Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gaston Visitor's Center

If you want to see an example of your tax dollars being used in a most beneficial way, make a trip to the Gaston Visitor's Center, near Mountain Home, Arkansas. This new 15,744 square foot facility was built at a cost of five million dollars, and is located on a high bluff overlooking Bull Shoals-White River State Park. From that venue, one can see three of the parks most prominent components---the massive Bull Shoals Dam (upper left hand corner of collage above), the White River (lower left hand corner), and Bull Shoals Lake, encompassing thousands of acres behind the dam. Within the building, there are modern, interactive exhibits that showcase the natural, historical, and cultural aspects of this area of the Ozark Mountains. The center is named after Jim Gaston, philanthropist and owner of the famous Gaston's White River Resort. Gaston has been a familiar name to me since I was a child. That is because when my father traveled the roads of this area as a salesman in the 1950's for his company that supplied businesses, schools, and offices (think of it as an early version of a "Staples" store), the Gaston Resort was one of his regular customers. My father took all the family to stay at the resort one summer, and I have fond memories of getting to swim in a REAL swimming pool, as opposed to just the open waters of the lake which I was accustomed to. One of my favorite features of the new Gaston Visitor's Center is the "Johnboat Theater", where the walls are covered with photo murals of the White River, and the theater seats are designed to look like green johnboats (middle right hand photo above). The video one sees has stories told by locals about their memories of the White River before the dam, the building of the dam, and ample "fish tales" to make you consider dropping a hook in the water to see if you can create your own fish tale! I have heard plenty of stories from my father (and have the old black and white photos to illustrate them!), about his days as a young boy fishing on the White River, and stories of his big fish hauls, when the Bull Shoals Dam was first constructed. He had such a love of fishing, that he ended up building himself a houseboat, so he could spend every spare minute on the water, when he wasn't working. In fact, at his funeral, the pastor asked for a show of hands of those attending, if they had ever been fishing with my father. It seemed like every hand in the church raised up, and a big smile came to the face of each one there, as they recalled fond memories of fishing from my dad's houseboat. There is plenty of nostalgia to be seen at Gaston Visitor's Center, and perhaps that is why I wanted my son to get to see it when he visited recently from out west. The lower right hand corner photo shows him walking along one of the new, paved, wheelchair accessible nature trail loops that have recently been added to the site. There is also an outdoor fountain area, a butterfly garden, bird houses, and picnic tables. Back inside there are modern, clean restrooms, a well-stocked gift shop, information table, WI-FI, a kiosk for sending free e-postcards to your friends, large aquariums with live trout and other local fish, fantastic photography, and a simulated conveyor belt like the one used to carry stone during construction of the Bull Shoals Dam. Another favorite part for me is the two-story observation tower, replicating an old forest fire tower. The magnificent back deck (upper right hand photo) is the perfect place to sit and relax and take in all the beauty that surrounds you. There is also an outdoor classroom/amphitheater on one end of the building. The amphitheater is conveniently adjacent to indoor classrooms and conference rooms, as well. Additional photos of the Visitor's Center are available at www.ozarkmountainregion.com For a great family activity (and it is all FREE of charge!), check out the Gaston Visitor's Center. Miles of smiles! Tricia
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