Urban Sprawl Spurred Pinnacle Mountain Park
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September 17, 2002Urban Sprawl Spurred Pinnacle Mountain Park
By Kristine Puckett
Arkansas Department of Parks and TourismArkansas's 36th state park, Pinnacle Mountain, preserves more than 2,000 acres along the Arkansas and Little Maumelle rivers near Little Rock. The park is best known for its shaded picnic sites, well-equipped playground, hiking trails, and its prominent peak with spectacular views. The park is also home to a visitors center with interpretive exhibits, an 80-acre arboretum, a barrier-free fishing pier and a paved boat ramp. Pinnacle is located about five miles west of Little Rock via Ark. 10 and Ark. 300. For more information, call (501) 868-5806 or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
LITTLE ROCK -- Rising above terrain where Delta-like bottomlands lie in the shadows of the eastern-most Ouachita Mountains, the 1,011-foot Pinnacle Mountain has become an icon. Its conical shape and towering presence -- clearly visible from much of central Arkansas -- makes it an easily recognizable geographic feature. An image of Pinnacle Mountain dominates the masthead of the on-line version of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
and, until recently, the masthead of the state's largest weekly newspaper, the Arkansas Times
Since 1978, the mountain has served as the centerpiece of a state park, developed to preserve and protect Pinnacle and its environs from Little Rock's encroaching sprawl. For many, the park brings to mind family picnics and scenic hiking.
"It was certainly one of the most salient features when the French first came up the Arkansas River," Park Superintendent Randy Frazier said. "And I think it must have been of some significance to Native Americans."
Frazier's opinion is supported by Native American artifacts unearthed at Pinnacle. Now on display at the park's visitors center, items found on and near the mountain include hammer stones, pottery and arrowheads.
Although Pinnacle was never densely settled by European descendents, marks left by industry during the 19th and 20th centuries can still be seen at the park. Remnants of a railroad and a roadbed and bridge used to haul timber from the mountain are reminders that lumber companies cleared much of the surrounding virgin forest.
During the mid-1900s tons of stone were brought out of the area for the construction of city schools and Lake Maumelle's dam. The remains of quarry roads cross one side of Pinnacle, and an old quarry filled with rainwater forms a small pond near the visitors center. Acid from the surrounding rock and soil makes the pond uninhabitable except for the blue-green algae that gives the water its characteristic color. Most noticeably, a peak just east Pinnacle had its entire top removed by quarrying.
The 20th century also brought conservation efforts, though. Spurred into action after decades of exploitation and Little Rock's rapid growth to the west, the state began developing Pinnacle Mountain as a park in the mid- 1970s. Funded in part by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, the park officially opened on April 1, 1978.
The fact that many of the environments encountered at the 50 other state parks across Arkansas can be found at Pinnacle is exactly what sets it apart. "One of the things that is interesting is how the state was formed geologically," Frazier said. "Most of the natural divisions tend to nexus right in the center of the state. I think of Pinnacle Mountain as an exclamation point where those things come together."
Frazier continued, "You know you're in a strange place when you can watch water rushing through cypress knees. And yet after it rains you can look up from the water rushing through these trees and see the second-highest point in Pulaski County. You've got mountains, the Delta, bottomland hardwood forests. You've got the rolling West Gulf Coastal Plains areas here. You've got the eastern flank of the Ouachita Mountains. And certainly a smattering of the uplifted Ozark Highlands -- all next to the Arkansas River."
For a clear view of these varying landscapes, a trip to Pinnacle's summit, reachable via two different trails, is in order. The vista atop the peak affords panoramic views of the Arkansas River valley, Lake Maumelle, the tops of Little Rock skyscrapers and numerous distant peaks of the Ouachita Mountains. On clear days, Petit Jean Mountain can be seen though it is more than 35 miles to the northwest.
In all there are eight hiking trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty at Pinnacle. Included is the Ouachita National Recreational Trail, which stretches more than 220 miles from Oklahoma's Talimena State Park to its eastern terminus at Pinnacle.
Frazier suggested an ideal place to see the flora of the state's natural divisions is along the park's paved, barrier-free Arkansas Arboretum Trail that features native trees and shrubs from all regions of Arkansas. Wayside exhibits with recorded messages are located along the 0.6-mile trail.
Teaching environmental awareness, Frazier said, is paramount at Pinnacle. "The mission of the park is to preserve and promote a natural setting in an urban environment and
to enhance understanding and appreciation of the natural world through environmental education."
Furthering this mission are numerous exhibits on the park's flora and fauna at the visitors center. The center also houses a glass-enclosed honey bee hive; a three-dimensional park map with recorded messages answering questions about the park and its environs; a "please touch" table with natural objects; a wildlife-viewing window with provided binoculars; and a "discovery room" with live and preserved specimens of birds and mammals.
Also instrumental to environmental education is Partners for Pinnacle, Inc., a non-profit, volunteer support organization that assists the park staff by such means as providing materials for educational programs, labor, and tools and equipment. 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.
Volunteers from Partners for Pinnacle often assist the park's three full-time interpreters with special events such as 4.5-mile, guided canoe trips on the Little Maumelle, workshops on backpacking basics and birdfeeder construction, star parties, guided hikes and bird counts.
Perhaps the largest undertaking by this group is the Pinnacle Mountain Rendezvous, the park's signature event held each October for the past 11 years. The festival features an encampment of mountain men re-enactors, a Native American village with demonstrations of dancing and drumming, a pioneer village, and arts and crafts vendors.
With the help of such volunteer groups, James Mullins, an interpreter at the park, hopes he is able to instill within the park's more than 500,000 annual visitors the importance of natural areas. Although high visitation does pose a strain on the park -- in the form of removed or damaged vegetation, litter and increased traffic on surrounding roads -- Mullins said he welcomes the opportunity to educate. "Their visits give us the opportunity to influence the way people think about the environment as a whole," he said.
If successful in their efforts, Frazier said Pinnacle will be well known -- or an icon -- for environmental awareness among those who visit his unique park.
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. 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 Road, has 129 campsites with water and electrical hook-ups. A user fee is charged year-round. For more information, phone (501) 329-2986.####
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"