Training for Fall Fun

August 23, 2011
Camping in an Arkansas State Park, a fall tradition.

Camping in an Arkansas State Park, a fall tradition.

After weeks of 100-degree heat  that seemed unrelenting, Arkansas received that summer break in temperature.  It happens every year, and we seem to forget about it every year, so when it arrives it comes as a surprise.  As the air turns cooler who can resist the fun of sleeping outside?  Something about cooler nights, when you can sit at a fire comfortably, makes fall a magical time.  Some can argue that it is the long hot summer, but I feel that it might just be that point of equilibrium- you know, when the nights get longer, the days get shorter and we start to see that tip in temperature to our favor.

The early fall and the late winter are usually our peak times for staff training in Arkansas State Parks.  After the busy summer and before the peak fall rushes our staff generally squeezes in required training and refreshers.  These are all done to keep us sharp, teach us new skills and to make sure we stay proficient in our duties.

Practice makes Perfect!

Practice makes Perfect!

It does not hurt to stay proficient in your outdoor recreational skills too; and there is no better place to practice than in an Arkansas State Park.  Most folks plan one or two big camping trips a year, but the skills that it takes to have a good experience need to be kept up.  Now is a perfect time to plan one of those quick weekend trips.  This is a chance to get the equipment out and give it a going over before that big trip.  Take the opportunity to spend a weekend with us to brush up.  Whether you hike, camp, canoe or kayak, State Park’s can offer you the perfect local spot to spend the weekend.

Arkansas State Parks are also the perfect spots to learn new skills.  With a variety interpretive programs scheduled around the state, you can learn paddling, hiking skills, orienteering and even how best to cook with that Dutch Oven you received for Christmas two years ago.  You can learn to geocache or even to spot fall migrating birds.

Take advantage of the break in the weather: we all know that there are a few hot days left in the season and summer will come again for one last round before the coolness of fall prevails.  Check the calendar of events for your local park’s programs, and sharpen your skills up for outdoor fall fun.

John Morrow, Park Superintendent

John Morrow, Park Superintendent

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, first as interpreter at Lake Chicot (2000-2003), then as interpreter at Petit Jean State Park (2003-2005), then as the first Chief Interpreter at Historic Washington (2005-2009).  His specialties are in interpretation and the application of interpretation to planning and managing a park.  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 family and antiquing with his wife, Nikki. They have a daughter Riley and son Carson. 

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A Daisy of a Park!

February 9, 2011

I recently took a promotion and moved from the county with the most stop lights in the state to the only county with no stop lights. If you have explored Arkansas thoroughly, you probably guessed I moved from Pulaski County to Pike County. If I had liked stop lights, it would have been a drastic move. Luckily, I am not a fan. Moving from Pinnacle Mountain State Park to Daisy State Park has given me the opportunity to discover Daisy State Park— One of Arkansas State Park’s Best Kept Secrets.

The Author at Devil's Den State Park, back in the day. (center)

The Author at Devil's Den State Park, back in the day. (center)

I grew up in Alma, Arkansas. So as all first loves, I am a devoted fanatic of Lake Fort Smith State Park and Devil’s Den State Park. I made some of my first state park memories with my family and friends there. During my college years in Conway, I made even more memories at Pinnacle Mountain State Park and eventually worked there after college.  However, southwest Arkansas was an unknown adventure.  I knew there were Crater of Diamonds State Park, Historical Washington State Park, and DeGray Lake Resort State Park.  But what was Daisy State Park?  I had heard it was a quaint park, but what did that mean? What was the attraction? What made it special?  I decided what better way to explore a place then to move there and experience a quaint park atmosphere.

My first week in the office I read a newspaper article about Daisy State Park titled “Uneventful camping trip.” At first, I was disappointed after reading the headline. It seemed downbeat and during my first week at the park, I was overwhelmed with outdoor activities that I wanted to get out and try. How could a park guests describe Daisy State Park as uneventful? However, disappointment was quickly replaced with understanding. I finished reading the headline “Uneventful camping trip — was a beauty.” The journalist’s article was about his recent trip to Daisy State Park where the only things that happen were “the Milky Way, a victim of city lights in most places, was a white ribbon across a great gift of Arkansas sky, the early morning fog, both misty and mystical, danced silently atop the water, and a woodpecker pecked just enough to be cute.” What he meant by uneventful was that they didn’t catch the biggest fish, there weren’t noisy campers to complain about, and the park hosted a niche that fostered relaxing.

As this 1959 photo shows, Daisy State Park has been a great place for family receration for a long time.

As this 1959 photo shows, Daisy State Park has been a great place for family receration for a long time.

What he didn’t mention was if you wanted an action packed camping adventure, you can get that at the park, too. Daisy State Park is a hub of southwest Arkansas adventures. The park hosts the 7,000 acre clear water Lake Greeson and a trailhead for the 18 mile Bear Creek Cycle Trail (ATV trail). Within an hour or less driving time of the park is so many outdoor adventures; I haven’t even explored all of them in the 10 months I’ve been here! These activities include diamond digging, crystal digging, canoeing/kayaking the Caddo River, Albert Pike Recreational Area, Little Missouri Falls, Hot Springs National Park, trout fishing on the Little Missouri River, and Cossatot River State Park – Natural Area!

