28 May 2009

Lake Fort Smith State Park

As I mentioned in a previous blog, one of the items on my Bucket List is to go to every state park in Arkansas. SO, on May 25 - Memorial Day! - I visited the new Lake Fort Smith State Park. I had made MANY trips to the old Lake Fort Smith, and I was excited to get the chance to visit the new park. Before I tell you what I did there, how about a bit of history...?

The original Lake Fort Smith park was built by the City of Fort Smith and Crawford County in the 1930's, and its facilities were built as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Works Progress Administration. The pool became famous because it was filled every day by lake water, but the health department closed the pool in 1963 because of the health concerns caused by the unfiltered lake water. In 1967, Arkansas State Parks took the park over and built a new Olympic-sized pool, remodeled the bathhouse and concession stand, and built a playground and campground. Lake Fort Smith became Arkansas' 23rd state park!

In 2002, Lake Fort Smith State Park was officially closed to expand the municipal water capabilities of the lake, and in 2008, the new Lake Fort Smith State Park opened on the oposite side of the dam. The new facilities are reminiscent of the old ones, with massive stone and wood buildings. There are 30 camp sites, a group lodge that can accommodate up to 32 people, picnic sites, a pavilion, swimming and wading pools, a marina with boat rentals, a boat launch ramp, hiking trails, and a playground. The visitor center has a meeting room, an outdoor patio with fireplace, and hands-on exhibits. The park offers many special events and programs, one of which drew me to Lake Fort Smith on Monday...

Even though it rains every Memorial Day weekend in Northwest Arkansas, Memorial Day is about being outside. So, I went on a lake cruise! Park Interpreter Sarah Hammond gave visitors a lake tour on one of the park's pontoon boats. My family and I had a great time - the 1½ hour trip showed us beautiful scenery, numerous waterfalls, wildlife (even some snakes!), and an old homestead of Frog Bayou.

If you love nature, camping, or being on the lake, make the short drive to Lake Fort Smith State Park! The park offers programs every day during the summer, including lake tours, hikes, and other special events. If your family is unable to take a vacation during the summer, go camping! Rent a canoe for a day! If you're in Northwest Arkansas, take old Highway 71 down to Lake Fort Smith State Park - it is GORGEOUS!

I normally post pictures of my mini-adventures, but the ones from the lake cruise got deleted before I could save them to my computer! The next posts will have some GREAT pictures from my recent jaunt across Northeast Arkansas.

10 May 2009

Chester, Arkansas - Crawford County

When you’re driving south on I-540 from Fayetteville, you pass by the community of Chester (population 99) in Crawford County. If you look off to the right at exit 34, you can see the main part of Chester. The community catered to and thrived because of the Frisco railroad - its population peaked in the 1890’s when a railroad turnaround station was built there.

If you are driving by around lunchtime, you should definitely stop in Chester!! The Chester Café has a plate lunch every day, as well as a sandwich menu. I am a plate lunch junkie, and I cannot say enough about how AWESOME the food at the Chester Café is! I’ve also heard that they have a pretty fantastic hamburger and fries…The café is owned by the mayor of Chester, Shannon Smith. Mayor Smith’s mother, Dorothy Payne, owns the Chester Sawmill, which you can see from I-540.

Pictured Below: Mayor Shannon Smith (owner), Marina Seratt, and Carolyn Brewer at the Chester Cafe.

Driving down the main drag, and before you get to the Chester Café, you’ll come across the Chester Mercantile. This place is an old-fashioned convenience store before the days of convenience stores. You can get just about anything you need in there – from sandwiches made from Petit Jean meats to hardware goods and everything in between. The Mercantile is a gathering place of sorts, with wooden floors, a dining area, and a pool table. Ronnie and Terri Cluck own the Mercantile, and it truly is a great treasure!

Since today was Mother’s Day, my mama decided she wanted a sandwich from the Chester Mercantile…so we went! We got our bologna and cheese sandwiches and cokes and went to the park down on the river. The West Fork of the White River goes through Chester, and the old Chester School (built by the WPA in 1942) sits by it. The school is home to a church now. If you look closely, you can find an old set of steps that used to be the entrance to a swinging bridge that stretched across the river long ago.

One of the most recent additions to the community is the Chester House Inn, owned by Don and Tina Shores. The Chester House was built in 1887 and is on the National Register of Historic Sites. The Shores opened an antique store in the old building first and have now opened a bed-and-breakfast. The Shores’ Main Street Café – located in the Chester House – is another great place to eat!

Some of my favorite places in Arkansas are the small, welcoming, and polite towns where the people are always willing to chat with you. Chester is one of those places. Driving through the town makes you want to pull up a chair and drink iced tea on a porch and visit for a while. If you’re driving down I-540, stop by Chester for a quick sandwich or a great plate lunch!