Conway students reflect on childhood hideaway

By Tammy Keith Published December 9, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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EILISH PALMER / Contributing Photographer

Former Julia Lee Moore Elementary School students, from the left, Talon Houston, Tori Cline and Amanda Brewer, all of Conway, gather at what is left of Scorpion Hill, a childhood hangout for students through the years. The former secluded area northeast of the school at Country Club Road and Tyler Street has been leveled.

As soon as the bulldozers started knocking down the overgrown corner at Country Club Road and Tyler Street in Conway, the cries of protest started.

It wasn’t conservationists who were upset; it was the young adults who remember playing on Scorpion Hill as children.

“I was so sad,” said Tori Cline, 23, of Conway. “I drove by, actually, and I saw all the bulldozers and I posted on Facebook, ‘They’re tearing down Scorpion Hill!’ People were like, ‘Oh, no!’ That’s literally all you think is, ‘They’re tearing down my childhood.’”

The hill with the ominous-sounding name is — was — just yards from Julia Lee Elementary School. Just a short walk away from rules and authority, students could enter the thicket and block out the adult world.

While Facebook buzzed with messages from 20-somethings talking about childhood memories and expressing angst about the hill being leveled, their parents wanted to know what is being built there.

City officials got a lot of calls, too.

“That’s been the hot thing the last couple of weeks,” said Bryan Patrick, city director of planning.

Property owner Jim Rankin had a simple answer.

“We have zero plans for it,” he said.

Rankin, president of Trinity Development, said Paladino Construction finished working on a second phase of his Chapel Creek subdivision in Conway and wanted work between jobs. He told Mark Paladino the employees could level his property at Country Club and Tyler.

“I told them they could flatten it,” he said. “I call it the rock pile. That’s all it is. I never heard it called Scorpion Hill till last week.”

Rankin said he was deer hunting with his son and some other young men, and they brought it up.

“One of them said, ‘Do you know somebody’s tearing down Scorpion Hill?’ I said, ‘What’s Scorpion Hill?’”

It sounds like a good Hardy Boys Mystery — but no one seems to know how Scorpion Hill got its name.

“As many rocks as are in there, it’s a good place for scorpions,” Rankin said.

He had no idea the interest that work on the property would stir up.

“I’ve gotten several calls. Everybody’s scared we’re going to put a gas station in. I assured them it’s not going to be commercial,” Rankin said. “No matter what we do, if it involves taking down a tree, or digging a hole, somebody always gets mad. You didn’t have 100-year-old oak trees [on the hill],” he said. “I think it would be good for some housing one day — the kids could literally walk out their front door and go to school.”

One of the young men deer hunting with Rankin was Talon Houston, 25, who at one time lived within walking distance of the school. He attended third through fifth grades at Julia Lee Moore.

“There are trails up there, and it seemed a lot bigger than it actually is,” Houston said. “It was sort of the getaway for kids. It felt like a fort — kind of like you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you’re hiding from everybody right there next to the school.”

He and Cline, and her friend Amanda Brewer, 23, of Conway, met at the dusty, rocky site on a recent cloudy Sunday afternoon.

“It’s sad,” Brewer said as she looked at the hill of rocks.

Brewer, a radiography student at Baptist Health Schools in Little Rock, still lives in the nearby Krooked Kreek subdivision with her parents, and Cline, a nursing student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, lives in nearby Pine Creek. Brewer said she, Cline and friend Seth Bennett went to Scorpion Hill for years.

“We went up there all the time. I guess because it was like a hideout — nobody could see you,” Brewer said. “Seriously, we probably went there every night for gosh, sixth, seventh and eighth grade, at least, when we could ride our bikes at night. Nobody knew where you were.”

Not that they did anything bad, she said.

There were certain rites of passages that happened, however.

Spencer Jones, 21, a senior at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, has fond memories of Scorpion Hill.

“I was driving by when I was home for Thanksgiving break, and I saw it, and I’m not going to lie, it kind of made me sad,” he said. “It was there for so long, and it was just one of those things that anybody who went to JLM remembers.”

Jones said he went to Scorpion Hill as an elementary-school student, and even years after that.

“I remember when we were all 15, 16, we would go up there and take dips [of chewing tobacco]. One friend put a whole can of dip in his mouth and threw up everywhere,” Jones said, laughing at the memory.

“It was so secluded. When you walked up into it, there was a big circle carved out where you could sit. It wasn’t like a manmade circle,; it was like a little clearing,” Jones said.

Students were forbidden to go there during recess, the former students recalled.

“It was sort of like mischievous hill,” Jones said.

Collin Torian, 23, also a University of Arkansas at Fayetteville student, lived in the Royal Oaks subdivision near the school when he was growing up, and his grandparents’ home is west of the school.

He recalled going to the convenience store across the street from Scorpion Hill.

“We’d go to Spring Creek Corner. We’d actually take a shortcut through Scorpion Hill on our bikes. It was a great place to go and spend a little time, throwing rocks and messing around. It was kind of like the halfway point for us, walking across the big soccer field and playground. We’d head back up there and hang out for a while. It was always something I did up until I was in the fifth grade — it was just a place we could go — we’d play hide and seek in there all the time.

“It was perfect for us at the time — being the height we were. If you were 5 1/2 feet tall or taller, you’d be getting smacked in the head with branches.”

“We stashed pocket knives and stuff in there,” he added.

His roommate, Eric Engeler, 23, grew up a few streets over from Torian. “That was our hangout; it’s kind of sad to see it coming down.”

His favorite memory is getting Cokes from Spring Creek Corner convenience store and going to Scorpion Hill to see if the bottle caps were winners.

Engeler said he also saw the work going on when he was home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It’s a pretty devastating deal,” he said.

University of Central Arkansas senior Calder Young, 22, of Little Rock, whose parents live in the Royal Oaks subdivision in Conway, played on Scorpion Hill when he was growing up, too.

“I went with friends multiple times a week for at least four years. My favorite memory was playing hide-and-seek during a snow. I was quite sad when I heard [the hill] was being leveled because I wanted to go visit it again. I don’t understand why they would destroy it,” Young said.

“It was the perfect oasis where a kid could be a kid.”

Torian agreed.

“It was our Neverland, if you will.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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