Marianna, (870) 295-4040
YOU’RE SAVORING your pristine campsite along the banks of Bear Creek Lake—because with operations having just started in mid-2009, this is the newest state park in the system. (It’s also one of the relatively few state parks in this neck of the woods to have campsites.) And then you’re dropping a line to go after those largemouth bass, red-eyed bream and channel cats.
YOU’RE PUTTING this date on your calendar: Oct. 17, 2015. This year marks the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase Land Survey, and four different venues in and around the park are hosting events, including an 1815 living history village at the visitor center, and a reenactment of the 1926 monument dedication at Louisiana Purchase State Park.
Holly Grove, (870) 572-2352
YOU’RE WATCHING the documentary It Started Here: Early Arkansas and The Louisiana Purchase (directed by Larry Foley, who appears on page 23).
YOU’RE THANKING your lucky stars for the 950-foot boardwalk that has been raised above the murky waters of the headwater swamp—an amenity that was most certainly not around when U.S. engineers were charged with surveying the recently acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase. A granite monument at the end of the trail marks the site of the surveyors’ first base camp.
to LAKE CHICOT STATE PARK
Let the hikers seek out their hills and hollers in mountainous Northwest Arkansas. Birders and anglers, come on down to the sheet cake-flat Delta. Here you’ll find the state’s largest natural lake, shaved off the meandering Mississippi River hundreds of years ago, and a cypress swamp where you can mingle with flocks of egrets or ibis at sunset—if you’re willing to brave the mosquitoes, as avid birder Don Simons has been doing for years. Though it’s been more than a decade since he left his job as park interpreter at Lake Chicot for the cooler and less humid environs of Mount Magazine, the memories of his 17 years at Lake Chicot haven’t faded.
Mosquitoes can be an issue at Lake Chicot. A big issue. So if you’re planning to spend the night between April and October, Simons suggests booking a cabin and bringing a bug zapper—for inside. The smaller one-bedroom cabins are situated closer to the lake, some with their own docks, but the larger two-bedrooms have sizable screened front porches.
Best Wildlife Watching
The Mississippi River is basically a gigantic freeway for migrating birds, and Lake Chicot is the perfect site for getting a close look at the groups of long-legged wading birds that gather as the sun goes down.
Best Reason to Stay in the Boat
If you venture into Lake Chicot’s cypress swamp, expect the occasional reptilian life form—though Simons stresses that a little common sense should be protection enough. “Just don’t swim with them. I grew up in south Louisiana, and if snakes and gators were as bad as everybody thought they were, there wouldn’t be any Cajuns left in this world.”
The Delta is tamale country. You can’t go wrong at Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in nearby Lake Village—but if you’re up for a longer trek, Simons recommends heading east to the original Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, Mississippi. “As the crow flies it’s about 5 miles,” Simons says. “But you’ve got to drive 30 to get to it.”
DELTA HERITAGE TRAIL
Barton, (870) 572-2352
YOU’RE RIDING the rails … Erm, sort of. Although the rails-to-trails conversion is still very much in the works (and has been for years), the 20 miles completed along the old route of the Union Pacific Railroad is still prime wildlife spotting territory—specifically, for the likes of red-tailed hawks, bobcats and ruby-throated hummingbirds.
YOU’RE (QUITE POSSIBLY) in good company. In a recent radio address, Gov. Asa Hutchinson pledged to take a bike ride along a portion of the Heritage Trail this fall, saying, “I encourage every Arkansan to do the same; to enjoy our great outdoors and to rediscover the Delta. I can’t wait to be a part of it.” Even if you’ve left your own set of wheels at home, bikes can be rented from the park visitor center in Barton.
ARKANSAS POST MUSEUM
Gillett, (870) 548-2634
YOU’RE GETTING a glimpse of early life on the Arkansas Grand Prairie and Delta, thanks to the park’s five exhibit buildings. And then you’re envying the craftsmanship of the Carnes-Bonner Playhouse, a built-to-scale-version of the family home, created for a 4-year-old. And if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to envy someone barely out of toddlerdom, just consider that virtually every piece of furniture—the tiny couch and armchair upholstered with damask fabric; the tiny dressing table and bed hewn from gorgeously whorled wood; the tiny pans, egg beater and sink—was made just for her.
Star City, (870) 628-4714
YOU’RE SLEEPING well above the ground in an RV rented through the park and stacked with a fully stocked kitchen, stereo system and enough beds to accommodate eight.
YOU’RE PADDLING a kayak through the stands of bald cypress and among the floating beds of water lilies—all illuminated by the light of a full moon (just be sure to check with the park about when the guides are going out). For a different perspective, head out on the 2.5-mile Delta View Trail and look out over the lake from the vista at the one-mile marker.
YOU’RE RECOGNIZING that the catfish you just lugged over the side of your boat out of Bayou Bartholomew—the world’s largest bayou and one of the most diverse streams in North America—is actually just one of 117 species of fish swimming through these waters.
Fordyce, (501) 682-1191
YOU’RE READING through the reminiscences and markers erected by descendants of the fallen soldiers (and other enthusiasts) about the battle fought on these grounds—a Confederate victory in which, as one marker notes, “General James F. Fagan’s Division of Confederate Cavalry surprised and captured a Union supply train of 2000 men and 240 wagonloads of supplies.”
Jersey, (870) 463-8555
YOU’RE RENTING one of the five two-bedroom, waterfront cabins and enjoying a bug-free sunset from its screened-in porch.
YOU’RE LEARNING about the history of the bay and its wildlife during one of the park’s interpretive kayak or boat tours through the stands of waterlogged cypress trees. Want a little more action while you float? The waters where the bay, Raymond Lake and the Ouachita River converge are famous for their largemouth bass.
YOU’RE FILLING your cooler ahead of time. The closest store is a 15-mile drive.