News Releases

Lake Fort Smith State Park Looks to the Future

Article follows the photos:
  • Future plans for Lake Ft. Smith State Park

June 18, 2002

Lake Fort Smith State
Park Looks to the Future

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

Arkansas's 23rd state park, Lake Fort Smith, is nestled in a wooded valley in the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas. While the park -- popular for swimming, camping, fishing, hiking and picnicking -- closed in January of 2002 due to the enlarging of the lake, a new park will open in 2006. For more information, call (479) 369-2469 or visit

MOUNTAINBURG -- Lake Fort Smith State Park will soon find itself underwater. Fortunately in its case, an end to an era means an exciting new start.

The park was originally developed by the City of Fort Smith and Crawford County in the late 1930s as a recreational park. The reservoir, however, was first created to serve as a municipal water supply, which is why a water plant became the center of a mountain park known then as the Mountainburg Recreational Facility.

The original facilities were built under the Works Progress Administration, which was created in 1935 under Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" in order to stimulate the economy during the Depression. It also preserved the skills and self-respect of unemployed persons by providing work. During its existence, it employed 8.5 million people who constructed 650,000 miles of roads, 125,000 public buildings, 75,000 bridges, 8,000 parks and 800 airports. It was terminated in 1943 when unemployment was virtually eliminated by the wartime economy. Several state parks contain works of the WPA.

The Lake Ft. Smith WPA project included several thousand square feet of concrete, gravel and earthwork. Workers constructed a wading pool, a large swimming pool with two diving towers, four stone veneer cottages, a new road to the pool facility, an arched bridge, a bathhouse, a boathouse, bridle paths and landscaping. WPA crews also cleared underbrush and built barbecue pits, shelters, stone tables and rock houses around the mountainside springs.

Arkansas State Parks took over the Mountainburg Recreational Facility in 1967 and immediately began upgrading the park. The pool had been closed since 1963 because the Health Department did not approve of unfiltered water pumped directly from Lake Fort Smith. The state built a new Olympic-sized pool and remodeled the bathhouse and concession stand. The state also purchased new playground equipment and constructed a small campground.

While numerous upgrades have been accomplished at the park over the years, none compare to the plans now underway.

Lake Fort Smith State Park, which is currently situated below the Lake Fort Smith dam, was officially closed on January 2, 2002, to make way for the enlarging of Lake Fort Smith and Lake Shepherd Springs, which are being expanded to meet additional municipal water demands in the Fort Smith area. The two will form a single reservoir that will total 1,390 surface acres.

City officials expect to complete the project in 2005, and by that time a new version of Lake Fort Smith State Park should be in place on the western side of the enlarged reservoir. Facilities will include campsites, cabins, a group lodging facility, picnic sites, hiking trails, a visitor center, amphitheater, pavilion, swimming pool, marina, boat launch ramp and park support facilities.

"What we had was really great at the old park with the WPA facilities," said Park Superintendent Ron Gossage. "But the expansion is going to be nice with new ideas and new memories to be developed in the new area." Gossage has worked at Lake Fort Smith State Park for 27 years and has been superintendent for 25 years.

"The design of the new facilities will evoke the architectural style of the Works Progress Administration facilities featured in the current park," said Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts. That style is rustic, heavily timbered with use of native stone. While none of the existing structures will be moved to the new park, Butts said there will be an effort to save some of the materials, such as rock, from the old WPA cabins and incorporate them in new structures.

"And, when the new park and its improved facilities and trails are completed, a trail link will allow this park to once again serve as the western terminus for the Ozark Highlands Trail," said Butts. Lake Fort Smith State Park has long served as the western terminus for the trail, but because of the park's closure, the terminus has been temporarily relocated to nearby Dockery Gap.

The new park will be constructed and owned by the City of Fort Smith and leased to the Department of Parks and Tourism, as was the old one. It is estimated the new park will cost $14 million. The city will fund the replacement of the current park facilities, and Parks and Tourism will pay for additional improvements.

According to city administrator Bill Harding, "The City of Fort Smith is dedicated to making the new Lake Fort Smith State Park a first-class recreational destination. It will be a showcase offering improved facilities and scenic views of the surrounding Boston Mountains and the expanded Lake Fort Smith." Harding added the City of Fort Smith is also committed to a continued partnership with Arkansas State Parks.

"Lake Fort Smith State Park is a source of local and state pride," Harding said. "The park plays an important role in this region's outdoor recreational offerings, and it likewise serves as an important component of northwest Arkansas's tourism revenues. The park will carry on its recreational legacy at its new location."


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"