FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Joan Ellison, Arkansas State Parks
May 6, 2013 501-682-2873 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Tracy Farley, U.S. Forest Service
479-964-7232 / email@example.com
DEDICATION OF MISSISSIPPI RIVER STATE PARK AND GRAND OPENING OF THE PARK VISITOR CENTER SLATED FOR MAY 16 AT 11:00 A.M.
Mississippi River State Park is Being Developed by Arkansas State Parks In Phases at Several Locations Within the St. Francis National Forest Through a Special Use Permit From the U.S. Forest Service
(MARIANNA, Ark.)-Arkansas State Parks and U.S. Forest Service officials will take part in the dedication ceremony for Mississippi River State Park near Marianna on Thursday, May 16 at 11:00 a.m. The event will also mark the grand opening of the park’s visitor center, a 12,208-square-foot information and education facility that will be staffed by both Arkansas State Parks and U.S. Forest Service employees to serve as an information and interpretive center for the state park and the St. Francis National Forest. The ceremony will be held at the park visitor center which is on Ark. 44 three miles southeast of Marianna. The public is invited.
Offering remarks will be Cindy Smith of McGehee, chairman of the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission; Richard W. Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts; John Morrow, park superintendent for Mississippi River State Park; Terry Krasko, Planning and Public Services staff officer, Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, U.S. Forest Service; and Jim McCoy, district ranger, Sylamore and St. Francis Ranger Districts of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, U.S. Forest Service.
Mississippi River State Park is one of 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. In 1966, during former Governor Orval Faubus’ administration, this area was proposed as a state park, but the idea was dropped due to lack of funding. The park was authorized by Act 859 of 1973. Through the years, Arkansas State Parks studied various sites along the Mississippi River, the nation’s second longest river. On May 20, 1999, the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission voted to partner with the U.S. Forest Service for a state park to be developed within the St. Francis National Forest through a special use permit from the Forest Service.
Several separate sites in the national forest will comprise the state park, including the Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area, the Horner’s Neck Lake Access, the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi Rivers, and the Storm Creek Lake Recreation Area. Arkansas State Parks’ development of Mississippi River State Park will be phased over the next several years. The total development cost is estimated at $23 million. As Arkansas State Parks facilities are developed at all these former U.S. Forest Service sites, the state park will eventually encompass 536 acres, or approximately 2.4 percent of the forest’s acreage. The 22,600-acre St. Francis National Forest stretches along Crowley’s Ridge and borders the Mississippi River.
Phase I development of the state park included improvements at the Beech Point Campground in the Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area; the construction of the park visitor center, a park residence, and a barrier-free trail; and improvements in the Day-use Area. It will also include the construction of an enclosed pavilion with barrier-free restrooms to include access, parking, and utilities at the Storm Creek Lake Recreation Area. The total cost of Phase I development is estimated at $8 million, monies funded by Amendment 75, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a National Scenic Byways Program grant.
Of the Phase I total, $1,644,566 was directed towards the total renovation of the Beech Point Campground near Marianna that was completed by Arkansas State Parks last fall. The design consultant was Cromwell Architects Engineers of Little Rock. The contractor was Township Builders, Inc. of Little Rock. Accessed from Ark. 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, three walk-in tent sites, and a barrier-free bathhouse. Improvements to the campground include the access road and all utilities, new water and wastewater treatment and distribution systems. Two new courtesy docks were constructed in the campground providing boaters with easy access to the lake. Campsite reservations can be made by calling the park at: 870-295-4040.
The Day-use Area adjacent to the campground includes picnic sites, swimming, a boat ramp, and the Bear Creek Lake Nature Trail, a one-mile loop trail.
On the east side of the lake, the park’s Lone Pine Campground offers 14 primitive RV/tent sites with no hookups and vault toilets.
A variety of interpretive programs are offered in the park, including guided hikes and kayak tours.
Construction of the park visitor center began in August 2011 and was completed this spring. Cromwell Architects Engineers of Little Rock served as the design consultant. The contractor was C & M Builders of Southaven, Mississippi. Ecological Design Group, Inc. of Wynne was the landscape architect. The visitor center project, including the design fees, construction, installation of the exhibits, and the waterline to serve the facility, will total $6,829,059. The project is funded by an Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council grant, Amendment 75, a National Scenic Byways Grant from the Federal Highway Administration, and a Wildlife Observation Trails Grant from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
The visitor center features a 9,658-square-foot main building and a 2,550-square-foot multi-purpose building. A 930-square-foot exhibit gallery designed by Academy Studios of Novato, California, interprets the Delta, Crowley’s Ridge, and the Mississippi River. Discovery based and interactive, the exhibits connect visitors to the natural, cultural, and historic resources of Mississippi River State Park and the St. Francis National Forest. Realistic representations of wildlife, geologic features, and other natural elements are included. The $1,076,294 cost for the design and fabrication of the exhibits was funded by Amendment 75 and the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.
