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.

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Change

November 23, 2010

“Change is the only constant” Proverb quote

The Picture of Change

The Picture of Change

I’m not a big fan of change (and who is really?). If something is working, then why change it? However, in my profession I see a lot of changes. One constant change is in our visitors. As the seasons change, so do our type of visitors. In the summer, we have many people who come for only a day and bask in the sun at the swim beach. Then we see a lot of tents (some with an a/c even hanging out the side!).  During the summer, state parks are great place for families to celebrate together, from birthday parties and BBQ’s, to family reunions. Some of my favorite memories are from attending family reunions through the years atop Petit Jean Mountain at the state park. In fifth grade, I wore a Petit Jean State Park t-shirt so much that my friends starting calling me Petit Jean! Summers tend to give kids their “firsts”; first time to swim, first time to ride a horse, first time to camp, and in my cousin’s case-the first time she rode her bicycle without training wheels.

Big Rig Camping

Big Rig Camping

As the long, hot summer days give way to the cool, shorter days of fall, there comes the changing of how people camp. I will see less tents and more big RV’s. The summer of families with kids turns to a fall with more retired couples. Instead of staying for a weekend, we will have some that stay for several weeks. Our newly renovated campground provides an improved level of comfort for these folks. We now have sites with water, electric, and sewer. This enables the big rigs to have all the conveniences of home at their site.

The programming aspect for me changes as well. In the summer, I do a lot of children’s programming and programming for families. We do more activities at the nature cabin and have something going on every day. In the fall, I change the programming up to offer more adult oriented programs (with still a kick of whimsy in it-for the kid in all of us).  We have weekend programs and some during the week as well. My favorite program to do in the fall is a Dutch oven cooking workshop. I love the smell of cobbler cooking in the crisp air!

Camping & Fishing among the fall color.

Camping & Fishing among the fall color.

The activity level in the campground changes as well. During the spring and fall, the campground is alive with everyone enjoying the nice evenings by walking and biking through the campground. There are dogs barking and fires crackling. The hot summer months drives most everyone inside their campers and there are not that many souls that brave the chilly winter months.

All in all, life is full of change and it is inevitable. Seeing the different changes throughout the year at the park is exciting as you never know what is coming next.

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.


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


The Clean-up Crew

November 12, 2010

We had a school group come the park today and they raided the snack part of our gift shop during a break in the program.  So, it will be a good evening for our clean-up crew.  We have a special clean-up crew that works nights, 365 days a year, without holidays.  No, I am not talking about the two-legged kind of maintenance crew that comes in every morning early to shine the bathrooms, empty the trash, and get us ready for a new day of visitors.  I’m talking about the two- and four-legged kind, both furry and feathered, who make their appearance as soon as the last employee and last visitor leaves the public parts of the park–the squirrels, raccoons, opossums, crows, and other birds.

I often work farther into the evening than other staff members, so I hear noises that sound like some ghost or spirit is rattling around outside my office.  One night I found the source of all of that after-hours racket.  A raccoon hopped out of the trash can just as I walked past.  I think that we were both scared an equal amount.  Most evenings as I walk up through the parking lot, I will also disturb two or three crows stalking around and looking for treats.

A missed learning opportunity

A missed learning opportunity

Once in a while I eat lunch on our upper deck after a school group like today’s has sat and eaten their snacks or lunches.  That’s when you find out which are the braver songbirds living in the park.  Especially the tufted titmice seem to have no fear of humans when the snacks are really plentiful.  First, they fly to the rail that goes around the deck.  From there if you watch you can see them carefully scoping out the tables vacant of people and with the best looking crumbs under them.  The birds then flit down, grab up some of the good stuff, and head back to the railing to enjoy the treats.  After an hour or so of this diligent work, they can have things pretty well cleaned up.

I don’t mean to imply that I think that this human food is particularly good for our animal friends.  Sometimes I wonder if those jalapeño Cheetos ever keep them up at night like they do me.  Most of the time parks try to limit the amount of access that the animals have to our leftovers.  So, the design of garbage cans continue to evolve, as the animals continue to get smarter.  They can leave an awfully large mess when they really go through a trash can.  The mess shown in the photo below shows just how bad things can get.

