Petit Jean State Park Offers Numerous Activities Amid Natural Beauty

Article follows the photos:
Petit Jean State Park
Petit Jean State Park
Lake Bailey, Petit Jean State Park
Lake Bailey, Petit Jean State Park
Bear Cave, Petit Jean State Park
Bear Cave, Petit Jean State Park
Gravesite believed to be Petit Jean's
Gravesite believed to be Petit Jean's
June 13, 2000


Petit Jean State Park Offers
Numerous Activities Amid Natural Beauty

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

Morrilton, Ark. -- "This is the prettiest place I've seen. I remember the feeling I had coming here as a child, and feel like that kid again when I'm here," says a Texas visitor. Nearby, a typically talkative youngster peers out over the river valley and can only muster a breathless "wow." Petit Jean is a state park paradise.

Arkansas's first state park, constructed in 1933, Petit Jean lies in a unique area between the Ozark and Ouachita Mountain ranges in west central Arkansas. Situated on Petit Jean Mountain, the park encompasses 2,658 acres of rare natural beauty. Thick woods, ravines, streams, springs, spectacular views and interesting geological formations are preserved almost as French explorers found them 300 years ago.

Interpretive Services

The Visitor Center provides interpretive exhibits and brochures on the park's history and environment. During the summer, park interpreters provide guided hikes, nature talks and workshops plus evening programs at the outdoor amphitheater.

Hiking

The park trails system provides 20 miles of interconnected trails and some of the most beautiful scenery in Arkansas. Trails range in length from one-quarter mile to 12 miles.

These hikes are not simply walks in the woods. They are discovery. One can visit a cabin constructed in 1853 by slaves and tenant farmers, or walk on stone steps cut and laid in the 1930s by men using only hand tools and teams of mules. These hard working men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) made a wage of only a dollar a day.

The park's unique "carpet rock" formed when crisscrossed fractures in sandstone were filled by quartz cement. Since quartz is very resistant to weather and erosion, the filled fracture lines now stand out in relief like a man-made pattern imprinted in the boulder's surface. Equally intriguing are the huge "turtle rocks," which appear to be just what their name implies.

Just as flowing water over countless centuries has worked to carve the valleys, so has lichen, living on the surface of bare rocks and producing acidic secretions, dissolved rock and created fissures, eventually breaking larger stones into smaller ones.

Wildlife watchers can observe mink, kingfishers, herons and raccoons foraging the creeks for meals, which might include fish, frogs, crayfish and mussels.

Birding enthusiasts frequent the park to see the Double-Crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Ring-Necked Duck, Bald Eagle, Wild Turkey, Spotted Sandpiper, Pileated Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee or Golden-Crowned Kinglet. Field checklists are provided by the park.

The park drew its name from the legend of a young French girl who disguised herself as a cabin boy so she could secretly accompany her fiance to the "New World." Petit Jean, or "Little John," became fatally ill and requested to be buried on the mountain. Many believe she is in fact buried at a point overlooking the Arkansas River Valley. The "gravesite" is one of the most popular sites to visit at the park. The spirit of Petit Jean is said to hover over the mountain, giving it an air of strange enchantment.

As Petit Jean State Park reveals its history, legend and nature, it also provides peaceful and serene venues.

Lush tree canopies provide shelter for plants such as wild hydrangeas, violets, mosses, ferns and liverworts. Running water along Cedar Creek Self-Guided Trail cuts creek beds ever deeper. A 94-foot waterfall gives hikers along Cedar Falls Trail a refreshing spray, while Cedar Falls Overlook provides a magnificent view of the falls from above.

Other natural attractions at the park include Rock House Cave, Bear Cave, and a natural bridge along Seven Hollows Trail. The hollows helped to inspire those who wanted to preserve the area as a state park. Sunsets over the river valley are spectacular from Palisades Overlook.

Mary Ann Richter Overlook provides a scenic view of the peaks of Mt. Nebo, Mt. Magazine and of Dardanelle Rock on the south bank of the Arkansas River. The flatlands visible in the distance include Carden Bottoms and Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge.

