weather here is a drama queen, tempestuous thundering tantrums one hour – sunshine and flowers the next.

In many ways living in the Ozarks is a balancing act. The abundant water in lakes, streams and falling rain is balanced by muddy, destructive flooding waters. The wild foods, natural fruits, nuts, greens and berries growing with wild abandon are counter-weighted by the challenges of trucking food-stuffs in to hill country supermarkets.

One thing about the Ozarks that has no downside is the people. On the whole, whether native to this land or drawn to it, the people who live in the Ozark Mountains are self-sufficient, creative and caring.

Volunteer and jeweler Linda Widmer paints the trim on the Doll  Shop windows.

Volunteer and jeweler Linda Widmer paints the trim on the Doll Shop windows.

Perhaps because there are relatively few people, everyone is appreciated for their qualities. Now, that doesn’t mean that everybody likes each other or that gossip isn’t the town’s main entertainment, but it does mean that whether you like your neighbor or not, you’ll still go help him raise his barn and bring food to the potluck.

The Ozark Folk Center is an Arkansas State Park that was founded to celebrate and preserve this unique spirit. Where other parks have acres of natural beauty, we have uniquely creative people willing to share their music and crafts. A seasonal park, we don’t officially open until April 16. Starting about mid-March though, we get lots of calls. People are starting to stir in the hills. People want to get out and see people.

Ozark Folk Center volunteer coordinator Kathy Hair encourages volunteers Wayne and Charlotte Russell as they scrub the Spinning and Weaving Shop windows.

Ozark Folk Center volunteer coordinator Kathy Hair encourages volunteers Wayne and Charlotte Russell as they scrub the Spinning and Weaving Shop windows.

Bringing together the barn-raising spirit, spring fever and the spring cleaning urge, we started Volunteer Days at the Ozark Folk Center Craft Village in 2008. This year’s days are April 13 and 14. We invite the public from far and wide to come help us put the finishing touch on our park before we open. We’ve had folks from Colorado, Maryland, Oregon and Louisiana chipping in to scrub walls, paint window and weed gardens right next to the neighbors from down the street.

Some of the projects are planned, like scrubbing the outside of every window in the village, hanging the pictures in the Administration hallway or planting the garden around the Shannon Cabin. Others take stock of volunteer’s strengths like painting shop signs or rebuilding cabin doors. Some volunteers run drinks, tools and messages to other helpers. Musicians who want to practice and warm up their acts after the long winter can perform on the outdoor stage and add energy to the event.

Ozark Folk Center’s Group Sales Manager Jimmie Edwards shares comments with KFFB’s General Manager Bob Connell.

Ozark Folk Center’s Group Sales Manager Jimmie Edwards shares comments with KFFB’s General Manager Bob Connell.

The whole community gets involved in the volunteer cleanup days. Local radio station KFFB has done a remote live broadcast from the event for the last two years and fed the volunteers pizza and soda pop for lunch. In 2009 it seemed like everyone was thanking KFFB’s Bob Connell for his great program during that winter’s ice storm. He kept his station on the air and connecting people during the storm that devastated the areas forests and left many people without electricity for weeks. This year, Centennial Bank is providing lunch on the 13th and of course, people bring cookies, salads and other treats for potluck. There’s always more food than people, so if you’re thinking of driving up to Mountain View for the event, don’t worry about bringing food with you.

The Ozark Folk Center isn’t open during this event, we open officially April 16th. So if you’re looking for top quality music shows and crafters taking the time to demonstrate their crafts, wait a few more days. But if you want to come be a part of the community spirit that the Center was founded to preserve and perpetuate, join us on April 13th and 14th for Volunteer Days.

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.


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.