Our "Old" Trash Cans

Our "Old" Trash Cans

Our "New" Trash Cans

Our "New" Trash Cans

The raccoons are the most adept at getting into human trash cans.  So, our old design trash cans had a hidden latch that you had to work before you could open the lid.  The problem with these cans was that the latches were so well hidden that humans had to study the little instruction picture carefully and then try it two or three times before getting the hang of it.  The raccoons never did figure it out, but they certainly did love the piles of trash that were left on top of or next to the trash cans by frustrated visitors.  Now I think that the trash can designers finally have the winning design (see below).  No fancy hidden latches, but a fairly heavy lid that covers the entire top of the square can.  If the raccoon tries to open it from on top, then their own weight and the lid’s weight will keep it closed.  A side attack doesn’t work either, because the tops of the cans are too high to be reached from the ground by even the tallest raccoons, and the cans don’t have any lip for the acrobatic raccoons to hang on as they lift the lid.

So, as we phase in these new-design cans, the pickings for those furry folks who are used to dining out on our leftovers will become much slimmer.  That is the reason days like today are a smorgasbord feast for our evening “clean-up crew”.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is working on her “next” career as a park interpreter.  For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes.  So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those fascinating diamonds.


Kayaking Campout!

August 10, 2010

As the kayaking trip approaches, I can hardly hold back the excitement of hitting the water for some much needed paddling on beautiful Lake Ouachita.  It’s the first overnight kayaking trip of the year and I’ve been making preparations for weeks.  As the park interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park, I host these trips to let others marvel at the wonders of this truly exceptional lake.  Many times, visitors to Lake Ouachita never even get on the water.  They don’t take the opportunity to immerse themselves in the beauty of this 48,000 acre lake with nearly 975 miles of pristine shorelines and countless islands.  I find kayaking to be one of the best ways to experience Lake Ouachita and create some cherished memories.

Morning fog before the launch.

Morning fog before the launch.

Saturday morning finally arrives, it’s 7:30 am and the others are unloading their kayak laden vehicles and gear.  We strategically place all our supplies onto the support barge that will shadow us throughout the trip and offer us a refuge if necessary.   After a safety brief and introduction, we set out on our two-day adventure.  The calmness of the lake is broken by the ripples our paddles create as we follow the shoreline of the park towards a destination unknown by most.   As we tuck in and out of the coves along the peninsula, the morning fog begins to unveil the vast lake before us.  I can’t help but breathe a little deeper as I take in the refreshing air.  No matter how many times I paddle on Lake Ouachita, I always experience the same tranquility as the stresses of life are carried away with each of the small waves I leave behind.  I’m snapped back into reality as a kingfisher breaks the silence with its load chatter.  I realize we have paddled a few

Paddling along the shoreline.

Paddling along the shoreline.

miles up the shoreline, but I don’t feel the least bit fatigued.  It’s almost time for lunch, so I radio the support barge to begin preparations on a nearby island.   Refueled by our lunch of sandwiches, chips, cookies and cold drinks, it’s back to the water.  By 3:00 pm, we are arriving at our campsite.  It’s a beautiful island with plenty of room for all of our tents and camping supplies.  For the next few hours, everyone sets up camp and enjoys some free time to explore, relax or visit with new friends.  Soon, we are greeted with a visitor to our camp.  Dinner is here!  I have catered a barbeque dinner with all the fixings from a local restaurant.  It’s a nice treat after a day of paddling.  The sun is about to set, so we decide to go for a barge tour on the lake.  It’s rather quiet on the ride.  I’m not sure if it is because everyone is tired or if it’s just that sunsets on Lake Ouachita can leave you speechless.  As the colorful skies transform into distant twinkles of light, we pull up to an island for an astronomy program.  The nighttime sky is unaffected by the light pollution of neighboring cities, so we are able to gaze at thousands of stars in all directions.

The welcoming campsite.

The welcoming campsite.

After listening to a few star legends, it’s time to head back to camp.  The light of our campfire serves as a beacon as we navigate the dark waters.  It’s getting late, so some call it a night, while others gather around the campfire for some campfire stories and smores.  Finally, the firewood turns to embers and we all crawl into our tents.  For most of us, we are fast asleep as our heads hit our pillows.  It’s been a full day and we need to a good nights’ rest for the return trip in the morning.

Nothing brings people together like a campfire in the fall.

Nothing brings people together like a campfire in the fall.

The campers awaken to the smell of coffee brewing and breakfast cooking in a Dutch oven over the campfire.  After a hearty meal, it’s time to break camp.  We gather for a final group photo and then it’s time to launch.  As we paddle back to the park, I can’t help but smile when I think about the friends I have made and the satisfaction of knowing this trip helped each of us connect with the natural treasures of Lake Ouachita.

