Construction of the Mississippi River State Park Visitor Center is Underway

For Immediate Release

(MARIANNA, Ark.)--Work is underway on the construction of a visitor center at Mississippi River State Park, according to Stan Graves, manager of Planning and Development for Arkansas State Parks. The building site is approximately three miles southeast of Marianna. The visitor center is slated to be completed in spring 2013.

The $4,907,000 construction project will include a 9,658-square-foot main building and a 2,550-square-foot multi-purpose building. The project is being funded by Amendment 75, Arkansas’s Conservation Amendment. The contractor is C&M Builders, Inc. of Southaven, Mississippi. Cromwell Architects Engineers of Little Rock is the design consultant.

The visitor center will include interpretive exhibits which are currently in design phase by Academy Studios of Novato, California.

Mississippi River State Park is one of 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Through a special use permit from the USDA Forest Service (USDAFS), Arkansas State Parks (ASP) is developing the park within the St. Francis National Forest in eastern Arkansas. This is the only national forest and Arkansas state park that touch the Mississippi River.

The visitor center, to be operated jointly by Arkansas State Parks and USDA Forest Service staff, will serve as an interpretive center for the both the state park and the national forest.

The building is designed to be environmentally friendly utilizing building materials from the region as much as is practical. The heating and cooling system will include geothermal heat pumps to reduce energy consumption. Native plants will be utilized in the landscaping, and an underground cistern will retain rainwater for all landscape irrigation.

Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts said, “This partnership between the federal government and the State of Arkansas working together at Mississippi River State Park will be an exemplary example of how government can share resources and save tax dollars.”

Ozark-St. Francis National Forests Forest Supervisor Judith Henry said, “Our staffs will uniquely work side-by-side, 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.”

Administration/Visitor Reception

Mississippi River State Park, like Mount Magazine State Park in the Magazine Ranger District of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, represents a partnership between the USDAFS and ASP. This partnership will be visually apparent at the Mississippi River State Park visitor center as visitors enter the building’s lobby. A large reception desk will provide space for personnel from both government agencies to serve visitors. Separate administrative offices for employees of the two government agencies will be housed in the building, and conference space will be included that can be shared.

Multi-Purpose Building

Information and education will be a primary focus of the new facility. A separate multi-purpose building within the complex will support the development and delivery of educational programs designed to inform visitors and school groups about the natural and cultural resources within the St. Francis National Forest and to relate these resources to those found in the surrounding region and the rest of Arkansas. This multi-purpose building will include a meeting room with classroom seating for 30 persons, barrier-free restrooms, and a catering kitchen.

Exhibit Gallery

The visitor center will house exhibits interpreting the natural, cultural, and historic resources of Mississippi River State Park and the St. Francis National Forest. Interactive components and realistic representations of wildlife, geologic features, and other natural elements will be featured. Most of the exhibits will be located within a large gallery and connecting hallways.

Retail Sales

Park visitors will have the opportunity to purchase souvenirs and educational materials from a sales area and reception counter.

Site Components

Site work associated with the building will include visitor parking, staff parking, RV parking, and a school bus unloading area. The site will be landscaped with plants indigenous to the area. A barrier-free walking trail will be developed to be used to support the interpretive programs offered at the visitor center. This approximately three-quarter-mile looped trail will include wayside exhibits and barrier-free access to a fishing pond known locally as the Ranger Pond.

Mississippi River State Park

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. 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. The total park development cost is estimated to total approximately $23 million.

Phase I park development totaling $1,831,332 that encompassed the total renovation of the Beech Point Campground in the Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area near Marianna was completed by Arkansas State Parks last fall. Accessed from Hwy. 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.

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 USDA Forest Service.

For further information, contact: Stan Graves, manager of Planning and Development, Arkansas State Parks, 1 Capitol Mall, phone: 501-682-1633, e-mail: stan.graves@arkansas.gov.

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