A Wild and Scenic River

January 21, 2010

Stop! Listen!

Do you hear that sound? Something is pounding. Do you hear the music? What could it be? You are standing approximately 130 miles southwest of Little Rock, Arkansas, in 5,600 acres of one of the most rugged and spectacular river corridors in the central United States. It is made up of steep wooded slopes, outstanding geological features, and cascading clear water. Not only is the water quality high, but the river features Class III, IV, and even Class V rapids (this is dependent on rain events), making it a favorite with skilled canoeists and kayakers.

Cossatot Falls is one of the most picturesque places in the state.

Cossatot Falls is one of the most picturesque places in the state.

Little-disturbed cedar glades and forests cover many of the steeper slopes. Two species of fish that are found only in the southern Ouachita Mountains–the leopard darter and the Ouachita Mountain shiner–live in the river. Bald eagles winter in the area. Waterfall’s sedge and Ouachita Mountain twistflower, found only in a few counties in the Ouachita Mountains, and a number of other sensitive plant species thrive within Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area’s five natural plant communities.

The hillsides surrounding the river offer unique plants and wildlife to explore.

The hillsides surrounding the river offer unique plants and wildlife to explore.

The combination of natural vegetation, rugged topography, exposed rock formations, and sparkling water creates a scenic extravaganza. You can easily access the river in several places throughout the park, meaning you don’t have to be a skilled kayaker or advanced hiker to enjoy this scenery. Those who want that further challenge certainly have it available to them, but really, this park is open to everyone. Click here for more information on the park’s trails, river access points, floater tips, etc.

The Story of Cossatot:
The idea of establishing a Natural Area along the upper Cossatot River first surfaced in 1974, not long after the Arkansas Environmental Preservation Commission (AEPC) was created. In October, 1975, the staff of Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC; formerly the AEPC) contacted Weyerhaeuser Company (WEYCO) to discuss acquiring the Cossatot Falls area and other portions of the Cossatot River corridor. A few months later, in January 1976, the ANHC presented a written proposal to Weyerhaeuser. The Company’s response to that proposal, while positive in many ways, was tempered by concerns over the Commission’s limited manpower resources for overseeing such an intensively-used public recreation area.

Discussions continued off and on until 1984, when productive negotiation began in earnest. By that time, the Division of Arkansas State Parks (ASP) had joined in the effort to protect the river corridor, enabling ANHC and ASP to prepare a joint proposal that addressed the WEYCO’s concerns about the State’s ability to manage the property. Once a tentative sale agreement was reached, the ANHC requested that the Arkansas Field Office of The Nature Conservancy assist with the negotiations and acquisition.

The Nature Conservancy agreed to acquire and hold in trust the acreage identified for the proposed Cossatot River State Park Natural Area (CRSPNA) until funding was available for its purchase.

Negotiations culminated on November 19, 1988, with Governor Bill Clinton’s announcement at a joint meeting of the State Parks, Recreation, and Travel Commission and the Natural Heritage Commission that the State of Arkansas, in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy, would acquire an 11-mile segment of the upper Cossatot River. On December 23, 1987, The Nature Conservancy acquired title to the 4,254-acre park-natural area. Final approval of state park designation was granted by the Legislative Council, per Act 512 of 1975, on February 19, 1988. In May of 1987 the Arkansas Natural and Cultural resources Council approved a multi-year grant for the purchase of CRSPNA. The Council also awarded a first-year stewardship grant for the project.

The Nature Conservancy transferred management responsibility for the area to the State in July, 1988. State Parks and the Natural Heritage Commission entered into a cooperative management agreement.

In 1990 Arkla Gas Company acquired the 160 acre Brushy Creek access tract from private individuals and donated it to CRSPNA in compensation for crossing the park with a 36 inch gas pipeline. With the addition of other land acquisitions, the current size of CRSPNA is 5,600 acres.

Cossatot River State Park’s Mission:
Our mission at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area (CRSPNA) is, “to provide resource stewardship for the 12 mile CRSPNA river corridor and to sustain the natural integrity of the river and its riparian forest; to enhance public awareness and understanding of our natural resources through environmental education and interpretation. This includes natural resources such as endemic, rare, or threatened plants and animals of the Ouachita Mountains; and natural history of the Ouachita Mountains and the Cossatot River.”

The unique and beautiful geology of the river and its watershed lures many photographers.

The unique and beautiful geology of the river and its watershed lures many photographers.

Cossatot River is one of a kind it is unique in the fact that it is a river that offers Class V rapids (which is dependent on rain events), it is one of the cleanest rivers in the State of Arkansas (the pH average level runs around 6.7), and the river runs north to south, while the surrounding Ouachita Mountains line up east to west.  It is also a state and federal Wild and Scenic Rivers “extraordinary resource” stream.