The CCC Overlook, providing a view of Petit Jean River to the west, gives visitors an opportunity to watch Black and Turkey vultures as they frequent the windy bluffs and roost on the sheer canyon walls below.

Accommodations

The park contains 127 individual campsites, including 39-pull-thru sites. All offer water and electrical hookups. Twenty-four sites may be reserved year-round. Sites are divided into four areas, with a bathhouse in each.

Also a 50-unit rally-style camping area is available for camping clubs. A reservable group camp area is available for tent camping only, April to October.

For those who don't own camping equipment, a Rent-A-Camp package is available March through November. It includes a tent, mats, stove and other camping gear. Another exciting option is the Rent-A-Teepee. That site also comes with a canoe for exploring one of the two lakes at Petit Jean -- Lake Bailey and Lake Roosevelt.

For those not interested in "roughing it," the park offers 20 fully equipped housekeeping cabins, nine rustic and five duplex cabins and one honeymoon cabin with a hot tub. Cabins include all-electric kitchens with cooking utensils and tableware. Linens are provided and cabins are heated and air-conditioned for year-round comfort. Some sleep up to six people. There are also six duplex cabins without kitchens. All have fireplaces for seasonal use.

Overlooking the Arkansas River Valley, Mather Lodge offers 24 guestrooms (six doubles and 18 singles). Whether for a weekend vacation or a business conference, the lodge complex provides a variety of facilities such as a swimming pool and gift shop. Mather Lodge also offers a full service restaurant. The rustic stone and wood lodge is also a CCC structure.

Recreation

From fishing on Lake Bailey or Lake Roosevelt (man-made and stocked annually), to an afternoon softball game on the playing field, there's plenty to do at Petit Jean. During the summer, fishing boats can be rented at the Boathouse, which also has a snack area and game room. Pedal boats are popular for peaceful trips on the lake or as entertainment for children.

Another swimming pool, separate from the one for lodge guests, is available for campers, along with playgrounds and a tennis court.

The park offers special events each year, including a Swap Meet and Auto Fair in June, Fun and Games Day on July 4, Fall Senior American Special in October, a Christmastime Open House and December Elderhostel, Eagle Awareness in January and Wildflower Weekend in April.

Amendment 75 Improvements

New overlooks at Cedar Falls and the Petit Jean Gravesite, as well as improvements at the Visitor Information Center and to the Mather Lodge parking lot, are currently being constructed, with ADA accessibility. The large boardwalks are designed to fit nicely into the natural surroundings. Funding for new construction comes from Amendment 75, also known as the Conservation Amendment. Arkansas voters, in 1996, authorized a one-eighth of one-cent sales tax to go to four state conservation agencies to help protect and manage Arkansas's conservation lands and historic resources.

Other Facilities

Picnic and grocery supplies, firewood, horseback riding and arts and crafts shops are located near the park. Some facilities are open seasonally only. The Petit Jean Airport is open to daytime flying only. No services are provided and shuttle service to the park is available for a fee.

The Museum of Automobiles is a sure stop for automobile lovers. Numerous privately owned antique and classic autos from the U.S. and abroad are displayed. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and a small admission fee is charged.

Directions

Take Hwy. 9 (Exit 109) off 1-40 at Morrilton south nine miles to Oppelo. Then head west 12 miles on Hwy. 154 to the park; or, take Hwy. 7 off I-40 (south); or, off I-30 (north) to Centerville, then east 16 miles on Hwy. 154 to the park; or, take Hwy. 155 (north) from Hwy. 10 at Casa.

For lodge and cabin reservations contact: Mather Lodge, 1069 Hwy. 154 Morrilton, AR 72110, 1-800-264-2462. For further information on park hours, fees and programs contact: Petit Jean State Park, 1285 Petit Jean Mtn. Road, Morrilton AR 72110, (501) 727-5441. For more information on this and other state parks, visit www.ArkansasStateParks.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"