SMACKOVER - When the word “brine” pops up, it’s easy to think “pickles.”
That was one good reason for the former Arkansas Oil and Brine Museum, just south of Smackover, to change its name to the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources.
The brine in question here has nothing to do with dills or gherkins. In fact, it’s a valuable underground resource extracted in large volume since the 1950s from the Smackover Formation in south Arkansas.
From this salty and extremely dense water comes bromine, a widely used chemical element. The production of brine employs some 1,500 workers in Union, Ouachita and Columbia counties. Arkansas brine is the source for 97 percent of U.S. bromine and 40 percent of the world’s supply.
Still, “brine” falls flat when it comes to tourist drawing power. “Natural resources”lacks marquee punch as well, but it does cover a lot more territory - with an eco-friendly tone. And the name change in 1997 has been followed by expansion and improvements that make today’s facility a real asset of the Arkansas State Parks system.
At the 25,000-square-foot museum, brine plays a supporting role to oil, the headline act of the boom that was touched off here by the first gusher on Jan. 10, 1921.
Previously a village of 100 residents, Smackover was bursting at the seams within months with a population that peaked at 25,000. In 1925, unlikely as it may seem today, the Smackover Field ranked No. 1 in U.S. oil production, before the supply dwindled. The town’s population today is just under 2,000.
During those boom years, when the grasp of bromine’s value lay in the future, the abundant brine that emerged along with the oil was considered a worthless nuisance. It was mostly allowed to drain away, creating serious pollution. Now it’s the prime product of the old oil fields here; the globe’s only other major brine location is the Dead Sea, bordered by Israel and Jordan.
While no match for the entertainment value of a theme park, the museum’s varied exhibits pack a fun factor for grownups as well as youngsters, for whom there’s a hands-on alcove with arts and crafts. Attractions include:
The Earth Globe: “Experience a walk through the center of the earth and see where oil and bromine are located throughout the world.”
The Core Shaft: “Walk through a simulated core shaft and see samples of actual formations found in south Arkansas.”
Undersea Diorama: “Take a trip 200 million years back in time to the Jurassic Period. Ride through the ocean and learn how oil is formed on the ocean’s floor.”
Industrial Revolution: “Step onto an oil-soaked rig floor as a gusher is being brought under control.”
Boom Town Street: “Take a stroll through Smackover’s muddy boom town street and visit a restaurant, jail, supply store and movie theater.” (Happily, there’s no actual mud.)
The Circus Truck: “Learn about one of south Arkansas’ most popular legends, Rhene Miller Meyer, the famous ‘Goat Woman.’ See what entertainment was like in a boom town.”
Oil Field Park: “Follow the Woodland Walk and view full-size, operating examples of derricks and equipment used from the 1920 to the modern era.” (The tallest derrick stands 112 feet high.) With Halloween on the horizon, the museum is staging a Retro Halloween fall festival from 2-6 p.m. Saturday. The flashback fun will include stick-horse and sack races, bobbing for apples, pumpkin coloring and a marshmallow roast. There’s an event charge of $3 for adults, $5 for children; the higher fee for kids reflects the array of prizes and other treats they’ll be in line to receive.
The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, 3853 Smackover Highway (Arkansas 7), is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m.Monday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is normally free. For more information, call (870) 725-2877 or visit ArkansasStateParks.com. Smackover is about 110 miles south of Little Rock. Dining and shopping options are much more varied in El Dorado, another dozen miles south.
Weekend, Pages 36 on 10/24/2013
Print Headline: History runs deep at Smackover oil field state park