Mississippi River State Park took home the top award of 2019 Overall Park of the Year in the Arkansas State Park system.
Moro Bay State Park and DeGray Lake Resort State Park were among four state parks receiving regional honors.
“Our state parks consistently excel at hospitality, taking care of our visitors, interpretive programming, maintaining our facilities, and assisting other parks,” Arkansas State Parks Director Grady Spann said.
Mississippi River State Park
Mississippi River State Park in Marianna was chosen as Overall Park of the Year for innovative partnerships that allowed park staff to serve their community in a meaningful way. Superintendent Kristina Root Carranza said most of the park’s accomplishments were years in the making and came to
full fruition this year. These collaborations increased spring break camp participation, created innovative designs for new observation shelters, and added capacity to interpretive programs.
“The projects and partnerships we created were solutions to difficult issues we face in providing the best public service possible. These solutions didn’t have straight forward answers. It took time, listening, understanding to solve,” she said. “In this process, we have been able to create critical stakeholders in the community, new stakeholders, and introduce a new generation to Arkansas State Parks. At the same time, we were solving problems and fulfilling the Arkansas State Parks mission.”
Mississippi River State Park secured a grant to have an AmeriCorps NCCC team come to the park. The grant allowed the 11 volunteers to spend six weeks working at the park, a donated value of $47,520 in labor. It was an innovative solution to reduce the backlog of maintenance projects, spark new interpretive ideas, and enhance resource protection.
Park staff realized that when serving their local community, they needed to learn how to help at-risk children and families better. One way was by getting more children to attend the park’s Spring Break day camp. In past years, very few children participated, and although they enjoyed the camp, park staff knew more children in the community could benefit from the camp.
Transportation, the cost of the camp, and the timeframe were three main hardships. They knew they couldn’t address these issues alone, so they reached out to the community and they answered.
Transportation was provided by a local health group, Lee County Cooperative Clinic. Fees were paid by individual community members who sponsored a child to attend camp. In a community where a significant portion lives below poverty lines, staff was overwhelmed when $2,000 in donations were collected in just two days. Every child attended for free. The AmeriCorps NCCC team allowed park staff to extend the camp hours to 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. for working parents.
These changes paid off big time. In the spring of 2019, 20 children attended a state park camp. The third- through fifth-graders were introduced to Mississippi River State Park, creating new stakeholders and outdoor enthusiasts. Of the 20 children, 15 had never been to a state park. Most campers had never been fishing, set up a tent, been in the forest, had a s’more, or touched the Mississippi River.
Moro Bay State Park
The Region 4 Park of the Year Award goes to Moro Bay State Park in Bradley County, northeast of El Dorado.
Staff provides excellent hospitality and an incredible experience to its visitors along the banks of the Ouachita River in South Arkansas allowing them to form personal connections to the resource and the park. They also maintain a superior standard in resource management.
Moro Bay State Park Superintendent Paul Butler serves on Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Arkansas Feral Hog Eradication Task Force and the Arkansas State Parks Feral Hog Task Force. Butler developed a standard operating procedure for the park system’s trapping program and stays in communication with the state park Director’s Office with updates on the program and effectiveness.
“Feral hogs are considered an animal nuisance species and cause millions of dollars in damage in Arkansas and more than a billion dollars nationwide each year,” Spann said. “Thankfully, the Arkansas Legislature and Governor Hutchinson created this
task force that unites several state agencies and organizations together to fight this problem. Paul is playing an important role in representing Arkansas State Parks and leading our effort to eradicate feral hogs in our parks and to assist other stakeholders to be effective in their efforts to do the same.”
Moro Bay staff members also make substantial contributions to the Natural Resources Inventory Database (NRID). They contribute records and photos of flora and fauna found within the park. NRID plays a vital role in the management of Arkansas State Parks natural resources. For example, NRID allows park staff to create custom checklists for birders and wildflower lovers, so they have an opportunity to explore and make discoveries of their own. It also helps students better understand species and where they occur in habitat.
“The staff we have at Moro Bay is truly exceptional. In fiscal year 19, despite nine months of moderate flooding, the park set a record in our attendance for our fall cross country event and reached a record in total revenues. Our interpretive staff presented 254 programs,” Butler said.
Efficiency is key to maintaining a state park. Park staff saw a need and built new metal firewood racks with wheels that can be lifted by a front-end loader and moved.
This creative solution allows staff to load and move firewood without having to handle it more than one time.
DeGray Lake Resort State Park
The Region 5 Park of the Year Award goes to DeGray Lake Resort State Park in Bismarck. DeGray Lake Resort is one of five lodge parks in the park system. The park thrived in interpretive programming that provided visitors with a personal connection with the resource and the park.
DeGray Lake Resort State Park delivered 1,090 programs for 15,261 people, 88 school programs for 5,770 students, and made more than $40,000 in revenue from programming.
“Island Adventure” is a new program developed by park interpreters David Armstrong and Kayla Gomance that allows visitors to experience so much of what the resource has to offer. Island Adventure is a full day of adventure on the island with kayaking, hiking, park interpreter-led programs, food from the Shoreline Restaurant, and an evening campfire.
The park also faced difficulties meeting revenue projections due to lodge construction. To address this issue, park staff delayed filling salaried and extra help positions. This fiscal responsibility didn’t come easy, but park staff was committed. They banded together as a team by absorbing duties of vacant positions, saving the park system $89,552 in regular salaries and $152,420 in extra help pay.
DeGray Lake Resort State Park Superintendent Walt Reding says, “I am proud of what our staff was able to accomplish this year. Even with trying to keep staffing at a minimum level, we accomplished some very remarkable in-house projects, such as revamping the No. 8 green on the golf course and building a new buffet for the Shoreline Restaurant. The staff here at DeGray Lake Resort State Park is focused on creating an organizational culture centered around hospitality to our guests and being good stewards of the facilities and resources that the citizens of Arkansas have entrusted us to manage.”
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