Lake Chicot State Park Offers Something for Everyone
Arkansas Department of Parks and TourismAt Arkansas’s 11th state park, Lake Chicot, stately cypresses and willows frame scenic vistas of broad waters unexpected in the flat terrain of the Delta. Cabins, campsites, a store and marina with boat and other watercraft rentals, fishing piers, a swimming pool, pavilions and picnic areas, trails and interpretive programs are among the park’s recreational assets. LAKE VILLAGE
– In the southeast corner of Arkansas lies a prominent – though under appreciated – natural wonder: North America’s largest natural ox-bow lake. Shaped like a “C,” it is 20 miles long and at some places just shy of a mile wide. Once the Mississippi River’s main channel, the lake was cut off centuries ago when the river altered its course.
The state’s first-ever study of its recreational needs, published in 1940, recommended the lake “be given prime consideration for an addition to the State park system.” It wasn’t until 1957, however, that a donation by area residents of land on the lake’s northwest shore led to the creation of Lake Chicot State Park.
Funded primarily through the state’s Amendment 75, one-eighth cent conservation tax approved by Arkansas voters in 1996, with other assistance coming from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, the park has undergone a face-lift of substantial proportions.
Over the past five years, an expanded visitors center with an attractive covered entranceway and more parking greets new arrivals. Four renovated, lakefront cabin duplexes are now suitable for use by persons with physical handicaps and offer fireplaces. The marina store has been spruced up and a fuel dock added. And, a barrier-free fishing pier, a courtesy dock, and a barrier-free restroom have been constructed. Changes less obvious to visitors include improvements to the park’s sewer and water systems, shoreline erosion-control work, and a new equipment shed and maintenance equipment.
The cabins have been remodeled, a new swimming pool has been built, campground A has been completely renovated offering 50amp electricity/water/and sewer to campers.
The beauty of Arkansas’s largest natural lake continues to serve as one of the park’s main attractions. Sunsets often blaze dazzling colors across the open water and the big sky afforded by the area’s flat terrain. In late summer, small cypresses across from the park sometimes appear as if covered with snow as hundreds of wading birds, including great and snowy egrets, fly in to roost. During the warm-season, evening barge tours of a swampy area at the lake’s north end reveal alligators, owls, raccoons and other wildlife.
Ocie Hunter, the park superintendent, said the lake’s fishing and birding opportunities draw many visitors to the park. “Fishing is what made Lake Chicot what it is,” he said. Crappie and bream are favored targets during spring and fall, he added, while catfish are sought year round. Because of its southern location, prime fishing on Lake Chicot usually begins earlier in the spring than on Arkansas’s other major lakes.
For birdwatchers, the area produces late summer sightings of wood storks and other species rarely seen in Arkansas, while winter draws bald eagles and abundant waterfowl to the area. Resident songbirds and woodpeckers can be found along the park’s Delta Woodlands Trail throughout the year and they are joined in spring and fall by migratory warblers.
The park’s annual interpretive activities capitalize on the area’s wildlife, as well as its historical and musical legacies. Lake barge tours and van tours to area birding hotspots are offered at various times throughout the year.
Other new activities for 2008 include birding workshops (on March 8-9 and on November 7-8), the addition to winter birding barge tours, kayak spring and fall tours, annual youth fishing derby April 6) and a Geocache race (December 6). The area’s blues and gospel music heritage will be celebrated during Lake Chicot’s Delta Heritage Music Festival on Sept. 27.
Also available at the visitors center is a brochure for a self-guided “Levee Tour,” much of which runs atop the embankments that now protect nearby Lake Village and the surrounding area from the Mississippi’s floods.
Tour highlights include waterfowl and wading birds in the water-filled borrow pits from which dirt for the levees was taken, the remains of a Native American mound, a site called Whiskey Chute where river pirates once roamed and a visit to the Lake Chicot Pumping Plant. Housed in a building eight stories tall and one-and-a-half times the size of a football field, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plant prevents muddy farmland runoff from befouling the lake.
Hunter said Lake Chicot State Park is popular for family, church and class reunions, and his staff tries to provide activities, such as a Halloween dance, for the youth in the surrounding rural area. “We’re trying to give the local youths something they can look forward to doing,” he said.
“We like to say,” he added, “we’re just a country park but we’re going to treat you right. Once we get visitors here, we generally have no problem getting them to come back.”####
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
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"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"