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.


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.

Eagle Eyes

January 25, 2010

Each year, hundreds of bald eagles find their way to the Natural State to winter.  Arkansas State Parks have numerous programs and special events to help you explore the fascinating world of these and other birds of prey.  Bull Shoals-White River State Park hosts such an event:  Eagle Awareness, held annually in January. This special weekend features a variety of activities and presentations from guest speakers.

One of these activities is the Eagle Watch Van Tour.  Bull Shoals Lake and the world-famous White River are havens for these wintering birds and ideal locations to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures.  Our van tours take you to parts of the shoreline along the lake and river.

Writing of these van tours brings to mind an experience I had on one such outing in recent years:

Eagle Watches are among the most popular programs in Arkansas State Parks during the winter.

Eagle Watches are among the most popular programs in Arkansas State Parks during the winter.

Our Journey Begins

My story took place on a cold January morning. I was riding along in Van #2 with a group of excited would-be eagle spotters.  Three vans were on the hunt, scouting different locations throughout the state park in search of these sometimes elusive birds.  Our group was an eclectic one, ranging in age from early twenties to, well let’s just say “up in their years.”  Small chat filled the van as each rider had one eye looking out of the windows to the cloudy sky above.

After a short drive into the campground we began scanning the bluffs above the crystal-clear waters of the White River, which flows right alongside the campsites. Up ahead, we noticed some activity from Van #1.  The vehicle had stopped and the riders had piled out. They were hastily approaching the river’s bank afoot, pointing to the bluff across the river.  Their binoculars in position and their fingers pointing to the bluff told us they had hit the jackpot!

Our van had barely come to a stop when the first of our group sprang open the doors. Each followed closely behind, binoculars and bird checklists in hand.  I look back, now, and imagine that sprint across the grassy field as a hazy, dream-like jaunt in slow motion.  I see binoculars flopping around the necks of grown men and women as they hold their hats on their heads as they run in an attempt not to lose them. In this almost-Olympic event, such an occurrence would cause one to have to stop and pick it up, only placing them even further behind in the heat.  Had Vangelis’ theme from Chariots of Fire been playing, nothing could have been more fitting.

We arrived riverside next to group #1 with our whole group slouching over, gasping for enough oxygen to ensure our brains could fire a message to our hands to raise our binoculars and place them to our eyes.  Something had caught the eyes of our companions and we were going to get in on the action.  After looking in the direction of the pointing fingers I noticed something white in a tree high above the river.  “It’s a bald eagle!” someone exclaimed. I placed my binoculars against my eyes and after a little focus adjustment I spied the anomaly.  There it was…..a white plastic grocery bag.

Quietness overcame the group and disappointment was on the faces of all standing there.  A plastic grocery bag, deposited outdoors by an obvious non-environmentally-conscious shopper, had been the cause of untold elation and then sadness.  Do you know how long it takes those things to decompose?  But that’s another story.

The easist way to see an eagle in the wild for your self is with the help of a park interpreter.

The easiest way to see an eagle in the wild for your self is with the help of a park interpreter.

A Second Chance

I’m unsure if it was disappointment from not seeing an eagle or embarrassment from mistaking a polyethylene bag for the symbol of our great nation that silenced all in the group.  But in that silence a faint static was heard.  It was coming from the radio held in my hand.  I raised the radio closer to my ear and adjusted the volume.

“This is Van #3…we have a sighting at”…..then static.  Everyone in the group stopped in their tracks and leaned forward, holding their breath and turning their heads so their ears could catch every nuance of the transmission.  “This is #2…please repeat.”

More static then… “This is Van #3.  We have spotted and eagle just below Bull Shoals Dam.”  Silence filled the air as each redeemed bird spotter looked around at the reaction of the others.  Then in a flash of excitement, the previous “run for the roses” was repeated but in the opposite direction.  You would have thought a blue light special had just been announced in the electronics department of a discount store on Black Friday.

In record time the vans were once again filled and ready to go.  As Van #1 quickly pulled away I found myself sitting shotgun in a van full of over-zealous, bird-crazy adults with no driver.  My colleague, the driver, was still on the bank of the river standing in awe of several species of waterfowl paddling in the water.  In an attempt to maintain my composure and a desperate sense of professionalism I yelled out the window across the field.  “Hello…there’s an eagle at the dam….didn’t you get the memo?”  I could sense the tension in the van as the driver scurried toward us, but to everyone’s credit nothing was said.  Finally we were on our way.

The Sighting

After another short drive, we safely arrived at the dam site in time to share what would be an incredible experience with our companions.  There across the river, perched high on the limb of a tree, sat a bald eagle.  As I peered through my binoculars I could see the detail of its beautiful iconic coat, which consists of an amazing 7,000 feathers.  Its yellow eyes stared directly at us, as if to acknowledge our presence there.  Its huge, powerful talons gripped the tree limb, while the winter breeze made its way through the pristine White River valley.  We all have seen photographs or video of a bald eagle at some time in our life.  But standing there observing, with our own eyes, this magnificent animal was an experience which can hardly be put into words.

Everyone stood quietly in adoration as they viewed the spectacle.  I looked around the group; smiles were everywhere.  Some of the couples even held hands as they shared the moment.  Then, without notice, the bald eagle left its roost as its 6-foot wingspan lifted it into the air.  A few gasps and exclamations sounded from the group as we watched the eagle soar above the river.  All eyes, some filled with tears, watched the bird as it flew high out of sight.

We all just stood there for a moment, reflecting on what had just happened.  It was as if the whole world had just stopped and nature, in all its beauty, reached out a touched each of us.  It was a moment that I, and all who were there, will never forget.

* * *
Click here for a current listing of eagle tours and programs at state parks across the state.
Randy Pearson, Park Interpreter

Randy Pearson, Park Interpreter

–Randy Pearson is a park interpreter at Bull Shoals-White River State Park. A native Arkansan, he was born in northeast Arkansas and moved to the Mountain Home area in 1992, where he worked in management and bookkeeping before diving into photography. After six years of owning/operating a digital imaging business, he decided to make a change, which included taking a job as a seasonal employee at Bull Shoals-White River State Park.  He enjoyed it so much that he returned for several seasons and began volunteering to present programs for campers. In 2007, Randy officially became a park interpreter.  “Coming to work every day for Arkansas State Parks is a very rewarding experience,” Randy says. “For the first time, I feel I am working for something instead of for someone.  The wonderful people I have met and the experiences I have had make me look forward to the years to come.”