The conception of a Mississippi River dream was 40 years ago, and the gestation is not yet complete. But it’s getting there impressively.
When a resurgence in Arkansas state parks took place in the early 1970s under Gov. Dale Bumpers, someone — or several someones — said, “What we really need is a park on the Mississippi River.” Listeners nodded in agreement.
Preliminary stabs were made at such a park periodically over the years, but all fell short at the planning stage. The problem was the Mississippi River itself. It has a penchant for flooding, often severe flooding. This is not conducive for a state park, the Log Cabin Democrat, Conway, Ark., reported.
Finally, the idea came forth that the way to counter floods is to be on high ground.
The unique Crowley’s Ridge runs south from Missouri through northeastern and eastern Arkansas and ends where it meets the Mississippi River near Helena. In 1960, St. Francis National Forest was created, and it took in a couple of small but popular recreational areas, Bear Creek and Storm Creek.
In 2009, after a decade of lengthy discussions, negotiations and idea swapping, Mississippi River State Park was born, and it centered on Bear Creek Recreation Area. Click here for more information.
The state park is up and running but far from finished. It is coming forth in stages, a facility that presently is price-tagged at $23 million.
In operation is a campground that possibly could wear the label Cadillac. It’s a small but impressive facility for recreational vehicles and has high-capacity electrical, water and sewer connections at each of the 14 sites. Also, there is a boat dock at each site.
Yes, this is on 653-acre Bear Creek Lake, good for fishing, well used for swimming and boating. The campground is on Beech Point, and along with the RV sites are others with fewer amenities that appeal to tent campers.
“We have already had campers here from Canada, from Australia and from other places,” Berta McMahon, the new park’s office manager, said. “They come in not really knowing what to expect, then they are amazed. We had a couple from Montreal rent a site for one night. Then they paid for a second night. They wound up staying here five nights.”
Also in operation now are a bathhouse, picnic sites, a fishing pier and a boat launch ramp.
Coming next for the park is the construction of a visitors center that will include a museum. An observation tower is planned, as is an overlook on the Mississippi River where visitors can watch the huge barge tows and other water traffic, as well as observe wildlife. Cabins are to be built, and the state park will include Storm Creek Lake just to the south.
There are cabins at present at Bear Creek Lake, but these are privately owned, some going back to the 1920s and 1930s.
“When the national forest was formed, these cabins were grandfathered in. They remained in private ownership,” said John Morrow, superintendent of the state park.
Mississippi River State Park is the second in Arkansas built on a state-federal partnership basis.
Mount Magazine State Park is atop the highest point in the state, and it is in Ozark National Forest. Its lodge, cabins, visitors center and other facilities have won national and international acclaim in the few years it has been in operation.
“Our partner in this project, the U.S. Forest Service, will continue its role in the resource management of the forest, including timber and wildlife management, habitat improvement, wildfire suppression, and law enforcement in the forest,” Greg Butts, director of Arkansas State Parks, said.
“Arkansas State Parks will improve the current facilities, construct new ones and manage these recreational facilities including park maintenance, park law enforcement and interpretation/education,” Butts said.
To reach Mississippi River State Park, go to Marianna, which is on U.S. 79 south of Interstate 40. Take Arkansas 44 ( the Great River Road and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway) six miles southeast to Bear Creek Lake. Signs mark turnoffs.
The park’s office at present is adjacent to the national forest ranger station just south of Marianna.