More Fun at Lake Fort Smith State Park

March 8, 2013

Who doesn’t enjoy an evening by the fire, nestled in a cabin, in the woods, near a lake? Quiet, peace. Made all the more special as you feel your muscles relax after a day of hiking, kayaking and fishing.

All kinds of discoveries to be made kayaking Lake Fort Smith.

All kinds of discoveries to be made kayaking Lake Fort Smith.

Now put yourself in that picture. It’s easy, in Arkansas we have many places where you can have this experience and last week one more was added.

Lake Fort Smith State Park was moved from it’s original location and reopened in May of 2008. Since then we have worked to recreate most of the amenities of the original park which was built in the late 1930’s and became a state park in 1966.

Exhibits in the Visitor Center gives you a sense of place.

Exhibits in the Visitor Center gives you a sense of place.

Starting with a state-of-the-art visitor center complete with exhibits telling the story of the history, geology and nature of this beautiful area in the Boston Mountains of western Arkansas. Thirty beautiful campsites with modern amenities, group lodging, marina, playground and day-use area and more were built.

Cool off in the park pool during the Summer.

Cool off in the park pool during the Summer.

Don't have a boat, rent one at the park marina.

Don’t have a boat, rent one at the park marina.

The Ozark Highlands Trail was rerouted to keep the western terminus at the park. More trails are planned throughout the park and in the nearby forest.

Don't let it fool you, this trail quickly turns rugged for adventurous hikes.

Don’t let it fool you, this trail quickly turns rugged for adventurous hikes.

Last week one of the major projects to replicate the old park was completed. Ten new cabins were opened in the park. One and two bedroom cabins are available, two of them are ADA compliant  and one is dog-friendly. All have wooded views from the back decks.

Modern cabins, all the comforts of home in a fantastic setting.

Modern cabins, all the comforts of home in a fantastic setting.

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August 1, 2012

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Wings on the Wind

August 30, 2011

Sitting on a bluff overlooking a vast landscape is a great way to enjoy a September morning on Mount Magazine. Scanning the horizon with a good set of binoculars helps spot wings on the wind. Southward migration has started for many species of birds and some butterflies. The unpredictable nature of migration watching requires diligence. Some days are a bust due to weather conditions. But other days can be outstanding with a good diversity of species and numbers of individuals.

For the column of states including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana Mount Magazine is the highest point above sea level. Perhaps to a migrant it represents a landmark and/or an obstacle for navigation. For many it is a convenient rest stop.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

Broad-winged hawks usually top the tally. They rest overnight in forested areas. As thermals begin to build during the day, one by one, they leave the canopy to catch rising air. Circling in these unseen currents hawks gain elevation rapidly. It is possible to have over a hundred broad-winged hawks swirling in a thermal at one time.  This is called a kettle. Reaching the top of the thermal they slip out, with wings set, gliding southward. Losing elevation as they approach the northern edge of Mount Magazine where they take advantage of updrafts to lift them just over the bluffs.

Tall bluffs flanking Ross Hollow create a funnel which many birds of prey use to cross over the mountaintop as if it were a major highway. The northern tip of Cameron Bluff offers a great vantage point for scanning the horizon and the hollow. Birds can be above, below, or even at eye level, offering opportunities to study field marks for identification.

There are many other species seen migrating over Mount Magazine other than broad-winged hawks. Red-tailed, red-shouldered, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned hawks, northern harriers, ospreys, vultures, bald eagles, American kestrels, and even peregrine falcons have been seen from Cameron Bluff during September. White pelicans, song birds, and butterflies are also seen.

Monarchs and a few other migrating butterflies use the same updrafts to lift themselves over the mountain. Many will take the Mount Magazine exit to refuel on patches of wildflowers along park roadsides. Tickseed sunflower must appear like “golden arches” to these adolescent insects. Late arrivals often cluster together on “tree hotels” with southwestern views.  Some monarchs will be tagged and released to continue their way southward to their winter vacation in Mexican mountains.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

On the south side of the mountain migrating hawks seek out more thermals over the Petit Jean River Valley to help them get through the Ouachita Mountains. Turkey vultures are masters of riding updrafts and thermals. It seems as though some hawks key in on vultures to find thermals.

