Crowley's Ridge Parks Explore History, Offer Fun

Article follows the photos:
Early days at Crowley's Ridge
Early days at Crowley's Ridge
Crowley's Ridge State Park
Crowley's Ridge State Park
Barrier Free fishing pier, Crowley's Ridge
Barrier Free fishing pier, Crowley's Ridge
CCC structure, Crowley's Ridge State Park
CCC structure, Crowley's Ridge State Park
April 25, 2000


Crowley's Ridge Parks
Explore History, Offer Fun

*****
By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

When Benjamin Crowley established a pioneer homestead on the nearest high ground to his Arkansas delta land grant in the 1820s, he had no idea that the move would make his name live on in history.

Sometime during the early years of Arkansas statehood, people started referring to the strange "highlands" in the delta as Crowley's Ridge, in honor of its best-known resident. The name stuck, and almost a century later (1933) the state preserved the Crowley family's original homestead as a state park.

In 1973, nearby Lake Frierson State Park was added to the state system and the "ridge" parks have complemented each other well while hosting thousands of travelers along Hwy. 141, north of Jonesboro.

Since recorded time, people have been drawn to Crowley's Ridge as a place of solitude and recreation. Created by water, wind and glacier action over the past 50 million years, the ridge is a series of tree-covered rolling hills stretching 200 miles, north to south, in the midst of the great eastern Arkansas delta. The ridge continues into southeastern Missouri, and geologists proclaim it one of the great natural oddities of the world.

Located 15 miles north of Jonesboro, Crowley's Ridge State Park was dedicated on June 4, 1938, after more than four years of construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Several CCC structures remain as vital park components and they were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

The original Crowley home, which served as the first Greene County courthouse in 1833, was razed long before the park was established. The only reminder of that era is a tiny cemetery that also marks the site of Rev. Isaac Brookfield's pioneer Methodist Church, which occupied a spot near the Crowley's home. Among those buried there is Benjamin Crowley, who died in 1842 at age 84.

The Crowley homestead, with its free-flowing spring, served as a gathering place and summer campgrounds throughout its history. When the state started selecting lands for public parks during the Great Depression, area residents naturally thought of Crowley's homesite as their choice.

In late 1933, the first of three CCC companies occupied the property and started park construction. Over the next four years the young workers built several miles of roads, foot trails, bridges, cabins, pavilions, a bathhouse, picnic sites, campgrounds, an amphitheater and a recreational lake.

The large two-story bathhouse, constructed of massive stones and cypress logs, has always been a focal point of the park. The dance/recreational pavilion, snack bar and dressing rooms of the rustic CCC structure continue to serve as a backdrop for the popular spring-fed swimming lake. A sandy beach, playground, volleyball court and new water slide occupy one section of the lakeshore, while pedal boats and water bikes are offered in another area.

Thanks to the state's conservation fund, through Amendment 75, the park's dock facilities at the swimming lake have been completely renovated in a style keeping with the CCC theme. The fund has also helped with paving projects in the park, part of an ongoing improvement program at this and the other 50 state parks in Arkansas.

Other Crowley's Ridge park facilities include two modern duplex housekeeping cabins with fireplaces. The four units are nestled in the trees a short walk from the swimming lake and marina. Five group cabins, near the park's 30-acre fishing lake, can accommodate groups of up to 60 people. A large, well-equipped kitchen and dining hall complement this group use area, plus a barrier-free fishing pier and large pavilion are also located in the secluded area of the park.

Year-round camping is offered with 18 RV-type campsites, a modern bathhouse, eight tent sites and picnic areas. Interpretive programs, such as guided hikes along the park's four nature trails, demonstrations and nature talks, are presented throughout the year. A colorful wildflower preserve, courtesy of the Greene County Master Gardener's Club, was started in 1999 at the park's entrance and around the visitor center, just inside the park.

Annual events include the Easter Jubilee, Memorial Day Sock Hop and Antique Car Show, Father's Day Treasure Hunt, July Fourth on the Ridge, End of Summer Bash, Great Arkansas Clean-up, Bluegrass Weekend, Bats Unlimited Weekend, and Christmas Bird Count. For dates and information on any of the events or park facilities, call (870) 573-6751; for cabin reservations, call 1-800-264-2405.

Lake Frierson, five miles south of Crowley's Ridge State Park, covers 350 acres and is managed by the state Game and Fish Commission. The state park is situated on the eastern shore, just off Hwy. 141.

Constructed as a U.S. Soil Conservation Service project, the lake is well known for its bass, bream, catfish and crappie fishing. It is also famous for its natural shoreline beauty with a profusion of wild dogwoods in the spring and panorama of colorful leaves in autumn.

Facilities include tree-shaded picnic sites, seven camping sites with tables and grills (four with water/electric), pavilion, playground, boat rentals, launch ramp, barrier-free fishing pier and visitor center. Dogwood Lane is a self-guided interpretive trail divided into two sections. The main trail is just over one-half mile, and the second section adds an additional one-eighth mile to the hike. The trailhead starts at a parking area along the road to the picnic areas. Trail guide materials are available at the visitor center.

New projects at Lake Frierson, either completed or scheduled, include new restrooms and paving projects, plus a multi-purpose pavilion designed for group use and educational programs.

Top annual events at Lake Frierson include Fun Days on Saturday prior to Memorial Day (free games and contests for all ages, paddleboat races and family-fun activities), and Halloween in the Park (with safe family events on Saturday prior to Halloween.) For more information about the park and events, call (870) 932-2615. Internet users may visit: www.ArkansasStateParks.com or www.Arkansas.com for additional information.

Both parks are situated along the newly designated Crowley's Ridge Parkway, a national scenic byway which extends some 200 miles along the ridge from near Piggott, in extreme northeast Arkansas, to Helena on the Mississippi River. For information about the parkway, call (870) 910-8080; or visit their website: www.deltabyways.com.

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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"