Arkansas State Parks’ Renovation and Reopening of Former USDA Forest Service Campground Marks Initial Step to Enhance Outdoor Recreational Opportunities in the St. Francis National Forest
(Marianna) -- Through a Special Use Permit from the USDA Forest Service, Arkansas State Parks is developing Mississippi River State Park in phases at several sites within the St. Francis National Forest, according to State Parks Director Greg Butts. The 22,600-acre national forest stretches along Crowley's Ridge and borders the Mississippi River. The new state park will eventually encompass 536 acres, or approximately 2.4 percent of the forest's acreage. Major locations within the forest targeted for state park facilities include the Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area, the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi rivers, and the Storm Creek Lake Recreation Area. Phase I development at the Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area is well underway with the total renovation and reopening of Beech Point Campground on Bear Creek Lake near Marianna. Accessed from Ark. 44 and situated on a wooded peninsula in the lake, this former Forest Service campground now features 14 Class AAA campsites with water/electric/sewer hookups and three walk-in tent sites.
Each paved site includes an adjacent, extended hardened living area with picnic table, grill, lantern hanger, and tent pad. A new barrier-free bathhouse is centrally located. Improvements to the campground also include the access road and all utilities including new water and wastewater treatment and distribution systems. Two courtesy docks provide boaters with easy access to the lake.
Township Builders, Inc. of Little Rock served as contractor for $1,831,332 campground renovation project. The design consultant was the Cromwell Firm of Little Rock, the architectural/engineering firm selected to design the overall utility infrastructure plan and Phase I development. The project was funded by Amendment 75, Arkansas's Conservation Fund.
Adjacent to the campground is a Day-use area also slated for renovation that includes picnic sites, a fishing pier, and swimming area. A boat launch ramp is located nearby.
Park Superintendent John Morrow said, "The opening of this campground is the first significant step in the process of improving recreational access to the St Francis National Forest. The end result was definitely worth the wait. We are very proud to have one the finest campgrounds in the state located here at Mississippi River State Park." He continued, "This campground will increase the awareness of the St. Francis National Forest as a travel destination, and along with it Mississippi River State Park, Lee County and the surrounding region, too."
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 Greg Butts, "Arkansas State Parks is currently experiencing one of the most exciting stages in its history. The development of Mississippi River State Park in eastern Arkansas, today's reality born from an idea in the late 1960s, is an important part of this." He noted, "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 emphasized 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 done 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 how government can share resources and save tax dollars," he said.
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.
For further information, contact: John Morrow, park superintendent, Mississippi River State Park, 2677 Highway 44, Marianna, AR 72360, phone: 870-295-4040; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org