While sitting on Cameron Bluff, waiting for the next passerby, enjoy either solitude with a spectacular view or conversations with other watchers with various backgrounds and experiences. Pick up tips on hawk identification. Take advantage of unique photo opportunities.

A park interpreter is offering migration watching sessions at Mount Magazine State Park in September. Check the schedule.

So pack your binoculars, lawn chairs, water, and snacks, drive to the northern tip of Cameron Bluff Overlook Drive in Mount Magazine State Park, and watch wings on the wind.

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons is a Park Interpreter at Mount Magazine State Park. One of the state’s great naturalists, Don has been showing and explaining the “Natural State” to visitors for 29 years, at Daisy State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and now at Mount Magazine. Don is also an excellent photographer whose work can be seen throughout the Mount Magazine Lodge and Visitor Center and in publications. Don has the unique ability to entertain children and adults at the same time while also teaching about the world around them. Don is an active member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter.


Spring Fever!

March 1, 2011

It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!Mark Twain

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. Margaret Atwood

Who’s ready for spring? Signs of this much-anticipated season are everywhere, from fields carpeted with henbit to blooming elm trees; March reminds us that warmer weather is on the way. After this harsh winter in the Arkansas River Valley, I freely admit I have spring fever.

Falcate orangetip

Falcate orangetip

When I look ahead to March on the calendar, “spring break” comes to mind, a reminder that it’s time to schedule park programs that coincide with wildflower blooming and emergence of butterflies. It’s time to wipe the dust off the boxes holding my spring crafts for kids. It’s also time to work on my garden chore list and think about plants for this growing season. See? I have spring fever.

Due to higher elevation, spring temperatures come a bit later to Mount Magazine. A general rule of thumb is to add one week of greening or blooming for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The door of the season still opens in March.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry will soon dot the landscape with bright white blossoms. Spring beauties, trout lilies, and daffodils begin to emerge this month. Bloodroot, with its one-day-only white flowers and large leaves will emerge like a phoenix from the fallen leaves.

The symbiosis of flowering plants and animals is easily seen during the spring months. In mutualism, both organisms benefit. Flowers advertise their nectar rewards with specific colors, shapes, and nectar rewards, much like the advertising we see everyday in every form. Insects and birds are attracted as the consumer, and pollinate the plant in the process, enabling the plant to reproduce. Lack of color, unique shape, and putrid scent attract flies and gnats as pollinators.

Count the question marks.

Count the question marks

As birds begin to migrate north, many will drill into trees in search of food. Sap trickling down a tree trunk left behind afterwards attracts butterflies that have emerged from torpor. Question marks, goatweed leafwings, and mourning cloaks feast on the sugar-laden sap.

Zebra swallowtail

Zebra swallowtail

Butterflies that emerge from chrysalides in early spring are darker and smaller than summer forms in order to use the sun’s energy more efficiently. Zebra swallowtails, falcate orangetips, hairstreaks, duskywings, and elfins begin to take nectar from sources such as plum blossoms, redbud, spiderwort, wild hyacinth, blue star, and so many more. Ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive the first full week of April, and the flowers of Ohio buckeye and yellow honeysuckle are usually ready for them.  The best way to experience these flowers is to bring a field guide, get a park wildflower checklist, and of course, go on a wildflower hike with a park interpreter.

I’m not quite certain when my love affair with wildflowers began. Part of my affection stems from my love of butterflies; a lepidopterist has to be part botanist in order to understand the relationship between them. But my love of spring wildflowers is separate, and not just because the majority of them aren’t pollinated by butterflies. I admire these flowers with a short blooming period; completing their life cycles before the leaves take over with such precision and efficiency.

