Cleanup finishes at state parks

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published January 31, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 30, 2013 at 11:02 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Jim Edens, right, cuts a fallen tree with a chain saw while working with an AmeriCorps team to clear the Dam Mountain Trail at Lake Catherine State Park near Hot Springs. Crews worked for several weeks to clear the park’s hiking trails after a winter storm that hit the area Christmas Day.

Crews with chain saws, bow saws and plenty of hands to move debris cleared downed trees and broken limbs Jan. 23 from the four-mile-long Dam Mountain Trail at Lake Catherine State Park in Hot Spring County.

Park Superintendent Richard Boyes said reopening the trail completed the efforts to restore the park after it was hit hard by the winter storm that dumped ice and around a foot of snow over large sections of the Tri-Lakes region.

“This should be the last day of cleaning up the hiking trails,” Boyes said Jan. 23. “Now people will not have to crawl over and under things.”

The park had to be closed for several days after the storm came through on the evening of Dec. 25.

“First we had the ice, and then the snow was heavy and wet and seemed to stick to every branch,” Boyes said. “It uprooted a lot of trees and broke others. It was quite a mess.”

Arkansas 171, the road leading into Lake Catherine State Park, was blocked by fallen trees, and power was lost. During the first day, staff from Lake Catherine went to the DeGray Lake Resort State Park, near Bismarck, to call people with reservations about Lake Catherine State Park’s closing.

As much as 8 inches of snow fell at DeGray Lake, but the roads into the park remained open and were cleared of snow by Dec. 27, Park Interpreter Elizabeth Bittner said. She said conditions may have been daunting for campers and lodge guests, who mostly stayed inside, but with only a short power interruption, many regular services continued.

“There were trees and limbs down on the trails, but we get trees down all the time,” Bittner said. “The trails remained dry and stayed open. People might have had to step over some things, but the trails have always been passable.”

Bittner said the park staff is now inspecting the trails for debris to be removed.

At Lake Ouachita State Park, near Mountain Pine in Garland County, from 10 to 12 inches of snow fell in the area, closing sections of Arkansas 227 across Blakley Mountain that leads to the park.

“We had some small trees in the road, but they were cleared by the next day,” said Susan Adams, park interpreter. “There were some slick spots on the mountain, but it was passable.”

The park lost power from the evening of Dec. 26 until Dec. 28, but technically, the park never closed because there were guests who never left.

“We had some campers who roughed it out with us,” Adams said. “There was not a lot of ice, so we felt we did pretty well.”

While the weather trapped a few park visitors and kept others away, Bittner said the wilder residents of the parks were still out and about. She spent several hours moving around DeGray Lake Resort State Park the day after the snow fell.

“I saw more tracks [in the snow] than I’ve ever seen, just casually walking around the park,” she said. “It goes to show how much animal activity goes on without humans noticing. Normally, you wouldn’t see the tracks of smaller animals like squirrels and crows.”

Bittner said she saw crow, deer and squirrel tracks along the trails and in the resort’s parking lots. She also found tracks she thinks were left by a coyote. The DeGray park interpreter also tracked a short outing by a small animal she thinks might have been a skunk or opossum.

“I took pictures of tracks near the administration building leading out from a drainage pipe,” Bittner said. “It came out at night and obviously decided it was a bit too cold to do much foraging. The tracks show that it just went a little ways out, then turned around and went back in the pipe.”

Bittner also said she spotted kingfishers, woodpeckers and a young bald eagle as she moved around the park.

On the lakeshore, there was a lot of activity, said Don Dean, who managers the resort’s marina. He said the winter weather never slows the ducks, geese or coots that hang around the area.

“They don’t care,” he said. “Ducks will sit in the water and let it freeze all around them. There will be duck-shaped holes in the ice where they were sitting.”

Dean also reported seeing the marina’s resident beaver sitting on the snow in the early hours of the morning after the storm.

Bittner, who has done programs for visitors on how animals adapt in the wild, said beavers have an especially dense and oily fur that keeps water from reaching the skin and traps a layer of warm air between the hairs to insulate the animal.

“As long as animals stay relatively dry, they stay warm,” Bittner said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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