Sunday, October 26, 2008

Summer report card: Arkansas state parks have many natural gems to offer

I've been busy with my self-assigned task of visiting all Arkansas state parks at least once. I have visited several parks in my relatively short lifetime, but I haven't been to all. In the past, I have visited Village Creek S.P., Crater of Diamonds S.P., Devil's Den (too many times to recount), Hobbs S.P.(a number of times), Withrow Srpings S.P., Mt. Magazine S.P., Lake Ft. Smith S.P., and Petit Jean S.P.

I visited Mt. Magazine, Devil's Den, Hobbs, and Lake Ft. Smith this summer. Lake Ft. Smith has been reborn since the raising of the height of the dam to combine Lake Ft. Smith with Lake Shepherd Springs. I had quite a time paddling the new 1,400 acre+ newer, larger lake. From the entry of Frog Bayou beneath Artist's Point to the rope barrier near the dam, it is quite a gem of the Ozarks. A gem of a park I visited in SE AR this fall was Cane Creek S.P., a rather new lake and state park in Star City, AR in Lincoln County between Pine Bluff and Monticello along Hwy 65. It is a timbered lake with scores of aninghas perching and flying in procession if you get too close. The trail cut through the lotuses into the cypress brake is a real treat and I'm sorry I didn't have another day to explore the 17 mile mountain bike trail that surrounds the lake. Unfortunately, if one dosn't own an rv or care to camp in a tent, the best for lodging is nearby Monticello or Pine Bluff. I opted for Monticello. Cane Creek needs cabins, if any Arkansas state parks employee is reading. I read on a reviewers site that it was built in 1997. It took about 4 hours to get around the lake at my pace. I would certainly visit agian next time with my own boats. Rental boats are horrible at the park. Lake Monticello is another lake we explored, though the city of Monticello has no kayak rental place. It is a gorgeous lake with a number of waterfowl hanging nearby.

Cane Creek Lake is next to Bayou Bartholomew, a common site along roadsides in SE Arkansas, since it is the longest bayou on earth (a bayou is described as a slow-moving river by one pamphlet I have on the area). The lilypad trail, aforementioned, is a real treat leading to the cypress brake where many cool beaver dams may be encountered. Lots of barely submerged logs and trees in the lake, but it reminded me of many fishing holes I enjoyed in my native county in eastern Arkansas and practically every frog-hunting trip through one of many Big Creeks in Arkansas. I have also frogged and fished the St. Francis River , which is part of a coming attraction to the state park system, Mississippi River S.P. encompassing developments at Bear Creek, the mouth of St. Francis (a downright scary swift current there has been encountered, including a wicked scary lightning and torrential rainstorm that brewed on a frog-hunting excursion), and Storm Creek Lake, according to the state park brochure. Bear Creek is getting a new campground opening tentativley in Fall 2008(dunno if its open as i'm wirting this in October. This could be one of the coolest parks in the state park system in our beloved state. In my book, Cane Creek S.P. is certainly a must-see for folks who want a sampling of eastern Arkansas' marshland habitat. It's one of the finest opportunities for those unaccustomed to the marshy lowlands to get a close-up view in a safe environment to explore without need of an outboard, though outboard fisherman were sharing the lake the day we visited. The only drawback to some will be the lack of services (grocery stores, restaurants) in the immediate area, and the near-pervasive whiff of the paper mills that produce in this timber paradise within Drew, Lincoln, Bradley, and Ashley Counties. Northern Louisiana has its share of paper mills also. The scent can be really putrid, but I've been exposed to such industrial scents having visited my family members in Jefferson and Desha Counties often during my youth, but my wife from a northern state didn't much care for the smell at first.

