Pinnacle Mountain State Park Showcases Nature's Variety
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December 19, 2000Pinnacle Mountain State
Park Showcases Nature's Variety
By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
LITTLE ROCK -- Hikers atop Pinnacle Mountain on Little Rock's western edge enjoy one of Arkansas's most spectacular vistas, but they are sometimes taken aback by close encounters with the naked heads and bulging eyes of soaring turkey vultures.
Less than a half mile away, majestic bald cypresses more than five centuries old stand beside the Little Maumelle River. One, still living, has a hollow trunk with ample room to stand inside. Though cypresses are normally associated with lowlands of still water and deep soils, here the water often gurgles through their knees and rocks are visible in the streambed.
Though a close proximity of mountains and cypresses is rare, the 1,011-foot peak and the aged cypresses are both found within the 2,000 acres of Pinnacle Mountain State Park, which was created in the mid-1970s with funding provided in part by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department. The department agreed with state and local officials that, given the likelihood Little Rock would expand westward, the need to preserve the naturally diverse site as a park was urgent.
Now the park lies in a rapidly developing section of Arkansas's largest metropolitan area and has an annual visitation of approximately 500,000. Yet, Randy Frazier, the park's superintendent for the past 20 years, feels the park's potential remains somewhat untapped.
By far the most widely used parts of the park are the mountain and a day-use area on its west side, Frazier said recently. "If you asked the average visitors, 80 percent of them think that Pinnacle Mountain State Park is that picnic area and the mountain."
"If you named the most recognizable pieces of Arkansas's landscape," he added, "Pinnacle Mountain would have to rank in the top ten. But having a mountain that's recognizable is way different from having a park that's recognizable, witness that the visitors center is not easily stumbled across. We are also understated, I think, with regards to the environmental education that we do."
Most visitors arrive at the park by taking Ark. 300 north from Ark. 10 about seven miles west of its junction with I-430 in northwest Little Rock. The route leads directly past the day-use area. A mile farther north on Ark. 300 is its junction with Pinnacle Valley Road, which traverses a more remote section of the park.
Accessed via Pinnacle Valley are park assets most visitors miss: the visitors center, the Arkansas Arboretum, an environmental education pond, and a paved boat ramp and a barrier-free fishing pier on the Big Maumelle River.
The popularity of the day-use area is understandable. It includes numerous shaded picnic tables, a well-equipped playground, a large grassy area for recreational games, a pavilion available for rental, a boat ramp onto the Little Maumelle, and restrooms and vending machines.
Trailheads for two of the park's most popular trails adjoin the area. The pavement of the level, half-mile Kingfisher Trail leads through woods to the Little Maumelle and its giant cypresses. It is favored by birdwatchers, particularly during spring migration.
The West Summit Trail travels three quarters of a mile from the picnic area to the top of Pinnacle Mountain and a view that includes Lakes Maumelle and Conway, the upper floors of Little Rock's skyscrapers, features of the broad Arkansas River valley such as Murray Lock and Dam and the walls of Big Rock Quarry, and numerous distant peaks of the Ouachita Mountains. On clear days, Petit Jean Mountain can be seen though it is more than 35 miles northwest.
For the more adventurous, the East Summit Trail ascends the peak beginning from a parking lot off Pinnacle Valley Road. The trail's ascent is somewhat difficult, crossing an extensive boulder field at a steep angle. Rugged footwear providing protection against turned ankles is recommended.
The stunted post and blackjack oaks atop the mountain testify that conditions there can be harsh. Hikers are advised to carry water and, in cooler seasons, to be prepared for chillier temperatures and winds on the summit.
The park's visitors center is located adjacent to an old stone quarry, with impressive exposures of the Jackfork sandstone that is the predominant rock found in the park.
The center houses exhibits on the park's wildlife, Native American tools and honey bees; a three-dimensional park map with recorded messages answering questions about the park and its environs; a "please touch" table with natural objects; and a "discovery room" with preserved specimens of birds such as a great-horned owl and roadrunner and mammals such as a bobcat and beaver.
The center's wildlife-viewing window overlooks an area with numerous bird feeders, brush piles and a small artificial waterfall and pond. Binoculars are provided for watching the squirrels, chipmunks, sparrows, nuthatches, mourning doves and other birds that frequent the area.
Located on the east end of the center's parking lot is a trailhead that leads to an elevated deck overlooking the Arkansas River valley. The deck is reached by way of a long set of stairs, but for those unable to climb them, a similar view is available from the visitors center's rear deck.
The trailhead also serves the Rocky Valley Trail, a two-mile loop through a wooded area. At the midway point of that trail begins a spur trail leading to an area of the park known as the East Quarry. The half-mile spur leads up a steep hill to a rocky ridge along the Arkansas and offers vistas of the river and of Pinnacle Mountain.
From an overlook at the East Quarry, one can see why geologists believe the park's now-isolated Fulk Mountains and Pinnacle Mountain were likely once a single ridge, but became separated as less erosion-resistant rock between the peaks weathered away.
Near the west end of the center's parking lot is the eastern terminus of the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which stretches more than 220 miles through the Ouachita Mountains and ends at Oklahoma's Talimena State Park.
In the 80-acre Arkansas Arboretum, the paved and barrier-free Arkansas Trail travels three-fourths of a mile through six areas where tree plantings correspond to Arkansas's six geographical regions. Along the way, interpretive panels with recorded messages and maps give visitors background on each of the regions while smaller signs identify and give information on specific tree species.
"We're doing our best to replicate the botanical communities of each of the six regions," Frazier said.
"We have a favored location because the center of the state is where its natural divisions tend to merge together," he continued, "and that makes a great place to put a state arboretum and environmental education park. Within 30 miles of here are all of the state's natural divisions except for Crowley's Ridge."
Instrumental in the creation and continuing development of the arboretum, Partners for Pinnacle, a non-profit, volunteer support organization, also assists the park staff by such means as providing tools and equipment, materials for the park's educational programs and labor. The organization has served as model for developing similar support groups for other state parks and its success has resulted in Pinnacle Mountain being the only Arkansas state park with a paid volunteer coordinator.
The park is also alone among Arkansas's state parks in having three full-time interpreters. In 1999, they presented more than 1,400 programs to the general public and to school groups within the park and at schools.
The Pinnacle Mountain Rendezvous, the park's signature special event, is held each October and features an encampment of mountain men reenactors, a Native American village with demonstrations of dancing and drumming, a pioneer village and arts and crafts vendors.
Among the park's many other special events are 4.5-mile, guided canoe trips on the Little Maumelle, workshops on backpacking basics and birdfeeder construction, star parties, guided hikes and bird counts.
On January 20 and 21, the park will conduct barge tours to observe wintering bald eagles and other waterfowl on nearby Lake Maumelle. The tours will begin at 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. both days. Reservations can be made by phoning the visitors center at (501) 868-5806.
While camping is not permitted in the park, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Maumelle Recreation Area located beside the Arkansas River two miles east of the park on Pinnacle Valley has 129 campsites with water and electrical hook-ups. A user fee is charged year-round. For more information, phone (501) 329-2986.
Pinnacle Mountain State Park is closed to visitors one hour after sunset. The visitors center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, except that on weekends from April through September the closing hours are extended to 6 p.m. The center is closed on Thanksgiving, December 25th and January 1.
More information on the park and its events is available by phoning the visitors center, e-mailing email@example.com or writing 11901 Pinnacle Valley Road, Roland AR 72135. Park information is also available on-line at www.arkansasstateparks.com and on the Partners for Pinnacle website at www.partnersforpinnacle.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"