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

After so many years of living and working at Mount Magazine State Park, I delight in being able to take visitors to fire pink, spiderwort, Ohio buckeye, historic quince, and lilac shrubs on Will Apple’s Road Trail; bloodroot, trillium, and crested iris on the Signal Hill trail, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the Cove Lake trail. I am asked lots of questions about which trail to take to see wildflowers, and am often asked to identify photos of wildflowers after the hike is over. Helping visitors connect to nature in this way, and helping them gain confidence in their identification skills, and helping kids begin their own butterfly gardens are highlights of spring.

If not during spring break, then at some point in spring, I encourage you to visit a state park and walk a trail to cure your spring fever.

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer has been a volunteer at Mount Magazine State Park since 1997, and is chairman of the Mount Magazine Action Group. She holds a M.S. in entomology and is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths.


First Snow of the Year at Arkansas State Parks

January 11, 2011

Photos by Arkansas State Parks, Taken between Jan 09-11, 2011

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from Arkansas State Parks

December 6, 2010

(Quick note: This will be the last blog article of 2010. We will start again in January bringing you the state parks from the perspective of the park staff. We have really enjoyed this first year of the Arkansas State Parks blog and appreciate your comments. See you in the new year!)

 

The Arkansas State Parks On-The-Go Park Guide

The Arkansas State Parks On-The-Go Park Guide

 

Just in time for the holidays, Arkansas State Parks has offered up a FREE iPhone app for our users. We know this is something that not everyone can use but it is our first step into mobile communications and we hope that those of you with an iPhone will enjoy it. For the rest of you, we are working on ideas for you. The new year will bring many surprises and treats for our online community (including other smartphone users). One of the best ways to keep up with us on the go is through our various social community sites most of which are usable on the smartphones. Below is copy from the news release for the new iPhone app. It explains a little more about why we went in this direction.

For travelers, mobile phones have evolved into hand-held guides for those on the go. Arkansas State Parks has launched its new iPhone app, the Arkansas State Parks On-The-Go Park Guide, a fully interactive and engaging guide to Arkansas’s 52 state parks, according to State Parks Director Greg Butts. Designed by Aristotle Internet of Little Rock, this new mobile application is available for free download from the iTunes Store.

Butts said, “Arkansas State Parks iPhone application offers a new way to stay connected with the state parks while traveling. Besides helping users connect to the diversity of parks throughout Arkansas and the many activities offered in each one, the app will also help us connect to the younger generation of park users.” He continued, “An easy way to download the app is by visiting the Community Page on ArkansasStateParks.com, our park system’s official website. Here you can explore Arkansas State Parks’ blogs and social networks, discover new Arkansas vacation and getaways choices in our state parks, watch videos of the Arkansas state parks, and share travel tips online.” Butts noted that the new app can be downloaded for free at http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/iphone or by searching “Arkansas State Parks” in the Apple iTunes store.

The application’s features include quick access to park information, quick search based on both location and type of park, listings of park programs scheduled for the next two weeks, maps showing where each park is located, quick dial to contact the park, special notices from the parks and/or the state parks director’s office in Little Rock, and quick information on the nearest state park and trails to your present location or the city you will be visiting.

According to Joe Jacobs, manager of Marketing and Revenue for Arkansas State Parks, “Whether you live in Arkansas or are just traveling through our state, the Arkansas State Parks iPhone On-The-Go Park Guide will help you find just the right park for you. Locate a park by type including camping, historic site, lake, lodging, mountains, museum, or search by activities such as picnicking.” He said, “You can find a park near you and get contact information, details on activities and programs, and a link to that park’s website for more information. There’s even a map to help you find the park.”

Jacobs emphasized that the decision to develop an app for the iPhone operating system verses other systems was financial. “In October 2010, the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch phones accounted for over 83 percent of the smartphone access to ArkansasStateParks.com, and with budget limitations, the decision was made to address those users first,” he said. “We are currently researching options to create a mobile environment for other users such as Android and Blackberry, and expect to have something for them in the next year.”

