-- The Arkansas state park system’s largest state park, 12,045-acre Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area east of Rogers, lies between Beaver Lake to the north and War Eagle Creek to the south. The park stretches across a part of Benton County southeast of Beaver Lake and extends into Madison and Carroll counties. Amendment 75, Arkansas’s conservation amendment, has funded the park’s striking new, $4.5 million visitor center. The ribbon-cutting and grand opening for this barrier-free, 17,531-square-foot facility is slated for Wednesday, May 27, at 11:00 a.m. The center is near the junction of Ark. Hwy. 12 and War Eagle Road. The public is invited to attend.
Visitor parking for the ceremony will be at War Eagle and shuttle service will be provided to the visitor center. Parking for persons with disabilities will be at the visitor center. Allow extra travel time for parking and shuttling to the ceremony.
Joining in the ceremony will be former U.S. Senator Kaneaster Hodges, Jr. of Newport; former State Senator Morriss Henry of Fayetteville; Darin Gray of Springdale, commissioner, State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission; Richard W. Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts; Park Superintendent Mark Clippinger; other state and area officials.
Featuring state-of-the-art exhibits and classroom/meeting space, the building also houses a retail sales area and the park’s administrative offices. The center will serve a key role in welcoming visitors and students to this state park-conservation area, a diverse tract of Ozark landscape consisting of plateaus, ridges, valleys, and streams featuring an upland forest of oak-hickory/shortleaf pine. Many water features include disappearing streams, springs and seeps that have carved hollows in the park’s limestone environment, as well as cave-related features including numerous sinkholes.
The architect was PB2 Architecture and Engineering of Rogers. The contractor was Milestone Construction Company, LLC of Springdale. The exhibits were designed and fabricated by Chase Studios of Cedar Creek, Missouri.
Studies determined the best location for the building’s site to minimize its impact on the park’s delicate geological foundation, a limestone environment of small caves and springs. And, the construction areas of the building site were kept to a minimum to also protect its surrounding natural environment.
The contemporary design of the building is reminiscent of an Ozark barn. It includes a porch at each entry and a stream flowing around the building.
The building is designed to be environmentally friendly. The visitor center is a candidate for LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System™ is a voluntary, internationally recognized certification that measures high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED emphasizes state-of-the-art strategies in five areas: sustainable site development, water and energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design.
Local materials from the region were used to save fuel and transportation, and boost the local economy. Rainwater from the building’s roof will be used for irrigation. A geothermal heating and cooling system reduces energy consumption. Reflective colors on the building reduce heat gain. Fly ash, a recycled material, is used in the concrete slab which reduces the cost and replaces a portion of virgin materials that would otherwise have been used in the concrete mix. Forty geothermal wells are below the parking lot to duplicate space uses and thus reduce disturbance to the forested landscape, as well as protect the well heads. A single entrance/exit road for the visitor center also makes less impact on the surrounding forest.
According to Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts, information and education will be the primary focus of the facility. “The visitor center at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area will introduce park visitors and students to this natural resource and its historical attributes, and serve as the hub as they are motivated to go outside to experience it, enjoy it and learn from it as their lives become connected to it,” he said.
Butts noted that within an hour’s drive are over 58,000 students in Benton, Carroll, Madison, and Washington counties who can benefit from it. “This center will be about enhancing the quality of life in this area and inspiring all who visit it. And, it will be about motivating the young people who spend time here; helping prepare the next generation to be environmentally conscious stewards of the land,” he said.
According to Butts, over half of Arkansas’s population now resides in urban settings. “This will be a special place for visitors and students to reconnect with Arkansas—its land and people.”
Butts continued, “Here in this interactive center they can explore state-of-the-art exhibits by internationally known Chase Studios, the wildlife viewing area and trails around the center. The classrooms are gateways to the real world outdoors. Students can explore a whole series of park trails including a barrier-free walking trail and a short hiking trail that will be developed as part of the interpretive programs offered here at the center. And, they can take boat tours and go kayaking.” He said, “They can view artifacts, photographs, videos, and sculptures combined to relay information about the park. And, a cave diorama will give them a view of the fascinating world hidden beneath the surface.”
Jay Miller, administrator of Program Services for Arkansas State Parks, said, “The visitor center houses an $800,000 exhibit gallery where the story of the state park and its mission are told. A large photo mural/graphic panel, which affirms the mission of the park, welcomes visitors entering the exhibit gallery with the wording: Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area provides enriching educational and recreational experiences in harmony with resource stewardship. This panel flanks the entranceway to the A/V orientation area where visitors can view an introductory film.”