According to State Parks Director Greg Butts, “Arkansas State Parks is currently experiencing one of the most exciting stages in its history. Mississippi River State Park in eastern Arkansas, an idea that began in the late 1960s, is an important part of this.” He said, “The U.S. Forest Service, our partner in this project, will continue its role in the resource management of the forest, including timber and wildlife management, habitat improvement, wildfire suppression, and law enforcement. Arkansas State Parks will continue improving the current facilities, constructing new ones, and managing these recreational facilities, including park maintenance, park law enforcement, and interpretation/education.” Butts noted that these improvements will enhance current recreational areas that were developed by the Forest Service. “It’s a win-win situation where we will have the opportunity to enhance these popular Forest Service recreational areas that the public has experienced and enjoyed over the years.”
This federal and state partnership was first done at Mount Magazine State Park near Paris when Arkansas State Parks developed that park in the Mount Magazine Ranger District of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests atop 2,753-foot Mount Magazine. “The partnership between the federal government and the state of Arkansas at Mount Magazine has been recognized nationally as an excellent example of how government can share resources and save tax dollars,” said Butts.
Ozark-St. Francis National Forests Forest Supervisor Judith Henry said, “The partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and Arkansas State Parks should be very evident to the public when visiting Mississippi River State Park. Our staffs will uniquely work side-by-side here committed to managing these outstanding natural and recreational resources on the St. Francis National Forest and making the collective national forest and state park experience all it can be for visitors.” According to Henry, “This will be a great benefit to the local communities and area businesses, as well. It will be an opportunity for neighbors to continue enjoying the recreation opportunities on the St. Francis, while planned state park amenities may encourage new visitors to enjoy exploring this unique part of Arkansas. It is the only national forest that touches the Mississippi River.”
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 U.S. Forest Service.
HISTORY OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER STATE PARK PROJECT
In 1966, during former Governor Orval Faubus’ administration, this area was proposed as a state park, but the idea was dropped due to lack of funding. The development of Mississippi River State Park was authorized by the state of Arkansas by Act 859 of 1973. Through the years, Arkansas State Parks studied various sites along the Mississippi River. Following the passage by Arkansas voters in 1996 of the 1/8-cent conservation tax creating Amendment 75, Arkansas’s conservation amendment, Arkansas State Parks was able to look realistically at developing this state park, like others, that had been authorized, but for which there was no funding.
On May 20, 1999, the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission selected the St. Francis National Forest site for final consideration as the locale for Mississippi River State Park.
Arkansas State Parks (ASP) staff worked with U.S. Forest Service to formulate the preliminary plans for the new park. This led to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ASP and the Forest Service signed on November 22, 1999. This MOU allowed ASP and the Forest Service to work together, and with others, in order to research and write the draft Environmental Assessment (EA) report.
The EA period began with public meetings in Helena (12/13/1999) and Marianna (12/14/1999) and a 45-day comment period (12/08/1999-01/24/2000).
After the comment period, the EA Action Team consisting of staff from the Forest Service, ASP and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission formulated alternatives for the administration of the forest park. In early 2001, the draft EA was presented to the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission and the forest supervisor of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests. The EA was completed and issued for public comment on May 30, 2001. A Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact (selecting alternative #2 with modifications) was signed and issued by the forest supervisor on August 16, 2001.
Arkansas State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service worked together through the Environmental Assessment phase. The Special Use Permit/Operation-Maintenance Plan was officially signed on October 26, 2004.
Arkansas State Parks staff worked with the U.S. Forest Service to formulate plans and funding for the new park. Mississippi River State Park began operation on May 1, 2009, at the Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area.
For further information, contact: Joan Ellison, public information officer, Arkansas State Parks, 1 Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, phone: 501-682-2873, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tracy Farley, public affairs team leader for the Ozark-St. Francis and Ouachita National Forests, U.S. Forest Service, 605 West Main Street, Russellville, Arkansas 72801, phone: 479-964-7232, email: email@example.com.