After spending these last 10 months working in the park, I have come to realize that the journalist’s description is the daily routine for the park is right on spot; the Ouachita Mountains, Lake Greeson, and Mother Nature join together to create a remarkable place. To camp where these three forces collide and experience their daily interactions is enough to entertain all generations, and all levels of an adventurous spirit. Daisy State Park is beyond a doubt one of Arkansas State Park’s best kept secrets and a place where generations are connected and memories are made.

Sunrise on Lake Greeson, Daisy State Park.

Sunrise on Lake Greeson, Daisy State Park.

Kristina Root, Park Interpreter

Kristina Root, Asst. Park Superintendent

Kristina Root is a strong advocate of environmental education for urban children. She worked for Arkansas State Park since 2007 at Pinnacle Mountain State Park as a park interpreter and recently became the Assistant Park Superintendent at Daisy State Park near Kirby, AR. Her career path was enhanced by her B.S in Environmental Science from the University of Central Arkansas.


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.


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.


The Other “Spring Migration”

March 4, 2010
Welcome to Lake Poinsett State Park.

Welcome to Lake Poinsett State Park.

This week as I was enjoying the sunshine on a fresh air break, I began hearing one of my favorite sounds: birds singing and chirping.  Not just any birds, but those amazing birds that are beginning to slowly make the journey northward on their spring migration.  However, that sound meant more to me than the opportunity to see some of the birds that I’ve missed over the winter months.  It also brought me the excitement of knowing that another migration that our park staff enjoys every spring is almost upon us: the migration of the “regular” campers.

For those of you who don’t know what I mean by “regular” campers, let me explain.  “Regulars” are those families that come back to our park every spring like clockwork.  They might come every weekend or stay with us for a few weeks at a time.

A state park is a great place to make new friends.

A state park is a great place to make new friends.

They are people that we have come to know like family.  We know their names and faces by heart; we know who makes the best pear preserves, homemade ice-cream, and fried fish. We look forward to their arrival and we enjoy catching up on all that we have missed. We hear about everything from the joys of retirement to the hardships of aging. For me it is an absolute pleasure to stop and talk awhile as I make my evening rounds; or to just drive through the campground and be greeted with warm smiles and friendly waves of the hand.

Spring is the perfect time to get out to a campground.

Spring is the perfect time to get out to a campground.

Our “regulars” are a group of families who are indispensable to our park and the state park system in general. They are a group of campers who have an appreciation for all the work that goes into making the park run smoothly. They are a great sounding board when asking about changes in the park. They will gladly tell you their honest opinion both good and bad. That is just another endearing trait that I admire in our “regulars”.  They also provide some of the best advertising a person could ask for. They are constantly recruiting kids and grand kids to the park, and they make other campers who are just passing through feel right at home.  I love watching our “regulars” approach a family who has just pulled into a campsite for the night and ask them if they need help setting up or if they would like to join them for dinner.  They make new friends everyday and sometimes become “camping buddies” for life.

“Regulars” are also some of the best volunteers for programs and special events.  They are the people that step up to help us out with things like taking pictures during events, greeting people as they come up to programs, helping kids learn how to fish, and picking up litter along our one mile stretch of adopted highway.

One of the great things about staying in an Arkansas State Park is that there is so much to do!

One of the great things about staying in an Arkansas State Park is that there is so much to do!

For those of you out there reading this blog who are “regulars”, let me take a moment to thank you for being one of the reasons I come to work every day.  You make the hard and hectic days bearable and the fun days even more exciting.  For those of you who aren’t sure if you fall into the “regular” category yet, I challenge you to get to know your favorite park a little more this year.  Get to know the staff, see the park in different seasons, and take the opportunity to experience some of the special events your park has to offer.

If you don’t have a favorite park yet, let me invite you to my park, Lake Poinsett State Park.    We love our regulars and we are always excited to see them “migrate” back to our park year after year!

Kathrine Evans, Asst. Park Superintendent

Kathrine Evans, Asst. Park Superintendent

Katherine Evans is the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park.  Educated at the University of Michigan, she holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology.  She began her career with Arkansas State Parks at Village Creek State Park in 2008 as a Seasonal Interpreter.  She became the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park in January of 2009.  She is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and a Certified Interpretive Guide.

Josh Epperson, Park Superintendent

Josh Epperson, Park Superintendent

Josh Epperson has been the Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park since November 2008.  He started as a Seasonal Interpreter at Village Creek State Park in March 2002 and has since worked at various other parks in Eastern Arkansas.  He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology and Management from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.  A native of Arkansas, Josh grew up camping in Arkansas State Parks and is now living a dream of working in the park system.