Development of Mississippi River State Park Begins With
Campground Improvements at Beech Point Campground

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Arkansas State Parks Division
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Marianna -- The development of Mississippi River State Park by Arkansas State Parks within the St. Francis National Forest has begun, according to State Parks Director Greg Butts. State park facilities will be developed in phases at several sites in the national forest through a Special Use Permit from the USDA Forest Service. Locations include the Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area, the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi rivers, and the Storm Creek Lake Recreation Area. The 22,600-acre forest stretches along Crowley’s Ridge and borders the Mississippi River. The new state park will total 536 acres; land that is approximately 2.4 percent of the forest’s acreage.

Phase I development of the park has begun at Beech Point Campground on Bear Creek Lake near Marianna. On January 5, Township Builders, Inc. of Little Rock was awarded the $1,644,566 contract for the renovation of the campground. The design consultant is the Cromwell Firm of Little Rock, the architectural/engineering firm designing the overall
utility infrastructure plan and Phase I development. The campground is currently closed for this construction, with plans to reopen in late-summer 2010. [NOTE: The adjacent Day-use area with fishing pier and boat launch remains open to the public at this time.]

Accessed from Hwy. 44 and situated on a wooded peninsula in the lake, the campground will feature 14 Class AAA campsites with water/electric/sewer hookups and three walk-in tent sites. Each paved site will have an adjacent, extended hardened living area with picnic table, grill and lantern hanger. Selected campsites will feature tent pads. Trash receptacles will be spaced throughout the campground. A new barrier-free bathhouse will be centrally located.

Improvements to the campground will also include the access road and all utilities including new water and wastewater treatment and distribution systems. Two new courtesy docks will be constructed in the campground so that boaters will have easy access to the lake.

Mississippi River State Park is one of 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

According to State Parks Director Greg Butts, “Arkansas State Parks is currently experiencing one of the most exciting stages in its history. An idea that began in the late 1960s, Mississippi River State Park in eastern Arkansas is an important part of this.”

He said, “Our partner in this project, the USDA Forest Service, will continue its role in the resource management of the forest including timber and wildlife management, habitat improvement, wildfire suppression and law enforcement in the forest. Arkansas State Parks will improve the current facilities, construct new ones and manage these recreational facilities including park maintenance, park law enforcement and interpretation/education.”

Butts noted that these improvements will enhance current recreational areas that were developed by the Forest Service. “It’s a win-win situation where we will have the opportunity to enhance these popular Forest Service recreational areas that the public has experienced and enjoyed over the years.”

According to Butts, this federal and state partnership was first completed at Mount Magazine State Park near Paris, which was developed by Arkansas State Parks in the Mount Magazine Ranger District of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests atop 2,753-foot Mount Magazine. “The partnership between the federal government and the state of Arkansas at Mount Magazine has been recognized nationally as an excellent example of Ozark-St. Francis National Forests Forest Supervisor Judith Henry said, “The partnership between the USDA Forest Service and Arkansas State Parks should be very evident to the public when visiting Mississippi River State Park. Our staffs will uniquely work side-by-side here committed to managing these outstanding natural and recreational resources on the St. Francis National Forest and making the collective national forest/ state park experience all it can be for visitors.”

According to Henry, “This will be a boon to the local communities and area businesses, as well. It will be an opportunity for neighbors to continue enjoying the recreation opportunities on the St. Francis, while planned state park amenities may encourage new visitors to enjoy exploring this unique part of Arkansas. It is the only national forest and Arkansas state park that touches the Mississippi River.”

St. Francis National Forest

The St. Francis National Forest, located between Marianna and Helena-West Helena, is approximately 14 miles long and averages about three to four miles wide. In the 1930s this area was designated part of the National Resettlement Act. The area was administered by the Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service until 1960 when it was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service.

History of Mississippi River State Park Project

The development of Mississippi River State Park was authorized by the state of Arkansas by Act 859 of 1973. Through the years, Arkansas State Parks studied various sites along the Mississippi River. Following the passage by Arkansas voters in 1996 of the 1/8-cent conservation tax creating Amendment 75, Arkansas’s conservation amendment, Arkansas State Parks was able to look realistically at developing this state park, like others, that had been authorized but for which there was no funding.

On May 20, 1999, the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission selected the St. Francis National Forest site for final consideration as the locale for Mississippi River State Park.

Arkansas State Parks (ASP) staff worked with USDA Forest Service to formulate the preliminary plans for the new park. This led to a Memorandum of Understanding
(MOU) between ASP and the Forest Service signed on November 22, 1999. This MOU allowed ASP and the Forest Service to work together, and with others, in order to research and write the draft Environmental Assessment (EA) report.

The EA period began with public meetings in Helena (12/13/1999) and Marianna (12/14/1999) and a 45-day comment period (12/08/1999-01/24/2000).

After the comment period, the EA Action Team consisting of staff from the Forest Service, ASP and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission formulated alternatives for the administration of the forest park. In early 2001, the draft EA was presented to the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission and the forest supervisor of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests. The EA was completed and issued for public comment on May 30, 2001. A Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact (selecting alternative #2 with modifications) was signed and issued by the forest supervisor on August 16, 2001.

Arkansas State Parks and the USDA Forest Service worked together through the Environmental Assessment phase. The Special Use Permit/Operation-Maintenance Plan was officially signed on October 26, 2004.

Arkansas State Parks’ Plan For Mississippi River State Park

Arkansas State Parks’ development of Mississippi River State Park will be phased over the next several years. The total development cost is estimated to total approximately $23 million.

In addition to the work already planned at Bear Creek Lake, Phase I also includes a visitor information/environmental education center and improvements at Storm Creek Lake.
Phase I development currently underway, at a cost of approximately $8,039,502, is to be funded from sources to include Amendment 75, federal Land and Water Conservation
Fund dollars and a National Scenic Byways Program grant.

For further information, contact: Joan Ellison, public information officer, Arkansas State Parks, 1 Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, phone: 501-682-2873, e-mail: joan.ellison@arkansas.gov or Tracy Farley, public affairs officer for the Ozark-St. Francis and Ouachita National Forests, USDA Forest Service, 605 West Main, Russellville, Arkansas 72801, phone: 479-964-7232, e-mail: tfarley@fs.fed.us.

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