By: 
Zoie Clift
 Updated: 
The CCC Overlook at Petit Jean State Park.
The CCC Overlook at Petit Jean State Park.

Arkansas has 52 state parks across the state. This history and heritage of Arkansas State Parks has roots in many interesting areas, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC.

Petit Jean State Park, which was created in 1923, was Arkansas' first state park. It was the first to be built and further growth to the state park system happened in the Depression era of the 1930s with help by the CCC. Along with helping build infrastructure at Petit Jean State Park, the CCC also built infrastructure at state parks that included Mount Nebo, Crowley’s Ridge, Devil’s Den, Lake Catherine, and Buffalo River State Park, which is now part of the Buffalo National River and known as Buffalo Point.

The impact of the CCC at these state parks can still be seen as much of the infrastructure they built still stands to this day. 

At Petit Jean State Park one can visit Mather Lodge, a CCC lodge that overlooks Cedar Creek Canyon. CCC workers had a role in building the lodge and also other features at the park including trails, cabins, overlooks, the historic Davies Bridge and more. In this piece about the Davies Bridge, Richard Davies, former director of Arkansas State Parks and former executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, pays homage to the CCC and their impact on Arkansas State Parks. There is also a trail at the state park that further pays homage to the CCC as well as a CCC Overlook. 

Historic photo of CCC foremen at Petit Jean State Park.
Historic photo of CCC foremen at Petit Jean State Park.
The CCC Hike & Bike Trail at Petit Jean State Park. Photo by Kirk Jordan.
The CCC Hike & Bike Trail at Petit Jean State Park. Photo by Kirk Jordan.

Mount Nebo State Park, which is located on top of Mount Nebo, was designated a state park in 1927, making it Arkansas’ second oldest park.  Many of the trails, cabins, and bridges there were built by the CCC, including the Rim Trail, which provides an expansive view of the Arkansas River Valley. More history of Mount Nebo State Park can be found here. 

Sunrise at Mount Nebo State Park. Photo by Kirk Jordan.
Sunrise at Mount Nebo State Park. Photo by Kirk Jordan.

Crowley’s Ridge State Park became a state park in 1933 and can be found in a unique natural region known as Crowley’s Ridge. The CCC had a role in the building of the park including log and stone structures, a lake, campgrounds, trails, bridges and more. More about the CCC history at the park can be found here.

Crowley's Ridge State Park. Photo by Kirk Jordan.
Crowley's Ridge State Park. Photo by Kirk Jordan.

Devil’s Den State Park became a state park in 1933 and is a key link to CCC history as this park has one of the most well conserved CCC sites in the nation. The CCC built the first trail in the park and also built instructure like a stone dam, cabins, trails and more. The CCC Interpretive Trail is an avenue to see a historic CCC camp while at the park. The below video presentation by Tim Scott, Assistant Superintendent of Devil’s Den State Park, provides a detailed look at the CCC history at the park. 

Lake Catherine State Park became a state park in 1935 and the CCC built cabins, bridges and more here. Visitors can even stay in a duplex at the park that is a converted CCC fishing barrack. The Nature Cabin, which serves as a base for many park programs, was also built by the CCC. More history about this state park can be found here. 

 Falls Branch Trail at Lake Catherine State Park. Photo by Kirk Jordan.
Falls Branch Trail at Lake Catherine State Park. Photo by Kirk Jordan.

The history of Arkansas State Parks is wide and varied. The CCC connection marked a time in Arkansas history when the state park system was just beginning. Since then, the system has evolved and grown to include 52 state parks that help spotlight the beauty and heritage of The Natural State. A detailed history of Arkansas State Parks by writer Jill Rohrbach can be found here.