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Lakes Play Key Role in Arkansas Recreation

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Bull Shoals
Bull Shoals
    Lake Greeson
Lake Greeson
Lake Ouachita
Lake Ouachita
    Lake Chicot
Lake Chicot
Lake Hamilton
Lake Hamilton
December 26, 1997

Lakes Play Key Role
In Arkansas Recreation

By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Water is a key ingredient for many outdoor recreational activities around the world. Campers are drawn to it, hikers prefer to walk near it, most resorts rely on it, and millions of water-sports enthusiasts revel in it.

In Arkansas, freshwater creeks and rivers certainly attract thousands of fishermen, canoeists and hikers each year, but the state's rich bounty of lakes offers an even greater smorgasbord of activities for residents and visitors. And, with over 600,000 surface acres of lakes, there's plenty of space for everyone's favorite water event.

Arkansas's 11 largest lakes cover about 300,000 acres -- half of what the state has to offer. Hundreds of small lakes, created by nature or by various federal, state and private agencies, account for the other half. Until the early part of this century, all of the state's larger lakes were natural "old river" or "oxbow" impoundments along the Mississippi, Arkansas, White and other rivers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers introduced large man-made lakes to Arkansas in 1942, when Nimrod Lake was completed in Yell and Perry counties.

While Corps projects were built primarily for flood control and power generation, the lakes have provided excellent outdoor recreation for visitors and residents for more than half-a-century. The lake projects continue to attract millions of people each year, providing a valuable contribution to tourism in the Natural State.

The ball really started rolling with the completion of Norfork and Bull Shoals lakes, deep in the Ozarks. Norfork, encompassing 22,000 acres, was finished in 1944 on the North Fork River, a major tributary of the White. Almost 400 miles of shoreline and 19 public use parks provide space for camping, scuba diving, fishing or just relaxing. The lake has a reputation for great striper, bass, catfish and crappie action. The nation's largest trout hatchery, near the base of Norfork Dam, offers tours to the public, and nearby North Fork River is an excellent float or wading stream. Two world-record brown trout were taken from the river in 1988.

Bull Shoals Lake, completed in 1951, is west of Mountain Home on the main channel of the White River. The largest concrete dam in the Ozarks, Bull Shoals created a 45,500-acre lake along the Arkansas-Missouri border. Corps public use parks offer more than 600 campsites around the 740-mile shoreline. Several state-record bass have been taken from the lake's impressive stock which includes crappie, walleye, striper, trout and a variety of bass species. For 100 miles below the big dam, trout is the name of the game on the White River. Resorts and a state park are available to provide everything needed to go after the rainbows and browns that make this stream world-famous.

Beaver Lake, completed in 1966, is fed by the headwaters of the White River and fills a series of wooded valleys in the northwest corner of the state, between Fayetteville and Eureka Springs. Surface acreage totals almost 30,000 acres and the shoreline, delineated by limestone bluffs, twists and turns for 450-miles. Some 620 campsites in 10 public use parks complement a wide range of accommodations in nearby towns. Stripers, crappie, largemouth, white and spotted bass are popular catches and fly fishing is great for miles below the dam.

In his last major appearance before his fatal trip to Dallas, President John F. Kennedy dedicated Greers Ferry Lake on October 3, 1963. Today, the 40,000-acre lake is famous for its luxury resorts, convention centers, sailing regattas, fishing and water recreation. It is also known for its cleanliness. It was here in 1970 that a volunteer cleanup program was started and became the model for the Great Arkansas Cleanup and the subsequent National Public Lands Day, which follows its example. Greers Ferry Lake has received numerous awards for its program, including 10 Keep America Beautiful commendations.

The lake offers 15 public use parks, nine commercial marinas and over 1,200 campsites. State-record walleye and hybrid bass have been hooked on Greers Ferry and other species, including white, largemouth, stripers, catfish and crappie, also provide plenty of action.

Three nationally-ranked nature trails, a federal fish hatchery and a visitors center are other reasons for Greers Ferry Lake region's popularity. Another is the championship-class trout fishing on the Little Red River, below the dam. The current world-record brown (40lbs., 4 ozs.) was landed here in 1992. Resorts along the river and around the lake are geared to handle every fisherman's need.

