Friday, July 10, 2009


The $4.5 million Visitor Center in the Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, which only opened on May 27 of this year, is a facility that all persons interested in conservation and education can be thankful for. It is a way you can see your tax dollars being used (specifically Amendment 75, called the Arkansas Conservation Amendment) in a way that will benefit many generations to come. Its importance within the the state's largest state park (over 12,000 acres) is magnified even more because it is located in the fastest growing area of the state (think Wal-Mart Headquarters). At its dedication a few weeks ago, park officials pointed out that it is within a one hour drive of 58,000 students. So even though it was uncrowded the day my granddaughter and I visited, the resumption of school will likely make the place abuzz with "the pitter-patter" of little feet, where they will be learning about the history of the Ozarks, as well as what each one of them can do to conserve the beauty of the area, that we tend to take for granted. Every aspect of the design was considered for its environmental impact. For example, the sign (upper left photo) at the facility's only entry road, is a reminder that multiple road accesses were limited in order to reduce environmental impact caused by roads. Underneath the parking lot (in an effort to make dual use of the space), there are 40 geothermal wells. The contemporary design is reminiscent of an Ozark barn (lower left photo), and also has a porch at each end. Rainwater is collected from the roof for re-use in the landscaping, including the man-made stream (upper right) that encircles the building, terminating in a pond in the rear area (lower right). Local materials were used in building the center to reduce transportation costs, as well as boost the local economy. All these factors make the Visitor Center a candidate for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment) Certification.

The interior of the building is spacious, with many windows, to take advantage of light, as well as the beautiful surroundings (lower right and left photos). The visible ceiling rafters are a reminder of an Ozark hay loft (upper left). When we entered the building, the park employee greeted us, and encouraged us to view the short video that plays frequently throughout the day, to orient us for our trek through the area. Beside the information desk, there is a retail area, selling appropriate items for nature lovers or souvenir hunters.
Education is one of the main missions of the new visitor center, and one of the best ways youngsters can learn is by actually getting to touch and pick up various "remains" of wild inhabitants of the area. In the upper left photo, Kaitlyn is holding a tortoise shell to each ear, and in the lower photo, she is hiding behind the antlers of a small deer. The exhibits are interactive, and allow the viewer to see how they fit into the nature scene. For example, in the lower right hand photo, Kaitlyn is able to touch the computer screen for the year she was born, to see where that year was located in the hundred-plus rings shown in a cross-section of a fallen tree from the park. The interactive butterfly exhibit is housed in a corner of the building, made to resemble an animal stall of an Ozark barn (middle left photo). There is a cave diorama also, where viewers can press buttons to see various parts of the cave scene light up, teaching them the names and origin of formations found inside Ozark limestone caves. Just outside the cave diorama is a giant-sized reproduction of the head of an Arkansas bat. (p.s. If you think a school bus full of children going through the visitor center at the same time you are, might drive you "batty", I would recommend high-tailing it over to this little-known, gem of a place, before September! When those 58,000 students start scheduling field trips to this facility, the $800,000 spent furnishing the exhibits gallery will be put to the test! )
Although there are numerous hiking trails throughout the park, I wanted to visit the Historic Van Winkle Trail because I read that it would take us to where the lumber for the first building of my alma mater, "Old Main" at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, was milled. For this and many other reasons, the site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (lower left photo). The trail is only one-half mile long, and is wheelchair accessible (lower right-hand photo). Since the parking lot is located on the opposite side of Highway 12 from the trail, a paved tunnel has been constructed under Highway 12 in order to gain safe entrance to the trail head (middle right photo). Interpretive plaques along the trail (middle left photo) provide historical data on the artifacts you are viewing. Little Clifty Creek (middle left photo) was a factor in determining the location of the former industrial center. Since 11,644 acres of the approximately 12,000 acres of the park are from the estate of Roscoe C. Hobbs, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to him for his conservation efforts. Thanks to his foresight, plus the work of numerous public officials and volunteers, the next generation can learn about being environmental stewards of the land. Revelation 11:18, when prophesying about end times, uses the phrase "destroying those who destroy the earth". This should add to that ever-growing list of why we want to take good care of this beautiful planet God has given us, called EARTH. Miles of (environmentally friendly) smiles! Tricia (Note: Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area is located 10 miles east of Rogers, Arkansas. Call 479-789-5000 for more information or log on to