News Releases

Amendment 75 to Fund New Visitor Center at Bull Shoals-White River State Park

Article follows the photos:
  • Architectural rendering of visitor center under construction

  • Architectural model of visitor center under construction

January 3, 2005

Amendment 75 to Fund New Visitor Center
At Bull Shoals-White River State Park

Joan Ellison, State Parks Division
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

LAKEVIEW -- Amendment 75, Arkansas's conservation amendment passed by voters in 1996, is making impressive impacts around The Natural State as it works on behalf of the state's natural and cultural heritage. This 1/8-cent conservation tax is dedicated to renovations, enhancements and other work being done by Arkansas's four state agencies that are responsible for administering and safeguarding the state's natural and cultural resources. They are the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Department of Arkansas Heritage and the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission. The Arkansas state parks system's newest Amendment 75-funded facility will be a $4.5 million visitor center at Bull Shoals-White River State Park near Lakeview. To be constructed on a highpoint in the park that affords a spectacular view of the White River, Bull Shoals Dam and Bull Shoals Lake, the 15,744-square foot facility will be named in honor of Jim Gaston of Lakeview, owner of Arkansas's renowned Gaston's White River Resort and a longtime supporter of the Ozark Mountains' Twin Lakes region in north-central Arkansas, Arkansas's travel and tourism industry, and Arkansas's state parks, according to Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts. He noted that construction has begun, and the visitor center is scheduled to open in August 2006.

Butts said, "Jim Gaston has been such a dedicated and dynamic force in Arkansas's travel and tourism industry, the state's third largest industry generating $4 billion annually in revenues." He continued, "And Jim has been a longtime supporter of Arkansas's state parks mission, including its role in environmental education. It's fitting that this new visitor center, which will make a huge impact supporting his area's abundant recreational attractions and schools, will be named in honor of Jim Gaston." Butts noted that the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission -- the policy and advisory board over the State Parks Division and State Tourism Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism -- voted at its October meeting to name the center in honor of Gaston, who serves as commissioner emeritus on the 14-member commission.

Jim Gaston's resort, Gaston's White River Resort, is located on River Road just 1 ¾-mile from Bull Shoals-White River State Park. In December 1995, Jim and Jill Gaston donated 3.25 acres to the park in memory of their son, Eric Gaston. Today the Gaston Wildflower Meadow features native wildflowers and grasses of the Ozark region that can be enjoyed along a paved, barrier-free loop trail. Its wide variety of flora attracts butterflies, birds and other wildlife. The wildflower meadow was designed and constructed with funding from Amendment 75.

Bull Shoals-White River State Park covers 732.25 acres in Baxter and Marion counties. The visitor center will be located in Marion County. Butts noted that the structure is being placed in an area of the park that is easily accessible to the public, and will provide sweeping spectacular views of the White River, Bull Shoals Dam and Bull Shoals Lake.

The center will serve as the primary visitor contact point at Bull Shoals-White River State Park. The center will promote the region's numerous attractions, and interpret the area's history and culture. It will share the story of the fisheries of the White River system including Bull Shoals Lake, and tell about the purpose of the White River projects in the areas of recreation, flood control and hydroelectric power, along with their related impacts on the state and local economies, and on the environment.

According to Greg Butts, "Bull Shoals-White River State Park attracts almost 600,000 visitors annually. The park's campground, featuring 105 campsites that stretch along the bank of the White River, consistently has one of the highest occupancy rates of any camping area in Arkansas's state parks system."

He noted that last year's research on travel in Arkansas conducted by Arkansas's Welcome Centers, tourist information centers located around the state's border, ranks this area in the top six most-visited regions.

In addition, the visitor center will serve as an education center for the area's school students. Butts noted that within a 75-mile radius of the park are 159,793 school students from 19 counties in Arkansas and 16 in Missouri, who can benefit from, and be inspired by, this environmental education center and the natural resources that surround it.

Bull Shoals-White River State Park

Bull Shoals-White River State Park is one of the 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Established in 1955, and developed on lands leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE), the park is located at the site where Bull Shoals Dam crosses the White River forming 45,440-acre Bull Shoals Lake. The majority of the park's acreage is in Baxter County and stretches along the bank of the White River below Bull Shoals Dam. Additional park acreage is located above the dam along the lakeshore. The new visitor center will be constructed on the opposite side of the White River, in Marion County, on additional lands recently leased from the USACOE.

The park totals 732.25 acres. Of these, 729 acres are leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and 3.25 acres, the acreage donated by Jim and Jill Gaston in 1995, are owned by the State of Arkansas.

One of mid-America's premier trout streams, the White River is renowned for its catches of record rainbow and brown trout. Bull Shoals Lake, at 45,440 acres, is Arkansas's largest lake, with waters stretching into southern Missouri. Anglers and water sports enthusiasts are drawn to its clear waters and Ozark Mountain scenery.