Lake Dardanelle is in a class by itself. It stretches some 50 miles upstream from the Dardanelle-Russellville area as part of the massive $1.2 billion Arkansas River Navigation System. It is an important link in the 450-mile project that extends river commerce from the Mississippi River to near Tulsa, OK. Some 250 Corps campsites are available around the lake, plus Dardanelle State Park which occupies two shoreline locations. Largemouth, white and other bass species are tops with anglers, but the lake also supports catfish, bream and crappie populations.

The largest man-made reservoir located entirely in the state is Lake Ouachita, near Hot Springs. Completed in 1953, the lake covers some 40,000 acres at crest and extends up the Ouachita River valley more than 30 miles. The Ouachita is known for its great fishing, wilderness beauty and camping. Stripers in the 40-lb. class and lunker largemouth bass have attracted national tournaments to this Corps of Engineers gem, nestled in the Ouachita National Forest. Walleye, catfish and slab crappie are other favorites.

Recreational boating is also very popular on Lake Ouachita, which boasts over 100 islands. Rentals include houseboats, sailing crafts, fishing rigs and more. A state park (with cabins), commercial marinas and resorts, plus more than 400 Corps campsites contribute to one of the state's finest outdoor destinations.

Other Hot Springs area lakes include Lake Catherine and Lake Hamilton, both smaller and older than most Arkansas lakes, yet they provide good fishing and great resort accommodations at the Spa City's doorstep. Lake Catherine State Park is one of a handful of historic CCC facilities that started the state parks system during the 1930s.

DeGray Lake, near Arkadelphia, is one of the state's newest and most popular lakes. The 13,400-acre impoundment offers almost 600 campsites in more than a dozen public use parks, plus the luxury of DeGray Lake Resort State Park Lodge. The 96-room facility overlooks the lake from a wooded peninsula, part of a state park complex that includes a modern conference center, 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, campgrounds and marina.

Anglers revel at the variety of sports fishing on DeGray, which includes hybrid bass, northern pike, several bass species and all native panfish. Commercial marinas and rentals are available.

The tri-lakes region in southwest Arkansas showcases Gillham, Dierks, and DeQueen as smaller, but bountiful, recreational reservoirs. Lake Greeson, north of Murfreesboro, is known for its scenic wonders and boasts Daisy State Park along its northern shore. Millwood Lake, north of Texarkana, covers 29,000 acres and has long been a bass angler's haven because much of the lake is old timber stands. There are 230 Corps campsites and Millwood State Park adds more campgrounds and a marina.

Nimrod, mentioned earlier, and Blue Mountain lakes are hidden deep in the west-central Ouachita Mountains. Both provide great retreat areas for campers and fishermen.

Extreme south Arkansas offers two large lakes as part of management areas. Lake Erling, south of Stamps, is adjacent to the Lafayette Wildlife Management Area, and the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, west of Crossett, contains Lake Jack Lee. Restricted fishing is permitted on the refuge and camping areas are few. Persons are encouraged to tour the Felsenthal Visitors Center before venturing into the 65,000-acre preserve.

Arkansas's largest natural body of water, Lake Chicot, is a cut-off or "oxbow" from the Mississippi River in the southeast corner of the state. Formed centuries ago when the wandering river current decided to take a new course to the east, Lake Chicot has been a recreational retreat since pioneer days. Great fishing and water sports have been its trademark for generations and a state park, along the northern shoreline, is a fine place to start an outdoor adventure. Birdwatching, fishing, or relaxing at the park's outdoor pool are just some of the options. Camping, cabins, and marina are available. The lake's location makes it one of the early "hot" fishing spots in springtime.

For more information about the great lakes of Arkansas, call the state's Department of Parks and Tourism at 1-800-NATURAL; and for fishing information, call 1-800-364-GAME. You can also visit the Department's Website at www.arkansas.com or the Game and Fish Commission's site at www.agfc.com.


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"