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Pretty Petit Jean plans a weekend full of play

By JACK SCHNEDLER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published May 8, 2014 at 2:13 a.m.

Visitors to Petit Jean State Park this weekend can take part in a variety of free programs.

Petit Jean is not only Arkansas' oldest state park, but also one of its most popular. Along with its splendid scenery, the mountaintop park bustles with organized activities. This weekend is a particularly busy example, with the following free events on the calendar:

Bear Cave Adventure Hike, 3-3:45 p.m. Friday, at Bear Cave parking area. Spinning off the fact that a black bear was spotted in the past year at Bear Cave, this interpretive walk will focus on the history of that ursine species in Arkansas. The hike covers a quarter-mile of uneven terrain.

Turtle Rocks and Rock House Cave, 7:30-8:15 p.m. Friday. A park interpreter will lead a short hike from Rock House Cave parking area over the fascinating Turtle Rocks to Rock House Cave. The hike is a quarter-mile long, and taking a flashlight along is a good idea.

Birding at Cedar Falls Overlook, 9-9:45 a.m. Saturday. This guided quarter-mile hike from the Cedar Falls Overlook parking area aims to spot birds and offer a few birding tips while admiring the falls and their canyon. Take binoculars if you have them.

Don't Let Them Fool You!, 11-11:45 a.m. Saturday. A park interpreter at the demonstration area shows some of the many ways that birds have been misunderstood by people. For example, there's the age-old notion that owls are wise. A bit of birdwatching will be involved.

Let's Go Birding!, 1:30-2 p.m. Saturday. Petit Jean's avian population spans the spectrum from bluebirds to vultures. An interpreter leads guests from the visitor center's exhibit room for a half-hour birding stroll to see what can be seen. It's a good idea to take binoculars and a birdwatching book.

Night Symphony, 8:30-9 p.m. Saturday. The many night sounds at Petit Jean, some of them mysterious to city dwellers, will be explained by an interpreter on an easy stroll.

Wild Animal Homes Hike, 9-10 a.m. Sunday. Setting off from the Pavilion A parking area, an interpreter will lead a mile-long hike along a portion of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail. The guide will look for places where nesting mothers and other animals may be living along Cedar Creek. Sturdy shoes are in order.

Visitors can enjoy a meal at the park's landmark Mather Lodge. Its gorgeous high-ceilinged dining room offers spectacular views of the Arkansas River Valley. Snagging a reservation for one of the lodge's 24 guest rooms can be a major challenge on weekends. That's true as well for the 33 cabins.

For those who prefer hiking on their own, Petit Jean has seven marked trails, ranging in length from a quarter-mile to 12 miles. Rock House Cave Trail, one of the shortest, rewards hikers with faint pictographs carved long ago by people unknown.

The more challenging Cedar Falls Trail, a two-mile trek, descends to the lovely waterfall that is said to be one of the park's most photographed sights. For those less mobile, Cedar Falls Overlook just off Arkansas 154 provides a decent view of the cascading water.

Two generously stocked lakes are lures for fishing folks. They'll be especially busy on June 7 when Petit Jean holds its annual Mountain Fishing Derby, open to youngsters 15 and under. Parents can bait hooks, but the kids must do the fishing

For more information on Petit Jean State Park, call (501) 727-5441 or visit petitjeanstatepark.com. For lodge and cabin reservations, call (800) 264-2462.

Weekend on 05/08/2014

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