Mississippi River State Park took home the top award of 2019 Overall Park of the Year in the Arkansas State Park system, according to the Arkansas State Parks department. DeGray Lake Resort, Moro Bay, Historic Davidsonville, and Lake Dardanelle state parks won regional Park of the Year awards.
“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. “These five state parks were chosen because of their ability to go above and beyond our mission and perform in a superior manner.”
Mississippi River State Park
Mississippi River State Park in Marianna and Region 3 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 their 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 straightforward 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. Barriers of transportation, cost of the camps, and time commitments prevented more children from participating.
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. 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 with 20 children attending, 15 of which 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.
The park also collaborated with the UA Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design and the Lower Mississippi River Foundation on projects.
Lake Dardanelle State Park
The Region 1 Park of the Year is Lake Dardanelle State Park in Russellville. The park excelled in resource management, interpretive programming, and serving visitors despite record flooding of the Arkansas River this year and its impact on the park.
Davidsonville Historic State Park
The Region 2 Park of the Year is Davidsonville Historic State Park in Pocahontas. Despite a staffing shortage, Davidsonville staff was able to stay on mission, provide visitors with a variety of historical and natural educational programs, and provide recreational programs for outdoor family experiences. They cross-trained positions and pulled together as a team.
Moro Bay State Park
The Region 4 Park of the Year Award is Moro Bay State Park in Jersey. Staff provided excellent hospitality and experiences 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.
DeGray Lake Resort State Park
The Region 5 Park of the Year Award is 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.