Experience CCC history at Arkansas State Parks

Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park stands out as the only lodge built in Arkansas by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park stands out as the only lodge built in Arkansas by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Arkansas’ State Parks are among the most respected in the country. This year is the centennial year for our state park system and marks an occasion to further celebrate the beauty found in the 52 state parks across the state. 

Many historic moments took place on the path to this monumental year, including the system’s genesis in 1907, when officials of the Fort Smith Lumber Company toured Petit Jean Mountain in the Arkansas River Valley. Although concerned about difficult logging operations due to rugged terrain, they were so impressed with the mountain’s beauty they suggested it join the National Park System. By 1921, company physician Dr. T. W. Hardison was leading this effort and traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with then director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather. Mather suggested the area might work better as a state park so Hardison approached the state government about the idea and Petit Jean State Park was created in 1923, making it Arkansas' first state park. 

Dr. T. W. Hardison

Growth to our state park system came in the 1930s with important contributions by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Parks were added and the CCC built facilities and infrastructure for them, much of which still stands today.  

State parks across the state have strong historic ties to the CCC. Visiting them is one of the many ways to help celebrate this special centennial year.

Petit Jean State Park covers 2,800 acres atop beautiful Petit Jean Mountain. Historic Mather Lodge, a CCC rustic-style mountain lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon, has a restaurant with a view, cozy rooms and a fireplace in the lobby to keep warm. The lodge is named in honor of Stephen Mather. Members of the CCC were assigned to work in the park. Petit Jean’s CCC camp, known as Company V-1781, was made up of World War I veterans. The "V" was in part of the name to note that the camp had veterans — only around 10 percent of CCC camps around the country were veteran camps. The CCC workers had a role in building the lodge, cabins, overlooks, trails, and more at the park.

Mather Lodge under construction

Other lodging options include cabins located along a bluff with views of the canyon and campsites. From the lodge, you can hike Cedar Falls Trail to see Cedar Falls, one of the tallest continuously flowing waterfalls in the state. The park is also home to canyons, bluffs, prehistoric markings and trails like Seven Hollows, which all add to the beauty and adventure of your getaway. Lakes at the park offer an opportunity to fish or kayak. You can also visit Petit Jean’s gravesite and overlook at Stout’s Point and learn about the legendary girl the mountain is named after. The overlook is a standout place to enjoy the expansive and beautiful view of the Arkansas River below.

Mount Nebo State Park, near Dardanelle, lies in a beautiful location on top of Mount Nebo. It was designated a state park in 1927. The CCC has strong ties to the history of the park and many of the park's trails, cabins, bridges and pavilions were built by them. A popular trail at the park is the CCC-built Rim Trail, which offers stunning views of the Arkansas River from atop the mountain. Company V-1780, also made up of veterans, was the crew that worked at the park. 

Mount Nebo State Park is among the four state parks in Arkansas that have Monument Trails, mountain bike destinations within Arkansas State Parks that were built by some of the world's best trail builders. These multi-use trails further highlight the beauty of the state park.

Crowley’s Ridge State Park in northeast Arkansas became a state park in 1933 and can be found on a unique geological formation known as Crowley’s Ridge, the only uplifting in the otherwise flat Arkansas Delta. The park, which is a great place to explore Crowley’s Ridge itself, is named after Benjamin Crowley, whose pioneer homestead had once been located on the park site. CCC Companies 1729, 2746 and 4733 all had a role in the building of the park. Native log and stone structures, constructed by the CCC in the 1930s, add to this park’s rustic quality. Further facilities built by the CCC at the park include a lake, campgrounds, trails, bridges and more. Fishing and kayaking are available at Walcott Lake. 

Devil’s Den State Park in the northwest Arkansas Ozarks has a special place in the state park system. The park is considered the home of Arkansas mountain biking because the first mountain bike trail in the state park system was developed here in the late 1980s. Along with this piece of history, the park, which became a state park in 1933, was built by the CCC and is now one of the most intact CCC sites in the country. CCC Company 797 first came to the park with the goal of making a gravel road from West Fork to Devil's Den. They also built the first trail in the park. CCC Companies 757, 3777 and 3795 also worked at the park and built a stone dam, campgrounds, cabins, trails and more.

Rock formations and caverns are part of the landscape of the park and a dam, built by the CCC, goes across Lee Creek to create a body of water known as Lake Devil, which is popular for boating and fishing. The park has a wealth of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails that lead to the surrounding Ozark National Forest. Devil’s Den State Park is also home to Monument Trails.

Lake Catherine State Park became a state park in 1935. If you take a look around this state park, you can still see the influence of this time period as the park was developed by the CCC.

CCC Company 3777, who had also worked at Devil's Den, was assigned to this park too. They built cabins, bridges, barracks and more. The start of World War II signaled an end to most CCC projects but this project carried on until 1942 so that the park could be completed.

Today the park has four trails, the most popular being a loop trail called Falls Branch Trail, which has a seasonal waterfall and suspension bridge you can walk over. At the trailhead for this route, you can also find the starting point of two other trails including Horseshoe Mountain Trail Dam Mountain Trail.

A short and quick asphalt trail called Slunger Creek Trail can also be found at the beginning of the park. This route is named after the creek the route passes, which is famous for being home to the Ouachita streambed salamander, a protected creature that can only be found at the park. The park is home to special programs and events like barge lake tours and programs at the Nature Cabin, which was also built by the CCC. This state park has the only full-service marina on Lake Catherine and has items to rent like boats and kayaks to enjoy the beauty of the lake.

For more state park adventures to explore across the state, visit arkansasstateparks.com.