History Enriches Natural Beauty at Beaver Lake State Park

Article follows the photos:
Sunset over Beaver Lake State Park
Sunset over Beaver Lake State Park
Fishing on Beaver Lake
Fishing on Beaver Lake
October 22, 2002

Note to Editor: In January of 2003, Beaver Lake State Park changed its name to Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area.


History Enriches Natural
Beauty at Beaver Lake State Park

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By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Arkansas's 41st state park, Beaver Lake, is part of the largely undeveloped 11,744-acre Hobbs State Management Area in northwest Arkansas. The park features hiking trails, five tent camping sites and interpretive programs. Future plans call for a visitors center, cabins and more. There is also a firing range (closed for improvements) at the park, which is the only one in the system where seasonal and regulated hunting is allowed. Beaver Lake State Park is located 10 miles east of Rogers on Ark. 12. For more information, call (479) 789-2380 or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

Those who think Beaver Lake State Park is only for outdoor activities such as hiking and hunting, know only half the story. Underneath its diverse layers of natural beauty is a history that encompasses the first lumber king of northwest Arkansas, a crossroads during the Civil War and the Forbes family of Forbes Magazine. A groundbreaking this winter for facilities and trails will soon tie together the natural and historical elements of the park.

Beaver Lake State Park Today

The state park (2,039 acres) is situated within the 11,744-acre Hobbs State Management Area that includes 22 miles of shoreline along Beaver Lake. All of the property is owned by Arkansas State Parks, but the HSMA is co-managed by Arkansas State Parks, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Together, the park and HSMA make up the largest park in the system based on land mass.

Dissected by Ark. 12, HSMA, referred to by locals as "Hobbs," is a natural area with little development. This Ozark landscape consists of plateaus, ridges, valleys and streams sheltered by a pine, oak and hickory mix. Caves also dot the limestone-rich property, but Park Superintendent Mark Clippinger said they are not safe for exploration because they have small openings and often flood.

At the park today are two hiking trails, five campsites, a public firing range and undeveloped access to the 28,000-acre lake.

"But the number-one use on the property today is hunting," Clippinger said. "This is the only state park we allow hunting in."

Clippinger said many hunters refine their marksmanship at the park's free firing range, which is currently closed as the berm height is raised from 10 to 26 feet. The handicap accessible range, which has restrooms and five shooting stations, will re-open in late October.

Hikers also have plenty of room to explore at Beaver Lake. The longest of the park's trails is the Pigeon's Roost Trail at eight and a half miles. Along its figure eight design are five free-of-charge campsites with one to five tent pads on each. Clippinger said the trail is perfect for a short day hike or as a beginner's backpacking trail.

Shaddox Hollow Trail is a 1.5-mile loop that takes hikers through a variety of classic Ozark plateaus. "We use it primarily as our educational loop trail," Clippinger explained, referring to school group tours. "Education is pretty important to us, and it's going to be more important in the future."

Development planned for the park emphasizes his point. The first phase of development will begin this winter with construction of a 17,000-square-foot visitors center, a maintenance facility and a trail to a historic area of the park. All three projects in the first phase will be funded by Amendment 75, also known as the Conservation Amendment. Arkansas voters in 1996 authorized a one-eighth-cent sales tax that funds four state agencies that help protect and manage Arkansas's conservation lands and historic resources.

The visitors center will feature a wildlife viewing area, an exhibit gallery and two classrooms. Future plans call for a "mock" cave environment that visitors will see from an elevator descending to the center's lower level.

Park planners hope to showcase a historic area of the park via a proposed walking trail that will pass through the Little Clifty Creek portion of the park, tunnel under Ark. 12, and lead to remnants of a sawmill and an antebellum garden once owned by Peter Van Winkle during the 19th century.

Hobbs' Historic Roots

Beginning in the 1840s and continuing throughout his life, Van Winkle acquired vast amounts of land throughout Washington, Benton, Madison and Carroll counties by filing for land patents and buying foreclosed land.

Drawn to southeast Benton County's large supply of pine trees, Van Winkle became the first lumber king of the area. He built and operated one of the state's largest sawmills and supplied the lumber for most of the Victorian houses still seen today from Eureka Springs to Fayetteville and Bentonville. Van Winkle also provided timber for Old Main at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Because there were intersecting roads on Van Winkle's developed property, "he had thousands of troops right in front of his house," Park Interpreter Steve Chyrchel said. Confederate and Union forces marched through Van Winkle Hollow and on to encounters at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Shelby's Raid on Missouri and others. At some point during the war, Van Winkle's mill and first house burned. In 1872 he rebuilt his home on the same site.

Ironically, Van Winkle's heirs lost much of the property in the same manner it was acquired, through foreclosure. In 1928, Roscoe Hobbs purchased some of the Van Winkle land and used second-growth timbers to supply his railroad tie and timber company. In the 1940s, he bought the remainder of the Van Winkle estate. After Hobbs' death, Harvey and Bernice Jones purchased in 1969 the Van Winkle house and used its disassembled materials to build a centerpiece at their Oklahoma public resort. The Jones' are well known throughout northwest Arkansas for establishing Jones Truck Lines and for their charitable community contributions.

Unlike Van Winkle, Hobbs was a conservationist who selectively harvested timber and opposed clear cutting and the use of herbicides, Chyrchel said. When Hobbs died in 1965, he willed the first option to purchase the Hobbs Estate to the state. Insufficient funds kept state officials from acting immediately, which caused interest among others. One of at least 30 prospective buyers, the Forbes family, who publishes and owns Forbes magazine, made an offer, but it was rejected because it was less than the asking price. After negotiations with a California developer failed, county and state officials began a serious campaign to buy the land. They succeeded in 1979.

Over the past couple of years, archeological digs conducted by the University of Arkansas have unearthed several of the features that were part of Van Winkle's property -- slave quarters, a blacksmith shop, a slave graveyard, a mill site, the Van Winkle house site, 19th-century dump sites and a raised garden.

Historical preservation is only part of the park's mission, though. Park staff members work diligently toward resource management and inventory of vegetation and wildlife. In addition, biology and science students at Northwest Arkansas Community College have worked on several research projects, including water quality monitoring.

Because of its resources -- abundant wildlife, a fragile limestone environment, a large lake and a thick forest -- Beaver Lake State Park has all the makings for a "Natural State" park. But, the underlying historical elements of the property make today’s exploration of the area all the more interesting.

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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"