Lake Poinsett Provides a Home Away from Home

Article follows the photos:
Lake Poinsett State Park
Lake Poinsett State Park
May 28, 2002


Lake Poinsett Provides
a Home Away from Home

*****
By Jay Harrod
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Arkansas's 20th state park, Lake Poinsett, is a fisherman's haven located off Ark. 163 at Harrisburg in northeast Arkansas. The park is home to 30 campsites (27 Class A), most of which afford a lake view. The wooded park also offers a hiking trail, picnic area, playground, screened pavilion, launch ramp and boat rentals. For more information call (870) 578-2064 or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

There are a number features and subtleties that beckon travelers on Crowley's Ridge National Scenic Byway to enjoy the journey and fully experience the geological oddity in the northeast Arkansas Delta. Historic homes, rolling farms, unspoiled forests, intriguing small towns and cafes, and a series of scenic state parks have an effect much like the Sirens in Homer's Odyssey -- luring drivers from the main road, often making it hard to leave.

One such place is Lake Poinsett State Park, located just a few feet from Ark. 163, which is part of the Scenic Byway. At 640 surface acres, Lake Poinsett is the largest of lakes on the Ridge, but is home to one of the smaller state parks (132 acres). Small state parks with campsites tend to have a unifying characteristic. The intimacy of these parks creates a sense of respite and make visitors feel at home. And many of these parks have long-time employees, such as Lake Poinsett Superintendent Bobby Austin, who quickly turn visitors into friends, many of whom return year after year.

One a recent spring day, Austin, who has been superintendent since 1973, made one of his daily rounds through the campground, waving and calling by name every patron, inquiring about families and catching up on events since their last visit. "That's the good thing about working at a small park," he said. "You get to know folks."

Getting to know folks is probably what many big corporations label customer or public relations. But it's the sincerity in intention among Austin and his staff that has resulted in Poinsett being awarded by the Department "Park of the Year" twice during Austin's tenure. It's not surprising that the local community has and still does support a park known for its hospitality.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, several Harrisburg residents envisioned a park where locals and visitors could enjoy picnicking, fishing or camping. The biggest problem, though, was Lake Poinsett did not exist at the time -- just a stream, Distress Creek. Spearheading the effort to build a lake was a Harrisburg Rotary Club planning committee, chaired by R.D. Woods.

"There was nothing as far as recreational facilities at that time," Woods, who has lived in Harrisburg since 1947, said.

The planning committee approached the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which showed interest in damming Distress Creek. But there were obstacles to overcome. "Nobody had any money...or they didn't want to spend it here," Woods said.

Woods will readily admit that friends in politics helped make the lake reality. After months of struggling to secure necessary funds, Dan Portis, a one-time Arkansas Highway Commissioner, suggested Woods pay a visit to someone Portis knew well, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. The pair boarded Portis’ plane and flew to the Capitol.

"We got there, and Portis said, 'So tell [Faubus] your problems,"' Woods said. "I did, and [Faubus] said, 'I'll take care of it.' And he did, and that was that."

Once the Game and Fish Commission built the lake in 1961, attentions turned to creating a state park. Again, Woods and fellow Rotarian, the late L.K. Collier, an attorney in Harrisburg, answered the call. The two owned much of the land surrounding the newly formed lake and donated 40 acres to the state parks system. But according to Woods, those at the state parks said twice that amount was needed in order to proceed with plans.

"So the community came to us and wanted to know if we'd sell 40 acres," Woods said. "I think we got $4,000 or something like that. So we sold 40 acres and donated 40 acres." Subsequent smaller land acquisitions have brought Lake Poinsett's total acreage to 132 today.

Though many return campers enjoy the sense of community found at the park, many times it's the scaly creatures that brought them to the park in the first place. Fishing remains the favorite past time at Poinsett, drawing anglers most the year round.

"The lake is not over fished, but it's where all the tournaments are held. It's fished from late January all the way until it gets too cold in December," Austin said, adding that Poinsett is known across the state as a premiere crappie and catfish fishery that also holds abundant largemouth bass and bream.

"There's been some 50-pound flatheads caught out of that lake," Austin boasted. "In the summer, it's not unusual for 20-pound blues to be pulled out of there."

The fishing is so good, Austin said, that many return campers stay as long as month. "As long as the fish are biting." Maintaining a campsite, which Austin also calls a "home away from home" can be expensive, which is why he is particularly thankful for Arkansas's 1/8 sales tax that in part funds projects at state parks.

"That money has been the lifeblood of the state parks. I assure you of that," he said. "Because we had no money up until that time. You couldn't plan any projects because you didn't have any money. Now if you plan it, it can happen."

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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"