Another state park treat this fall was Lake Chicot S.P. in Lake Village near the new cool bridge over the Mississippi River, the so-called Greenville Bridge. Lake Chicot is a mammoth lake that once served as the main Mississippi River channel until approximately 1300 C.E. The rental boats at this park are scary, but my wife and I enjoyed the duplex-cabin overlooking the lake and next time I visit this wonder, I will have my own boats. I still managed to reach the opposite end of the lake section adjacent to the park, which is separate from the near 20 mile-long Lake Chicot, despite the scary unstable Perception kayak I paddled with a rudder permanently placed under the hull of the boat. Real scary for a huge lake with big waves that day because of wind and boaters and alligator gar bumping into the boat. Real cool experience and I love that park. Got some nice camera phone pics and a beautiful sunset. Lake Chicot is a quiet place and good folks from all over the Mississsippi River vally had gathered at the park the 4 days, three nights I stayed. My wife and I biked the nearly deserted road past the park entrance to the levee and the levee road seems to go all the way around the lake, though I couldn't follow the whole way. Our pet was not allowed in the lodging, so an RV is a must if you have pets. The other major criticism is the uncomfortable beds and unbearable sofa sleeper. The state park should spend some of the fund on upgrading those most important furnishings. Plus, the state park should get Mad River to make a deal on supplying all the state parks rental boats, as Lake Ft. Smith rents out to canoeists. Mad River makes kayaks and canoes and they are among the most stable for many novice paddlers who want a memorable experience for all the right reasons, not feeling like an upset is looming with any of the next few waves that might hit. I should be hired to advise the state parks on needed changes, but overall, our state park system is head and shoulders above neighboring states. Oklahoma should be embarassed. It is such a beautiful state unfortunately under the care of a negligent host. I love Tenkiller S.P., but it needs attention and infusion of resources to make it the gem it should be of the Oklahoma S.P. system. I enjoyed a Corps site better than the state parks in the vicinity of Lake Tenkiller and nearby mammoth lakes in eastern Oklahoma. Corps sites in Arkansas are usually woeful compared to the care and service provided at our state parks. The US Forest service sin't all that hot either.

I'll describe my other summer adventures later. I've visited many of Oklahoma's eastern lakes and many Forest service and Corps sites in Arkansas and Missouri this summer. The Corps has a dandy off Highway 100/82 on the east side of Tenkiller Lake. I want to explore that lake by kayak and the lower Illinois looks like a cool place to paddle also. I visisted several Corps spots along Beaver Lake, including some of the abandoned sites, where a boat laucnh is maintained and the Corps patrol those areas rather frequently. I love Beaver Lake and many of its feeder creeks and rivers. Lake Sequoyah, in Fayetteville is at the crossroads of the East, Middle, and West Forks of the White River, though West Fork joins below the dam, is a real birder's delight and the rivers are great smallmouth waters. Branson has some nices places along the water to enjoy boating of all sorts and certainly a grand new attraction, Branson Landing, is a neat addition to the touristy Mecca of the Ozarks. Paddling, motorboats, sailing craft, and more trails than one might imagine. I was surprised at how many nice trails are maintained in the area. I purchased a Branson tourist guide, though I'd visited many times and knew the city fairly well, I immediately gained a better knowledge than my parents, who visit at least twice yearly as my mother's parents had for 30+ years before her. The Henning forest lured my parnets into the hike and they loved it. My dad's hikes in his lifetime have always included a firearm of some sort. He was involved in military service for many years and he hunts squirrels, coons, deer, rabbits, doves, ducks, turkeys, and other wild game. Hiking always had a shooting purpose. So there's my recommendation for the city's Henning Forest hiking trails. It's a gem of Missouri's natural sanctuaries.

One of my next vacation trips will be to return to Crater of Diamonds for maybe the 5th or 6th time in my life and nearby Daisy S.P., Hisoric Washington and White Oak Lake S.P. I really want to see Lake Greeson and 2,700 acre White Oak Lake should be a fun paddling experience. Too bad they don't have cabins, so an RV or tent is a necessity. I'll speak more about Arkansas' natural wonders no matter who administers them. The state of Arkansas is to be commended for its dedication to preserve natural places and allowing an escape from everyday life. I love this state and cannot ever imagine living in any other state. We have so many outdoor opportunities that can keep a person busy for the rest of this lfe and still believe one has missed out on a golden experience. I feel as if I'm destined to enjoy many more of these blessed outdoor experiences in my home state and I hope the good Lord decides to allow me more time to see all that I can. Anyone reading this should give the Arkansas outdoors a shot beyond hunting sports, though hunting is a real pleasure in this state of abundance for most hunted species. It's a life changing experience each time out. I have enjoyed paddling and fishing Arkansas waters this spring and summer. Fall and winter will surely hold some delights in late '08 and early '09 and I want to be in the water or on the trail. I will, hopefully, be involved with building a mountain bike trail on an acquaintances property in Logan County. I love to visit Logan County. I visited a handful of times this year and I love that little town Paris. Clean, well-kept quaint little town that should be visited at least once by everyone. It's near Mt. Magazine, Cove Lake, and Blue Mountain Lake, as well as Lake Dardanelle and Mt. Nebo state parks.