Lake Ouachita State Park a Gateway to Leisure Fun
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October 17, 2000Lake Ouachita State Park
A Gateway to Leisure Fun
By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
HOT SPRINGS -- Since 1875, cool clear water has been luring people to an area in the Ouachita Mountains about 10 miles northwest of Hot Springs. They were first drawn to a blessing of nature and later to a creation bestowed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The original enticement was the reputedly curative waters commonly known as Three Sisters Springs. Adding to the springs' attraction, the 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita was created in the valleys of the Ouachita River and its tributaries after the gates of the new Blakely Mountain Dam were closed by the Corps in 1952.
By the mid-1960s, the area around the springs was being developed as Lake Ouachita State Park with the aim of preserving the historic springs while providing an eastern gateway to the largest lake contained entirely in the state. When full, the lake's surface of quiet coves and wide expanses of open water stretches some 40 miles across Garland and Montgomery Counties.
The lakeshore park, with its marina, boat ramps, seven cabins and 118 campsites, provides convenient access to an extensive range of leisure activities, both on the lake and in Hot Springs, just 15 miles away by road.
Fishing, skiing, pleasure boating, swimming, sailing, houseboating, parasailing and scuba diving are popular lake activities, while attractions such as the Oaklawn thoroughbred racetrack, Magic Springs' theme and water parks, Hot Springs National Park, the Mid-America Science Museum, a nationally renowned arts community, live music and magic shows and a host of other family-oriented attractions have made the city Arkansas's top tourist destination.
Among the property acquired by the Corps in conjunction with Lake Ouachita's construction was the site of Three Sisters Springs. John McFadden, who had homesteaded the land, asserted in 1875 that the springs' waters possessed healing powers.
By the late 1920s, the area was owned by W.M. Cecil, who built a resort offering a springhouse, cabins, picnicking and food service. Cecil's advertising claimed that although the waters contained the same minerals, the proportions differed in each spring's output. Thus, each spring was said to cure a range of different ailments, from kidney and stomach problems to insomnia and eczema. Cecil also built a bottling plant and began marketing the water nationwide as the "World's Wonder Waters."
The springs were part of 360 acres the state leased from the Corps in 1955 to create the park. Visitors still bring jugs to collect the springs' waters, even though a sign warns that they don't meet federal standards for safe drinking. Many pause to read interpretive panels relating the site's history and the health claims made for each of the springs.
More than the springs, however, it is now the lake access that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park each year. The park's full-service marina, located in one of the lake's eastern-most coves, rents slips, fishing boats and motors, party barges, personal watercraft, canoes, pedal boats, and waterbikes. It also vends gas, live bait and other fishing supplies.
For visitors bringing their own boats, two of the lake's few free launch ramps are located near the marina and one of the park's four camping areas. A sandy beach fronts the park's swimming area, where a volleyball net has been erected.
The park's seven cabins all have lake views. Five are A-frames with an upstairs loft with two double beds and a downstairs bedroom with one bed. The other two cabins have three bedrooms and fireplaces. Whirlpool baths are available in some units. The kitchens are furnished with sufficient cooking and serving utensils for six to 10 people (depending on cabin size) and towels and linens are also provided. Reservations can be made up to one year in advance.
Seventy-seven of the park's campsites have water and electric hook-ups and most offer lake views. Some sites can be reserved. Modern bathhouses with showers are conveniently located in the camping areas. Another advantage for campers in the park is that a full-time ranger provides law enforcement and emergency assistance 24 hours a day.
Sandwich and gift shops are located in the park's visitors center, as are exhibits on such topics as the game fish to be found in the lake, area geology and the lake's history. The exhibits, as well as recent bathhouse renovations, were funded through the state's Amendment 75 one-eighth-cent conservation tax.
The park contains two trails. A quarter-mile loop, the Dogwood Trail leads inland away from the lake. Signs inform hikers about the trees and wildlife found in the area.
The Caddo Bend Trail travels through a pine and hardwood forest on a peninsula jutting into the lake and leads to an observation deck with a view of the lake's expanse to the west. Other lake views appear along the way, as do lichen-covered, sandstone outcroppings and folded rock layers that are typical in the Ouachita Mountains. Since the trail is rocky in places and some 4.5 miles in length, hikers are well-advised to wear hiking footwear and to carry water with them.
Park interpreters lead guided hikes on the trails and present evening programs in the park's amphitheater. They also frequently offer lake barge tours for sunset and wildlife viewing.
Lake Ouachita harbors a sizable population of bald eagles each winter and they have become a major seasonal attraction for the park. On December 16-17, the park will host its annual Eagle Weekend, offering lake tours and programs for those interesting in seeing the birds in the wild and learning more about them.
For additional information on the park and to reserve campsites, phone (501) 767-9366. Cabin reservations can be made by calling 1-800-264-2441.
More information on the park is available on-line at www.ArkansasStateParks.com and in the free Arkansas State Parks Guide, which can be requested by calling toll-free 1-888-AT-PARKS or by visiting the web site.
To obtain information on lodging, restaurants, attractions in nearby Hot Springs and private resorts on Lake Ouachita, phone toll-free 1-800-SPA-CITY or visit www.hotsprings.org.####
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"