The Bull Shoals-White River State Park Visitor Center

Interest in this project dates back to the mid 1980s when residents of the Bull Shoals and Lakeview area approached the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission regarding the value of such a facility. As a result, Arkansas State Parks conducted a feasibility study and analyzed four sites suitable for such a structure. Adjacent to the Bull Shoals Dam, the location for the new visitor center is one of those sites.

The contractor for the $4,547,733 visitor center is Olympus Construction Inc. of Jonesboro. The design consultant is the architectural firm Brackett-Krennerich Architects of Jonesboro. The program manager is Carter & Burgess of Little Rock. The construction project will include site improvements, the visitor center, all associated utilities, road access and parking.

On display throughout the visitor center will be interpretive and educational exhibits that are currently being designed by Split Rock Studios of St. Paul, Minnesota. Fabrication and installation of the exhibits will coincide with the building's completion. The estimated cost for the exhibits is $517,500, which will bring the total cost of the visitor center and its interpretive and educational exhibits to approximately $5,065,233.

Materials and colors on the building's exterior were selected to blend the structure into its natural setting. The architectural style will incorporate the natural and regional architectural character of Ozark Plateau Natural Division that Arkansas shares with Missouri.

As visitors enter the visitor center through a large main entry, they'll see indigenous plants growing among water features as they pass over a walkway symbolic of the dam. Visitors will notice a river water feature, and a small lake-like water feature, on the right that represent the actual water features, the White River and Bull Shoals Lake, that can be viewed out the back windows of the center.

An open covered pavilion next to the classroom side of the center will serve as a protected gathering place for large groups, or as alternative entrance and/or staging area.

As visitors step into the building, they will notice large, vintage postcard banners hanging from the ceiling that will be the unifying theme throughout the center along with the water theme. This area will house the reception/registration desk, computer kiosk information, seating areas with Internet access, and a unique "boat dock-themed" gift shop.

Just off the lobby, the Johnboat Theater, a boat dock-themed orientation room with seating and boats typical of those from the regional Johnboat manufacturer, will serve as an orientation to the White River system.

Just beyond the Johnboat Theater will be an education wing composed of partitioned classrooms, a catering kitchen and vending machines, restrooms and an alternate group entrance. Within a 75-mile radius of the visitor center, in some cases less than an hour's drive, will be the school districts in 19 Arkansas counties, and 16 Missouri counties, who can utilize these classrooms and the center's many environmental education opportunities for their students.

The Exhibit Hall in the Visitor Center

The Bull Shoals-White River State Park visitor center will be the focal point for the interpretation of the White River, Bull Shoals Dam and Bull Shoals Lake, and their histories. Visitors will find exhibits throughout the lobby, gift shop, Johnboat Theater and Exhibit Hall, a 1,720-square-foot area filled with images of the river, lake and dam. Large fish sculptures arranged in formations like they are swimming will hang from the high ceilings. The exhibits will include life-like models of champion fish for visitors to touch and examine.

A large digital relief map of Arkansas will be located at the entrance to the Exhibit Hall. The map will help orient visitors to the park, and to Arkansas's six major physiographic, or natural, divisions. On either side of the map exhibit will be two aquariums holding species of fish representing the cold-water fish of the river, and the warm-water fish of the lake.

From the Exhibit Hall or the lobby, visitors can take in the sweeping view of the White River, Bull Shoals Dam and Bull Shoals Lake through large windows along the south wall. The view will invite visitors out the back of the visitor center onto a large, partially covered outdoor deck and two-story observation tower. From here, visitors can look over the lake, dam, river and surrounding landscape. The observation tower is designed to be reminiscent of the area's former forest fire towers.

Jim Gaston

Jim Gaston has operated Arkansas's renowned Gaston's White River Resort in Lakeview for 42 years. The resort, one of America's top fishing resorts, is located two river-miles below Bull Shoals Dam. Spreading over 300 acres, the resort includes 74 cabins and housekeeping cottages, a restaurant overlooking the White River that can seat 350 persons, marina, swimming pool, tennis court, game room, fly-fishing school, conference lodge, gift shops and a nature trail.

Gaston joined the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission in 1973 when appointed by then-Governor Dale Bumpers, and he's remained on the commission since then. In 1997, Gaston was named a commissioner emeritus in honor of his service.

The Park's Other Facilities

Bull Shoals-White River State Park features 105 campsites. Campsites range from paved RV sites with water and electric hookups to tent sites, from Rent-A-Camp tent rentals to two Rent-An-RV units. The park also offers picnic sites, pavilions, playgrounds, trails and a trout dock offering boat, motor and canoe rentals; supplies; equipment and gifts. Interpretive programs are offered in the park throughout the year.

Park Location and Driving Directions

From Mountain Home, travel six miles north on Ark. 5, then go eight miles west on Ark. 178 to the park.


For further information, contact Joan Ellison, public information officer, Arkansas State Parks, One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, phone: (501) 682-2873, e-mail:; or Tracy King, park superintendent, Bull Shoals-White River State Park, 129 Bull Shoals Park, Lakeview, AR 72642, phone: (870) 431-5521, e-mail:


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"