Face-lift Reason for Pride at Lake Chicot State Park

Article follows the photos:
Barrier-free fishing pier at Lake Chicot.
Barrier-free fishing pier at Lake Chicot.
Lake Chicot State Park
Lake Chicot State Park
Lake Chicot State Park
Lake Chicot State Park
April 2, 2002


Face-lift Reason for Pride
At Lake Chicot State Park

*****
By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

At Arkansas's 11th state park, Lake Chicot, stately cypresses and willows frame scenic vistas of broad waters unexpected in the flat terrain of the Delta. Cabins, campsites, a store and marina with boat and other watercraft rentals, fishing piers, a swimming pool, pavilions and picnic areas, trails and interpretive programs are among the park's recreational assets. For additional information, including other events at the park, call (870) 265-5480 or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

LAKE VILLAGE -- In the southeast corner of Arkansas lies a prominent -- though under appreciated -- natural wonder: North America's largest ox-bow lake. Shaped like a "C," it is 20 miles long and at some places just shy of a mile wide. Once the Mississippi River's main channel, the lake was cut off centuries ago when the river altered its course.

The state's first-ever study of its recreational needs, published in 1940, recommended the lake "be given prime consideration for an addition to the State park system." It wasn't until 1957, however, that a donation by area residents of land on the lake's northwest shore led to the creation of Lake Chicot State Park.

"The park is looking better than ever," a beaming Superintendent Ocie Hunter said recently. "We used to be just scraping to get by, and now we're making tremendous changes. We're getting so many comments from visitors about how nice this facility or that facility is. You just wouldn't believe it."

Funded primarily through the state's Amendment 75, one-eighth cent conservation tax approved by Arkansas voters in 1996, with other assistance coming from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, the park has lately been undergoing a face-lift of substantial proportions.

An expanded visitors center with an attractive covered entranceway and more parking greets new arrivals. Four renovated, lakefront cabin duplexes are now suitable for use by persons with physical handicaps and offer fireplaces. The marina store has been spruced up and a fuel dock added. And, a barrier-free fishing pier, a courtesy dock, and a barrier-free restroom have been constructed.

Changes less obvious to visitors include improvements to the park's sewer and water systems, shoreline erosion-control work, and a new equipment shed and maintenance equipment.

Within the next few years, a complete renovation of the park swimming pool and its bathhouse, remodeling of the park's three wood-side cabin duplexes to include fireplaces and whirlpool baths, campground improvements, and road and drainage work are expected to be completed. On the distant horizon, Hunter said, is the construction of a 60-room lodge.

The beauty of Arkansas's largest natural lake continues to serve as one of the park's main attractions. Sunsets often blaze dazzling colors across the open water and the big sky afforded by the area's flat terrain. In late summer, small cypresses across from the park sometimes appear as if covered with snow as hundreds of wading birds, including great and snowy egrets, fly in to roost. Warm-season, evening barge tours of a swampy area at the lake's north end reveal alligators, owls, raccoons and other wildlife.

Hunter said the lake's fishing and birding opportunities draw many visitors to the park. "Fishing is what made Lake Chicot what it is," he said. Crappie and bream are favored targets during spring and fall, he added, while catfish are sought year round. Because of its southern location, prime fishing on Lake Chicot usually begins earlier in the spring than on Arkansas's other major lakes.

For birdwatchers, the area produces late summer sightings of wood storks and other species rarely seen in Arkansas, while winter draws bald eagles and abundant waterfowl to the area. Resident songbirds and woodpeckers can be found along the park's Delta Woodlands Trail throughout the year and they are joined in spring and fall by migratory warblers.

The park's annual interpretive activities capitalize on the area's wildlife, as well as its historical and musical legacies. Lake barge tours and van tours to area birding hotspots are offered at various times throughout the year.

A Father/Son Civil War Campout is scheduled for June 15-16 and the Civil War Weekend on October 5-6 will observe the 138th anniversary of the nearby Battle of Ditch Bayou. Arkansas's last major Civil War engagement was fought on June 6, 1864 as federal troops fought to dislodge Confederate forces that had been harassing traffic on the Mississippi. The battlefield is one of several sites listed in a self-guided Civil War tour detailed in a brochure available at the visitors center.

The area's blues and gospel music heritage will be celebrated during the park's Jammin' in the Delta Blues Festival on June 22 and Gospelfest on September 21.

"We try to cater to just about everybody's needs who come here," John Morrow, the park interpreter, said of the park's programs.

Also available at the visitors center is a brochure for a self-guided "Levee Tour," much of which runs atop the embankments that now protect nearby Lake Village and the surrounding area from the Mississippi's floods.

Tour highlights include waterfowl and wading birds in the water-filled borrow pits from which dirt for the levees was taken, the remains of a Native American mound, a site called Whiskey Chute where river pirates once roamed and a visit to the Lake Chicot Pumping Plant. Housed in a building eight stories tall and one-and-a-half times the size of a football field, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plant prevents muddy farmland runoff from befouling the lake.

Hunter said Lake Chicot State Park is popular for family, church and class reunions, and his staff tries to provide activities, such as a Halloween dance, for the youth in the surrounding rural area. "We're trying to give the local youths something they can look forward to doing," he said.

"We like to say," he added, "we're just a country park but we're going to treat you right. Once we get visitors here, we generally have no problem getting them to come back."

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"