He noted that across from the orientation theater is a large exhibit devoted to “The Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area Story.” This assemblage of artifacts, photographs, illustrations, specimens, and brief text panels is divided into three sections: “Survival,” “Entrepreneurship,” and “Stewardship,” which reflect three time periods in the history of the site.
Miller continued, “Across from the historical sequence is an exhibit on the state park’s recreational opportunities, which encourages the spirit of adventure and the joy of discovery. A button-operated map shows illuminated trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking. The map also shows lake access, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds around the lake, nature trails, the Van Winkle historical trail, and other points of interest.”
He said that visitors can participate in park-related programs and activities in an exhibit alcove. Made to look like a rustic Ozark structure, this area has natural objects and is equipped with interactive kiosks.
Adjacent to the participatory alcove is an exhibit on “Diversity—the Key to Nature’s Balance.” This exhibit uses specimens, models, taxidermy mounts, photographs, and brief text to show the species diversity in the oak-hickory forests of the park.
Much of the park’s subsurface is riddled with passageways created by the dissolution of the limestone bedrock by slightly acidic groundwater. A reconstructed cave with glassed-in observation area shows the appearance of a typical cave. Reconstructed examples of cave formations are shown with a button-activated LED lighting system that identifies each formation.
The caves in the park are home to a surprisingly diverse animal population. The cave diorama will exhibit models of locally common animals that spend their entire lives in caves. Models of other animals commonly found in the twilight zone of the cave will be displayed in a case near the cave entrance. A future phase for the visitor center’s exhibits will be a mock cave environment in the building’s lower level with barrier-free access by an elevator.
Bats play a major role in cave ecology and are extremely beneficial animals. An exhibit on bats is just outside the cave and marked by the enlarged head of a gray bat.
The hallway will feature a sculpture of a rock pinnacle with gnarled cedar trees near the top. Suspended from the high ceiling are birds of prey mounts and large mural exhibits line the walls.
The wildlife viewing area off the main lobby toward the back of the building has a counter space with oversize “naturalist-style” notebooks in simulated binders for identification of birds and other animals visitors are likely to see at the feeding stations.
According to Park Superintendent Mark Clippinger, “With this visitor center we have an incredible opportunity to continue to fulfill our park mission to provide educational and recreational needs in harmony with resource stewardship.” He said, “If one word could sum up the excitement that has built for over 29 years leading to the opening of this new visitor center at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, ‘passion’ would be the word.” He continued, “That passion—to save and set aside a special place in northwest Arkansas—began in the late 1970s with a vision by the citizens of the region and was followed through by a very dedicated group of public officials, area bankers and other community leaders. That vision continues today with this new center that will help fulfill the park’s mission.”
The majority of the Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area’s 12,045 acres is comprised of the 11,644-acre Roscoe C. Hobbs estate that was acquired by the state of Arkansas in the late 1970s. Hobbs had used the property primarily in his forest product business. Under Hobbs’ management, the area was maintained in timber and selectively harvested for timber products including railroad ties.
The park includes a wide variety of hiking trails. The Historic Van Winkle Trail is a barrier-free, ½-mile trail with interpretive sign panels that describe the historic home and mill sites of the Peter Van Winkle family during, and after, the Civil War. In addition, the trailhead features barrier-free parking and a composting toilet. The park has a fascinating history centered on the Peter Van Winkle industrial mill complex and home. The Pigeon Roost Trail is a double stacked-loop trail featuring a short loop of approximately four miles for day hiking and a longer loop of 8.5 miles for overnight use. The 21-mile Multi-Use Hidden Diversity Trail is designed for equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers. Users have the option of four trail sections or loops. This trail follows ridge tops and ridge rims, with only a half dozen hills to climb throughout the trail system. On the 1 ½-mile Shaddox Hollow Nature Trail, the first 1/2 mile of this loop trail follows a ridgeline, providing an easy hike. The trail then descends into Shaddox Hollow. The descent is rather steep in places. This trail winds along the creek through stands of hardwoods and native Ozark vegetation. Interesting limestone bluffs are found along this section. After progressing up the creek, the trail begins the ascent back to the trailhead.
The park also includes an all-weather, public firing range; regulated seasonal hunting; and undeveloped access to 28,370-acre Beaver Lake. Future development will include cabins, camping and day-use areas.
Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area is one of Arkansas’s 52 state parks. It is managed jointly by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
The park is 10 miles east of Rogers on Ark. 12.
For further information, contact: Mark Clippinger, park superintendent, Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, 20201 East Highway 12, Rogers, AR 72756, phone: 479-789-5000; or Joan Ellison, public information officer, Arkansas State Parks, 1 Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, phone: 501-682-2873, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org