White Oak Lake State Park Offers "Small-Town" Charm

Article follows the photos:
White Oak Lake State Park
White Oak Lake State Park
White Oak Lake State Park
White Oak Lake State Park
White Oak Lake State Park
White Oak Lake State Park
July 9, 2002


White Oak Lake State Park
Offers "Small-Town" Charm

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

At Arkansas's 26th state park, White Oak Lake, fishing is a main attraction. Camping, picnicking, watercraft and bicycle rentals, a fishing pier, interpretive programs and trails featuring likely remnants of an ancient Gulf of Mexico shoreline are among the park's other highlights. For additional information, call (870) 685-2748 or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

BLUFF CITY -- Tucked away in a sparsely populated section of the forested, rolling terrain of southwestern Arkansas, White Oak Lake State Park enjoys a relatively low profile. Bluff City, about two miles away, has "don't blink" written all over it. Camden, the closest town of more than 10,000 people, is 20 miles to the southeast.

Even with "homes" mostly on wheels, a full campground makes the park the most populous settlement within a considerable area. And, it has the charms of a small town: adults coming together outside for leisurely chats and kids exploring on their bikes.

"It's out of the way," Ron Salley, the park's superintendent, said recently, "but people love it when they come here."

As might be expected at a lakeside state park, fishing is a main attraction. Built by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in 1961, White Oak Lake produced in 1985 a state-record channel catfish weighing 22 pounds, 14 ounces. Crappie up to three pounds, bream up to one-and-a-half pounds and largemouth bass exceeding eight pounds have also been taken from the lake, which is actually two impoundments with a single name.

The park's 725 acres are located along the 1,735-acre lower lake, which lies north of Ark. 387. The 1,031-acre upper lake lies south of the highway. Both offer fish an abundance of structure and cover, including dead timber, cypress trees, riprap, lily pads, points, islands and submerged creek channels.

The Game and Fish Commission is now managing the lower lake to produce trophy largemouths and has instituted for the species a 15-21 inch slot restriction and a daily limit of four, only one of which may exceed 21 inches.

The park sports a fishing pier accessible to persons with handicaps and also accommodates anglers by selling licenses, bait and other fishing supplies year round and by renting fishing boats with and without motors. Also available for rent are canoes, pedal boats, water bikes and a party barge.

While Salley described the fishing as "very good," he became especially enthusiastic relating that White Oak has twice been named Arkansas's "most hospitable" state park, including last year.

"Our philosophy is," Salley explained, "that our visitors have planned maybe a whole year for a vacation and they chose us. So, we want to make sure that when they leave here they are going to think they chose right because of what we do.

"We are going to ensure that they are safe, that the park is clean and attractive, and that their kids can go out and everybody in the park, from uniformed employees to maintenance people, are looking out for them. We are going to be friendly and open to suggestions and do whatever we can to make their stay the most pleasant it can be."

Salley pointed with pride to his park's recently renovated campground and day-use area and its new playground. "Amendment 75 [the state's one-eighth cent conservation tax] has allowed us to be the only state park to totally create a new campground by refurbishing it from top to bottom, replacing all the wiring, all the roads, all the furnishings," Salley said. "It has a totally new look that people love." The improvements have enabled the park to better serve large camping trailers and motor homes.

When the park reopened in June 2000 after being closed for a year due to the construction, some visitors found the campground's new electrical system wasn't working properly. "We want everybody to know," Salley said, "that those problems have been fixed."

For nature lovers, the park's three woodland trails contain a major surprise. In the beds of small stream courses and beneath the decaying leaves and pine straw on the forest floor lies nearly white sand, likely left there as the Gulf of Mexico retreated southward across Arkansas between 40 and 60 million years ago. Individual brochures highlighting the trails' natural features are available in the park's visitors center, as is a pamphlet on the mammals inhabiting the park.

The trails and the area's fish and wildlife can also be explored by means of an interactive video exhibit in the visitors center. Another center exhibit surveys the Civil War offensive known as the Red River Campaign, the Union Army’s 1864 incursion into Southwest Arkansas. Poison Springs Historic State Park, located just eight miles from White Oak, preserves and interprets a campaign battlefield.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a park interpreter conducts nature and recreation programs for White Oak visitors. Major special events scheduled for this year include a fishing derby for kids, senior citizens and persons with disabilities on June 8; Fun Day on July 13 with recreational games including water bike races; and Good News by the Lake on October 5, featuring performances by gospel music groups, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, food vendors, activities for children and scenic lake cruises.

Salley said White Oak draws about 70,000 visitors a year and enjoys strong local support, as evidenced by contributions to the park from the group White Oak Lake Friends (WOLF) and by use of the park's pavilion for area special events, including family reunions.

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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"