He noted, “One of the most popular outdoor activities to enjoy in an Arkansas state park is hiking, so trails information is an important component of the iPhone app, too. Find a trail near you, look it up by location, difficulty or type. We have trail choices for everyone.”

A Winter view from Mount Nebo State Park

A Winter view from Mount Nebo State Park

Updates to include directions to the parks from wherever you are and social media integration are planned soon. “We will continue to improve the app and have already started working on the first update,” said Jacobs.

Also remember you will need to update the phone to iOS 4.1, an Apple requirement, to download the app. Also, the app is fully integrated with our online calendar of events, online trails database and special notices. Hope you have a great holiday season! When it gets crazy around the house, visit a park with your friends and family.  In the meantime, see you on Facebook & Twitter!


The Milkweed Archipelago

October 8, 2010

“The universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it.”  Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A tiny island of orange beckons an orange butterfly.  Down she goes as millions of her ancestors have for eons of time.  This brilliant orange flower and this beautiful insect have a relationship common in nature.  Milkweed is required for the reproduction of the Monarch butterfly.  The plant has many defenses for protection from hungry bugs.  One of the most potent is a chemical called cardiac glycoside.  It is poisonous to most animals.  It is life to the Monarch.

The female carefully sticks her cone shaped eggs to the bottom of the milkweed leaves.  In a few days they will hatch, and the tiny caterpillars will find themselves on a salad bar perfect for their taste.  Cardiac glycoside is the flavor they crave.  They like it so much it becomes part of them, stored in their tissues.

When they emerge from the chrysalis, their bright orange wings will fill with fluid.  Not only are they bold and bright in color, they fly slowly.  They are an easy target for insect eating birds.  Monarchs are easy to catch, but hard to digest.  Glycoside from the milkweed causes a nasty stomach upset for the hungry bird, and the bright orange and black pattern of the Monarch makes it easier to remember the nauseating dining experience.  It is no longer on the menu.  Monarchs that fly past this bird in the future can pass in safety.  The bold pattern of the monarch is a warning coloration.  While many species in the animal kingdom try to blend in, the monarch, armed with its own version of chemical warfare, stands out.

At least two other insects have adapted to eating milkweed and making glycoside their own.  The Milkweed Beetle and Milkweed Bug feed only on milkweed.  The orange-red Milkweed Beetles are often seen on the leaves, and the red and black Milkweed Bugs can be found on the seedpods.  They are brilliant, beautiful, and a sickening meal for predators.

 

Milkweed

Milkweed

 

Rich Mountain is an excellent stopover for Monarchs due to the many species of wildflowers that bloom during the end of September and the beginning of October. We can’t predict the exact days of the migration, but it usually happens in the first days of October.

A wave of orange will descend onto the white, yellow and blue flowers along the Lover’s Leap Trail.  The adult Monarchs are not limited to milkweed, but nectar on many different wildflowers.  Only as caterpillars are they tied exclusively to members of the milkweed clan.  Thousands of Monarch butterflies will steadily move over the mountain toward their wintering ground in Mexico.

A few Monarchs trickle through the park all through August and September. These early individuals are just the preview of the flood that will come.

This remarkable phenomenon of the fall season reminds us of the unending cycle of life. Each year Monarchs wing their way across the Ouachitas persistently fluttering toward the southwest.  Grounded, we watch them pass and take comfort in the promise it gives us for the years to come.

Next year the Monarchs will head north from their wintering ground in Mexico searching for the scattered clumps of milkweed. Their islands of survival, the milkweed archipelago, is the center of the Monarch’s universe.

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman has been the park interpreter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park since 1991. He started his career in 1983 as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park andLake Fort Smith State Park. In 1984 he received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Arkansas Tech University. Brad worked as an interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park from 1984-89 and then at Petit Jean State Park from 1989-91. He is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter. He is also active with the Talimena Scenic Drive Association and on the Board of Advisors with the Ouachita Mountains Biological Station.