When weather and water conditions allow, we offer kayaking classes and guided tours down this amazing river.  Here is a blog, written by one of our participants, about camping and paddling on the river with his son.

Enjoy a short movie clip of a part of The Wild and Scenic River:

Of course, when the water wants to get a little rowdy, it can. At these times we recommend only the most experienced kayakers venture out on the river:

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

–Shelley Flanary is a park interpreter at Cossatot River State Park – Natural Area. She has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2001, stsarting out as a seasonal interpreter at DeGray Lake Resort, Lake Catherine, and Petit Jean State Parks. Shelley earned her degree in Parks and Recreation Management from Henderson State University in 2005. She is also an NAI Certified Interpretive Guide, recreational kayak instructor, and emergency first responder.

Advertisements

Winter on the Ridge

January 14, 2010

Winter Greetings from Village Creek State Park

If conditions are just right you may even find frost flowers.

If conditions are just right you may even find frost flowers.

Winter may seem an unlikely season to go exploring in a nature park, but it really can be amazing. This is the time of year to fully experience the geologic structure of Crowley’s Ridge in northeast Arkansas, and a prime place to see it is on the nearly 7000 acres that make up Village Creek State Park.

Crowley’s Ridge is covered with a lush hardwood forest featuring oak, sugar maple, beech, butternut, and tulip poplar. During this season, the majority of trees are bare, meaning the Ridge’s rolling ravines are highlighted and more easily seen.

What Exactly is Crowley’s Ridge?

Features of Crowley’s Ridge are easily seen this time of year.

Features of Crowley’s Ridge are easily seen this time of year.

Arkansas has six distinct natural divisions of land, which can be divided into uplands and lowlands. According to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, “Crowley’s Ridge is the smallest, but perhaps most unusual, geographical region in the lowlands. It is in the eastern part of Arkansas, completely surrounded by the Delta, but it differs from the Delta in many ways. It rises up to 200 feet higher than the Delta and can be seen for miles around in the flat fields of eastern Arkansas. The ridge is covered with a dust called loess (pronounced “luss”), which makes the ridge look tall and rugged. Through the years, water has cut through the ridge which now maintains an upland character like that found in the Ozarks.” Click here to learn more about the natural divisions of the Natural State.

What made this pile of leaves?

What made this pile of leaves?

What to See In Winter

If you take a winter drive around the park or hike along our trails, you can spot features you would miss during the lush and green summertime. You can easily see where water has eroded away the fragile topsoil and carved out the many ravines that

Birds’ flashes of color are fun to see in a winter forest.

Birds’ flashes of color are fun to see in a winter forest.

give the landscape its dramatic appearance. Along the ground you can see numerous dry creek beds, where the leaves have collected in curious sideways stacks.

Another advantage to winter visits to the park is the increased possibilities of seeing our native wildlife in their natural habitat. During the colder months many animals are active all day long and not just at dusk and dawn like in the hotter months. Even if you accidentally startle the animals and they move away, you can see where they go. Most of the time they don’t go too far, so if you stay still and quiet you can watch them for quite a while. (Click here for a guide to hiking at Village Creek State Park, and click here for tips on how to be successful when watching for wildlife.)

Our winter bird residents are active most of the day, and are much easier to spot in winter’s bare trees. Their flashes of color and activity are noticeable, and it can be a fun challenge to identify them.

Finally, the best reason to visit Village Creek State Park in winter is that after a day of exploring the outdoors, you can return to your cabin and warm up in front of the fireplace!

Tara Gillanders, Park Interpreter

Tara Gillanders, Park Interpreter

–Tara Gillanders was raised in Kingsville, Texas before moving to Jonesboro, Arkansas in the mid 1980s. She stayed in the area, earning a bachelor’s degree in science education from Arkansas State University and teaching high school science for three years before finding out about the profession of interpretation. Tara was hired at Village Creek State Park in 2008. “I cannot imagine a more fulfilling job,” she says.


Pinnacle Mountain State Park Rocks!

January 11, 2010

Pondering Pinnacle Mountain

A cold, snowy day can be the perfect time to experience Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

A cold, snowy day is the perfect time to experience Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

This week Pinnacle Mountain has been frozen with solitude.  The warm-weather crowds have diminished to a handful of bundled, determined hikers.  I no longer see colorful climbing dots moving slowly to the top when I look up.  Instead, my eyes tend to focus on the protruding, sharp rock outlays along each side of the uplifted land.

