Taming of a River Led to Creation of Lake Dardanelle State Park

Kerry Kraus, travel writer
Arkansas Tourism

Arkansas' 24th state park, Lake Dardanelle, is located on a 34,000-acre reservoir and is popular for fishing tournaments and camping. To reach the Russellville area of the park, take exit #81 (Scenic 7 Byway) off Interstate 40 at Russellville. Turn south then immediately turn west on Ark. 326 and proceed four miles. The Dardanelle area is located four miles west of Dardanelle on Ark. 22. For more information call (479) 967-5516 or visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com.

For hundreds of years, the Arkansas River ran rough-shod through the state, making the flood-prone river unsuitable for transportation or even recreation. After severe flooding in 1912, 1927,1936 and 1937, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided something must be done. In the late 1930s, the Corps made the move to shift their emphasis toward comprehensive river basin development.

This rejuvenated the Little Rock office, which had been closed, and led to the creation of the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System. The objectives were: to make river traffic feasible again; limit flooding and stop erosion along the river's banks; produce hydroelectric power; and provide recreational opportunities. The plan called for a series of locks and dams to create five reservoirs in Oklahoma and two in Arkansas, Ozark Lake and Lake Dardanelle. President Harry Trumann signed the bill approving the project in 1946, but it took 10 years for money to be appropriated so construction could begin.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Dardanelle Lock and Dam was held in 1959 even though funding was not secured until 1963. And when the flood gates at the Dardanelle Lock and Dam were closed in 1969, Lake Dardanelle was born.

Authorization for a state park at the lake came in 1966, and the lease with the Corps was signed in 1967. In the early days, the park was spread over three different locations -- Ouita, Russellville and Dardanelle -- and comprised 292 acres. Most of the initial construction in the park was done by the Corps of Engineers and included extremely primitive facilities. After the State Parks Division took possession of the park, the facilities were improved and expanded. (In 1995, the Ouita area was sold to the city of Russellville and is now a part of its city parks system.)

Today Lake Dardanelle is one of the most popular recreational parks in the system, and according to Superintendent Jon Brown, campers, fishermen, boaters and hikers use the park most.

"Camping is a very popular activity at Lake Dardanelle. Some of the campsites have been remodeled to host recreational vehicles and campers with large vehicles," Brown said.

"We cater to all fishermen -- crappie, catfish, bass. We also have an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved wooden fishing pier, along with a 682-foot-long ADA-sanctioned rock breakwater with a six-foot-wide concrete walkway that provides access to the excellent fishing for catfish the lake is known for," Brown added.

Brown is particularly proud of the new Weigh-In Fishing Pavilion. "It's the first of its kind in the nation," Brown said. "This project is the only 100% fishing tournament facility in the United States." The pavilion provides a meeting and computer room, weigh-in scales, a public address system, LED weight read-out, a dewatering station, aerator tanks, catch and release tanks, and a first aid tank for the tournament participants and sponsors. The park also provides a "catch-and-release" boat to take the netted fish back to their natural habitat. According to Brown, Lake Dardanelle has been named as the number one bass tournament lake in Arkansas due to the overall production of tournament fishing the past several years.

Facilities at the park have improved greatly since the early days. Today there are 83 campsites with water, electricity, flush toilets, hot showers, picnic tables and grills and 14 campsites with sewer in the Russellville. Also at the park are a miniature golf course, pavilions, launch ramps, visitor center, a marina, bicycle and kayak rentals, and hiking trail. Brown has seen many changes in the park since he became superintendent in 1984. "In the beginning, our basic responsibility was that of general maintenance in order to keep the park open. Today I see the need for providing quality programming and education as well."

Brown credits the park's success to the 1/8th cent conservation tax passed in 1996 which has provided major funding for many improvements. Projects made possible by the conservation tax, in addition to the Weigh-In Fishing Pavilion, include the new $2.8 million Interpretive Center, now under construction. The theme of the state-of-the-art facility is "One River, Many Voices." It will be completed and open to the public in spring 2003. The theme alludes to the Arkansas River and the many voices are those of nature and the past -- the Cherokee and William Lively, the first federal Indian Agent in the area. The center will incorporate aquatic interpretive programs and provide a lake view.

"The staff at Lake Dardanelle State Park is committed to providing our children and their children education on both historical and environmental issues that face our ever-changing world," Brown said. "The new interpretive center is a part of that commitment and promises to provide that top level of education."


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
E-mail: [email protected]

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