High Point of Arkansas Continues to Lure Pleasure Seekers

Article follows the photos:
Rock climbing and rappelling are popular at Mt. Magazine.
Rock climbing and rappelling are popular at Mt. Magazine.
Mt. Magazine is Arkansas highest point (2,753 feet).
Mt. Magazine is Arkansas highest point (2,753 feet).
Scenic vista at Mt. Magazine overlooks the Arkansas River Valley.
Scenic vista at Mt. Magazine overlooks the Arkansas River Valley.
Rappelling at Mt. Magazine.
Rappelling at Mt. Magazine.
Mt. Magazine has a diverse butterfly population.
Mt. Magazine has a diverse butterfly population.
December 13, 2002


High Point of Arkansas
Continues to Lure Pleasure Seekers

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

Arkansas's newest and 52nd state park, Mount Magazine, is located atop The Natural State's highest peak. It is best known for scenic vistas overlooking the Arkansas River Valley, hiking trails and numerous species of butterflies. The park is located off Ark. 309, about 55 miles southeast of Fort Smith and 100 miles northwest of Little Rock. For more information, call (479) 963-8502 or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

Having lured people for centuries, Mount Magazine is steeped in history that almost made inevitable the peak's future as a state park.

Rising 2,753 feet from the Arkansas River Valley, Mt. Magazine is the highest point in Arkansas. The rewards for tourists making the trek up the mountain today are much the same as they were for the pioneers who settled the summit in the 1800s: breathtaking vistas, recreational pleasures and cooler summer temperatures.

In 1900, the town of Magazine was platted on the mountain and the Skycrest Hotel was constructed on the peak's west side. As other development occurred over the years, including the notable Buckman Inn with its spring-fed swimming pool, the Skycrest became known as the "West End Hotel." Attracted to such resorts, both in-state and out-of-state visitors arrived via passenger trains that stopped at the base of the mountain.

"Since the turn of the [20th] century they were trying to make it a stop for tourists," explained Park Superintendent David Flugrad.

Historians say actress Carol Burnett's great-grandfather, F.C. Jones of Belleville, often drove a fancy surrey to the mountain. Vacationers drove cars up the rough road to the mountain's resorts. Flugrad said one of the settlers often saved the day by using his horses to tow automobiles up the steepest slopes.

The town foundered when development ceased and hotels were neglected during the Depression. Golf courses on the mountain were forgotten and trees grew up in an area that was being developed as an airstrip. The federal government acquired the mountain in 1934 under the United States Resettlement Administration and turned it over to the U.S. Forest Service.

Shortly thereafter, the Works Progress Administration began building a gravel road from Paris to Havana that stretched over the mountain. Between 1936 and 1941, the WPA constructed a lodge and restaurant, and the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed cabins, campgrounds and picnic areas. The only remaining elements from that era are campsites, stonework at scenic overlooks and picnic areas, all of which have been or will be rehabilitated. The campsites now have paved pads with water, electricity, sewer hookups and access to new restrooms with hot showers.

In an effort to recapture the glory of the mountain's earlier tourism days, Arkansas parks officials have developed a plan for the construction of a 90,000-square-foot lodge at the site of the WPA lodge, which burned in 1971. According to parks officials, the new lodge will have 60 guest rooms, a restaurant and a conference center as well as enticing amenities such as an indoor swimming pool, exercise room and gift shop.

Flugrad said an existing rock wall, a front-lawn landscape feature of the WPA lodge, would be preserved. "A lot of people really enjoy that rock wall and its history," he said.

Construction is expected to begin in 2003 or 2004. Fifteen cabins will also be built near the lodge. Other plans call for an amphitheater, a horse camp and an 1800s homestead replica intended to depict how settlers on the mountain lived.

While major projects are in the works for the park, "less than one percent of the mountaintop will be re-developed," Flugrad said. The rest will remain in its natural state.

Much of the development replaces buildings that once stood on Mt. Magazine. A new concept, though, was the addition of an 8,000-square-foot visitor center, which opened in August 2001 and features an all-glass wildlife viewing area, an audio-visual room, a gift shop and several exhibits. The exhibits include a three-dimensional map of the mountain, one reflecting the geology of the park and a weather station showing the difference between conditions on the mountain and the surrounding valley. In addition, kiosks at the center enlighten visitors about the mountain's varied ecology, butterflies, Native Americans who inhabited the area, early French and Spanish explorers, and the history of the mountain's resorts.

The mountain affords many recreational opportunities -- hiking, camping, horseback riding, rock climbing, rappelling and hang gliding. The park's main road also has bicycle lanes. The less adventurous can enjoy watching the hang gliders, stars, birds or just the scenery from the state's highest overlooks.

"We've redone Signal Hill [hiking] Trail to the high point and it's in really good shape," Flugrad said, adding that other park trails are also being improved or extended. The mountain is a flat-topped plateau rimmed by precipitous rock bluffs. On the plateau are two minor peaks: Signal Hill, the highest, and Mossback Ridge, which rises to about 2,700 feet.

Magazine is often said to be the highest point between the Rockies and the Alleghenies. But in reality, higher elevations are found in western Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. Magazine's drastic elevation change -- roughly 2,200 feet between its summit and the surrounding valleys -- produces great views and makes it one of the most prominent peaks in mid-America.

From the north, vistas overlook the Arkansas River Valley, the town of Paris and the distant Boston Mountains, which make up the southernmost escarpment of the Ozark Mountains. Hawks and vultures can often be seen riding the air currents at the mountain's edge, and hang gliders watch the birds to locate the rising air currents they also seek.

From the south rim, numerous peaks of the Ouachita Mountains lie beyond the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. The towns of Havana and Danville can be seen to the southeast.

The average annual temperature at Mt. Magazine is six degrees cooler on the summit than in surrounding areas, and summer temperatures are frequently 10 to 15 degrees cooler than those in the valleys.

The mountain's isolation, climate and geology contribute to its variety of flora and fauna, and create a wide range of habitats within a small area.

Rock streams, unique geologic features found in few places in the state, provide habitat for the threatened Magazine Mountain shagreen snail. And the rufous-crowned sparrow, listed as a rare species in Arkansas, nests in a grassland-like area. Mt. Magazine also has a diverse butterfly population. More than 90 of the 126 species found in Arkansas inhabit the mountain. An international festival each June celebrates the butterflies. (Visit www.butterflyfestival.com).

There are black bear and white-tailed deer on Mt. Magazine, which is also home to many other wildlife species, including bats, eastern wild turkeys, northern bobwhite quail, bobcats and coyotes.

"What's great about Magazine," Flugrad said, "is that once you're out on one of the hiking trails -- or even at one of the overlooks -- you'll often find a lot more wildlife than people."

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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"