As I gaze at the mountain’s nakedness, it’s easy to recognize why such a dramatic landform is admired by all who know it. What is not so easy to recognize, is how such a landform arose from the earth.

The Making of a Mighty Mountain

Composed of Jackfork sandstone, Pinnacle Mountain rises 756 feet from the base.  Like all the rest of the Ouachita Mountains, it is in the eroded “crumple zone” which resulted from the collision of two continental plates of the earth’s crust.  Before the collision process altered this region, the Ouachitas

The "boulder fields" on the slopes of Pinnacle Mountain make for interesting hiking.

The "boulder fields" on the slopes of Pinnacle Mountain make for interesting hiking.

were accumulating sediments on the ocean floor several thousand feet below sea level.  After 275 million years of erosion, the Ouachitas–including many peaks like Pinnacle Mountain–are the greatly reduced remains of a once young and mighty mountain range.  The “cone” form of Pinnacle Mountain we see today is simply a small resistant remnant of a highly eroded ridge which runs east and west for several miles.

(Click here to learn more about the six natural divisions of Arkansas.)

Look All Around, But Look Down Too

When you hike up the cone-shaped mountain, it is easy to divert your attention away from the wonders of the mountain itself.  It took me several climbs to condition myself not to focus on the sparkling waters of Lake Maumelle or Arkansas River in the

Hiking to the top rewards visitors with awe inspiring views.

Hiking to the top rewards visitors with awe inspiring views.

distance, but instead on the dramatic landform right under my feet. Once I took my eyes and camera off the view, I fell in love with the Jackfork sandstone and became filled with wonder at the creation of the Ouachita Mountains.  It amazed me how simple it was to connect those physical geography facts from high school and college to something that was right beneath me.  Before my discovery, continental plates existed only in text books and on exams, but truly, they are visible, touchable, and climbable!

Exploring with your sense of touch is encouraged.

Exploring with your sense of touch is encouraged.

This Stone is Full of Stories

One of my favorite parts of climbing the mountain is the feeling of the sandstone beneath my hands.   It has a rough grainy texture that embodies its name well.  There are countless sandstone boulder fields on the mountain and scattered around this 2000-acre park, which makes them easy to take for granted. However, without this stone, many important places around Little Rock would not exist as we know them today.  Over 75,000 tons of rock was taken from the base of the east side of Pinnacle Mountain to create the Lake Maumelle Dam for Little Rock’s water supply.  Also, rock was moved from other areas of the park prior to the 1950s to help build the local Joe T. Robinson Schools and Shrine Country Club.

Two Routes to the Top

The trails to the top can be challenging and enjoyable.

The trails to the top can be challenging and enjoyable.

There are a number of trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, all designed to showcase various aspects of this diverse landscape. Collectively, we hope they help you understand that everywhere you walk here, from wetlands to upland ridges, you see an ever-changing web of life that flourishes because diverse habitats are protected.

In case you haven’t been to the top of Pinnacle Mountain, you should know that there are two main routes for getting there. The most popular path is via the West Summit Trail. This rocky trail begins at the park picnic grounds and winds its way up to the top for ¾ of a mile. To return, you must retrace your steps, for a 1 ½ mile round trip journey, or hike down the other side of the mountain using the rugged East Summit Trail and return on the Base Trail for a total hike of about 3 miles.

If you prefer more of a challenge, plan to go up and down the mountain using the more rugged, ¾-mile East Summit Trail. This route is often referred to as more of a “climb” than a hike, as it crosses several boulder fields and takes a more direct (steeper) route to the top than the meandering West Summit Trail. Technical rock climbing is not required, but much of the hike does require hands-and-feet scrambling as opposed to upright walking.

Either way, this hike is considered strenuous and you should allow at least 1 ½ hours travel time—plus give yourself extra time along the way and at the top for reflection and exploring.

Learning from the Land

Pinnacle Mountain is a dramatic landform that has inspired me to learn more about my local surroundings.  It is also a place where I have been able to provide curious students with real world examples from their textbook lessons and state-mandated curriculum.

No matter your reasoning for visiting Pinnacle Mountain State Park, I am sure that the scenic view—and the mountain itself—will ignite your passion for understanding your environment. I hope you are one of the next bundled-up, determined, wonder-filled hikers that I meet at the top!

The park maintains over 40 miles trails with something for everyone.

The park maintains over 40 miles trails with something for everyone.

Kristina Root, Park Interpreter

Kristina Root, Park Interpreter

Kristina Root is a strong advocate of environmental education for urban children. She has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2007, stationed at Pinnacle Mountain State Park as a park interpreter. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide, and credits success on her career path to her B.S in Environmental Science from the University of Central Arkansas.