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Arkansas Park Offers Public Unique Chance at Diamonds


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Crater of Diamonds State Park
Crater of Diamonds State Park
    Crater of Diamonds State Park
Crater of Diamonds State Park
   
May 12, 1998


Arkansas Park Offers Public
Unique Chance at Diamonds

*****
By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

MURFREESBORO -- Though searching for diamonds at Arkansas's unusual Crater of Diamonds State Park is somewhat akin to seeking the proverbial needle in a haystack, there is widespread belief that finding a diamond would prove both more memorable and more lucrative.

Another difference is that while just about any old haystack will suffice for needle-hunting, the park's 36.5-acre diamond field is the only place on Earth where the public can search for diamonds in their natural, geological matrix -- and keep any that are found.

Perhaps that's why on a recent mid-week day visitors from California, Nevada, Utah, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas joined a number of Arkansans to pore over the field's greenish, volcanic soil.

Among those visitors were senior and middle-aged couples, two families with pre-schoolers and four busloads of fifth and sixth graders from Bowie County, Texas, who were, literally, on a field trip.

One older couple stopped at the field's edge, then pulled out a copy of a news article on a park find and tried to determine which area had produced the diamond. A grinning pre-schooler was observed showing stone after stone to her mother, who patiently examined each one.

While the chance of finding a diamond is the park's ultimate lure, the shared time participating in this unique recreational activity seems reward enough for many.

The park's gem-related pay-offs can, however, be significant. The 3.03-carat white diamond found in 1990 by Shirley Strawn of Murfreesboro was recently appraised at $33,790 after being cut to a flawless, 1.09-carat stone.

On April 7, Carole Dickinson Stevens of Louisiana and her mother, Mary Dickinson of Mississippi, found a pale yellow diamond weighing 7.28 carats. It was the fifth largest diamond found since the site became a state park in 1972. The largest was the 16.37-carat "Amarillo Starlight" found by a Texas visitor in 1975.

On March 2, Donna Bell of Houston discovered a 3.89-carat, white diamond. She came to the park after hearing about it on Oprah Winfrey's television talk show.

In the park's first 25 years -- from 1972 to 1997 -- a total of 20,739 diamonds were found, 614 of which weighed more than one carat.

Located two miles south of Murfreesboro on Ark. 301, the park contains the world's eighth largest diamond reserve. Since the site's first diamond was discovered by John Huddleston in 1906, it has produced more than 70,000 diamonds, including the 40.23-carat "Uncle Sam," the largest diamond ever found in North America.

Earlier this decade, tests were performed on the site to determine the feasibility of commercial mining. Though commercial mining was deemed infeasible, the tests yielded new geological information about the park, including the fact that the diamond-bearing soil in the area covered more acreage than previously known.

An adverse effect of the testing, however, was that it created confusion regarding the park. Both Murfreesboro Mayor Thelma Simon and Rob Plant, president of the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce, said recently that their offices had received numerous inquiries about the park's status.

Park Superintendent Michael Hall agreed that the testing had affected park visitation. But, he said, the testing is over and the site's future as a state park is secure.

The diamond field and the park's visitor information center open daily at 8 a.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Days. Daily entrance fees to the field are $4.50 for adults and $2 for children 6 to 12. Children under 6 are admitted free. Groups of 15 or more who notify the park in advance of their visit receive a 50 percent discount.

The park has several processing pavilions, restrooms and a clean-up station. During summer months, the park operates a rock and mineral checking station where refreshments are available at the field’s entrance.

Visitors may bring their own non-motorized, wheel-less equipment to the field, though the park rents shovels, hand tools and screening boxes for nominal fees. It's a good idea to wear shoes of which you aren't especially proud and to bring sunscreen, a brimmed hat and water.

Hall said the best time to surface-search the field is on a sunny day after a heavy rainfall. "Someone who finds a diamond in an hour," he added, "doesn't realize how lucky they are."

The park staff provides free identification and certification of gems. In addition to diamonds, the field contains more than 40 other rocks and minerals, including amethyst, agate, jasper, quartz, calcite and barite.

The park's visitor center offers an audio-visual presentation giving tips on diamond hunting. Exhibits in the center's Diamond Museum detail the site's interesting history and geology and include a display of diamonds in the rough. An adjacent gift shop features collector-quality mineral specimens, rough and faceted gemstones, jewelry, park mementos and novelty items.

The park's 60-site campground is popular with visitors who want to be on hand when the park opens, Hall said. "Other people prefer to camp where there's a lake," he explained. Many of the Crater's visitors are on day trips from relatively close, lakeside parks such as Daisy State Park, DeGray Lake Resort State Park and Millwood State Park, Hall said, while others are tourists staying in the resort city of Hot Springs, about one hour to the northeast by car.

Each of the Crater's campsites features water and electric hook-ups. Two bathhouses and a coin-operated laundry are located in the campground.

A picnic area and playground are located near the visitors center. The park's Kimberlite Cafe serves breakfast and short orders from the Thursday before Memorial Day through Labor Day.

While the park has no general store, groceries and other camping supplies are available in nearby Murfreesboro. The town also has some 80 rooms of lodging and a number of restaurants.

For more information on the park, phone (501) 285-3113 or write Crater of Diamonds State Park, Route 1, Box 364, Murfreesboro, AR 71958.

While diamond hunting brings many to Murfreesboro for brief visits, the area offers sufficient other recreational opportunities to make a longer stay worthwhile.

Seasonally, rainbow trout may be taken on the scenic Little Missouri River from the Narrows Dam (six miles north of Murfreesboro) to the Ark. Highway 27 bridge (one-half mile west of town).

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission amply stocks the stretch with trout from late fall through April and the daily trout limit is six. Rental cabins and easy public access are available on the stream, which, when the dam's generators aren't running, provides excellent fly-fishing opportunities.

Formed by the 175-foot-high Narrows Dam, the 5,000-acre Lake Greeson offers fishing for a variety of bass species, catfish, crappie and bluegill. The lake is also home to campgrounds, hiking trails and swimming areas at sites managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps' 37-mile Bear Creek motorcycle trail is located along the lake.

More information on the Corps' facilities is available by visiting the Corps' office at the dam, by phoning (870) 285-2151, or by writing the Corps of Engineers Resource Manager, Route 1, Murfreesboro, AR 71958.

Additional hiking and fishing is available on the state park's 1.3-mile River Trail. The hiking loop begins in the park campground and winds through an old-growth forest of mixed hardwoods and pines to the Little Missouri, where bank fishing for black bass, catfish and bream is available. The river's Terrell Access boat ramp is a 5-minute drive from the park.

The River Trail is one of several prime birdwatching sites in the area detailed in a free brochure available at the park's visitor center.

Murfreesboro's small, easy-going downtown offers browsing for antiques and geological specimens. The walls of the Hawkins Variety Store hold a collection of license plates from all 50 states and Arkansas plates from as early as 1927.

The downtown is home to the Pike County Courthouse, which was built in 1933 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. A project to improve landscaping on the courthouse square and to add period lighting is currently underway. Also on the Register is the now-closed Conway Hotel, which during Murfreesboro's early diamond rush had to turn away 10,000 visitors in a single year.

For more information on accommodations, special events and other attractions in the Murfreesboro area, contact the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce by phoning (870) 285-3131 or writing P.O. Box 166, Murfreesboro, AR 71958.

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"

ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS & TOURISM
1 Capitol Mall, 4A-900 - Little Rock, Arkansas 72201 | 1-800-872-1259 or (501) 682-7777 (V/TT)
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