Lake Ouachita State Park offers overnight kayaking trips in the fall and spring.  Space is limited on the trips and are quite popular, so make your reservations early by contacting the park interpreter.  You may also come out for our 1 ½ hour kayak tours of nearby coves scheduled weekly throughout the summer months.

Please contact the park to make reservations for this or other programs. 501-767-9366

(Learn about the next Kayaking Campout and other programs on the Lake Ouachita State Park Calendar of Events)

Susan Tigert, Park Interpreter

Susan Tigert, Park Interpreter

Susan has Bachelor of Science in Psychology.  She grew up in Hot Springs and spent lots of time camping on the area lakes.  Susan wants her children to have those same great memories she has from her childhood.


The Mighty Mississippi River – Up Close

July 7, 2010
Canoeing at Dawn

Canoeing at Dawn

When I was asked if I was interested in going out on the Mississippi River to see the river firsthand, I said absolutely.  When I was told I had to meet in Helena at 4:30AM to make the trip, I didn’t hesitate.  When they said, “by the way, you will be in a canoe” I immediately thought of quiet stillness of a non-motorized vessel, slipping stealthily through the trees.   Okay, so maybe I thought that traveling on the largest river in the nation, dodging towboats and whirlpools in a canoe was a bit edgy, but my curiosity and excitement easily won.

The Mighty Mississippi at canoe level.

The Mighty Mississippi at canoe level.

It turned out that any apprehension I had of being in a small canoe on the open river was unfounded.  We were to be in a 14 person wooden monster and accompanied by two smaller, but not any less impressive, wooden craft.  We gathered our gear and made ready to get to the river.  In a few short minutes we transitioned from sleepy city to full awake forest.  After getting situated at the boat ramp, we sat forth on the gentle currents of the St Francis River at dawn.

Another chance in the making.

Another chance in the making.

Accompanied by the swirls of fish, calls of birds and a few stares from fishermen who weren’t sure what they saw, we made our way downstream the two miles to the mouth of the St. Francis.  Where it emptied into the Mississippi, we skirted over a flooded point that only a few weeks before I had driven my truck on.  The great expanse of the massive river stood before us and its mighty current began to be felt gently on our craft.    “7 mph” was the call from the front of the boat.  “My GPS says we’re doing 7 mph.”  Our paddles were motionless and staring straight ahead gave the illusion we were sitting still.  When we passed a channel marker the full power of the river was evident.  The 12 foot tall buoy was heeled over in the current, its cable so tight that it had to have been dragging the 1 ton concrete anchor on the bottom.  We had seen two already torn loose by the river and drifting in the backwater.

Paddling lazily south we skirted the top of Buck Island and made landing on an immense sandbar.   About 300 yards away, the sand was liberally spotted with nesting Least Terns.  While our hosts made breakfast, my wife and I headed cautiously out to the colony, where these endangered species were swirling and dipping in mating ritual and totally ignoring us.  We cautiously picked our way along the outskirts until I found what I was looking for- the small divot in the sand and a precious egg.  It was this little egg that made the biggest impact to me.  An endangered species, the Least Tern has suffered from loss of nesting habitat.  Its choice of sandy beachfront property along the gulf is always under pressure and its use of sandbars along our inland rivers has been mitigated by regular releases of water from dams.  On the Mississippi the tern colony was at the mercy of Mother Nature not to cause a rise in the river and wash the fragile nests away.  But even this precarious niche was threatened by man, for if the river dropped too low the locals could ride this same sand with four wheelers.

Crossing at Helena.

Crossing at Helena.

We ate, cleaned up and proceeded back onto the river.  Our guide pointed us to the opposite shore, and we paddled across the mile wide river.  After sampling the east side of the river we headed back across the Mississippi, dodging a tow boat as we slipped into Helena harbor.  Our adventure was over for today, but the enduring memories of the experience will go on for a lifetime.

John Morrow, Park Superintendent (left)

John Morrow, Park Superintendent (left)

John Morrow began work at Mississippi River State Park as the first superintendent for the park in February 2009.  He has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2000.   He has graduated from the Park Superintendent Training Program, is a Certified Heritage Interpreter, Certified Interpretive Trainer as well as a First Responder and SAR Tech II.  He likes spending time with his children and wife, pictured here, who took these photos.

Special thanks to Quapaw Canoe Company of Helena Arkansas.  You can have this same adventure and more by contacting them at www.island63.com.


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.