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story.lead_photo.caption Family members take their boat ashore at DeGray Lake Resort State Park. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

DEGRAY LAKE RESORT STATE PARK — The only one of Arkansas' 52 state parks sporting "resort" in its name is bustling again with visitors as summer fuels the desire to enjoy a few pleasures of normal life.

Some folks are wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Some aren't. Most of them, the careful and the heedless alike, appeared to be having a fine time on a recent Sunday afternoon at DeGray Lake Resort State Park.

Most park facilities are open, although the playground remained closed as of press time. Reservations for the 94-room lodge and the tourist yurts are spaced to allow two or three days for thorough cleaning between uses. The lodge's Shoreline Restaurant is open with limited seating and hours. Also open are the park's 113 campsites with electrical hookups, water, tables and grills. Tent sites can be used as well.

Properly spaced access is allowed to the visitor center, gift shops and the 132-slip marina. Guests are required to wear a mask or other cloth face-covering inside buildings.

The Caddo Bend area of DeGray Lake Resort State Park is a magnet for families.

(Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
The Caddo Bend area of DeGray Lake Resort State Park is a magnet for families. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

The Sunday-afternoon visit found families and other guests thronging the Caddo Bend picnic and beach enclave on the peninsula at the park's western edge. Busy as well was the park's 7,100-yard golf course, also the site of a driving range and a lighted putting green. A half-dozen riders were saddling up at the horse stables near the Visitor Center.

DeGray's distinctive branding as a "resort" dates to the 1970s, when the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism leased part of the present 938 acres from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps had dammed the Caddo River in the 1960s to create 13,400-acre DeGray Lake for power generation and flood control. The boon to tourism in Clark and Hot Spring counties has proved a bonus.

Parks and Tourism built a golf course in the park in 1973, followed by a marina and campsites in 1974, then a lodge in 1975. A key to other improvements came with voters' approval in 1996 of the Amendment 75 Conservation Tax. This one-eighth-cent levy has financed refurbishing of the lodge and upgrading of DeGray Lake's conference center, golf course, marina, day-use area and campground showers.

The 7,100-yard golf course at DeGray Lake State Park carries a “championship” label.

(Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
The 7,100-yard golf course at DeGray Lake State Park carries a “championship” label. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

Visitors aiming to distance themselves from the crowds of picnickers and beachgoers can set out alone or with family members along one or more of the park's easy hiking trails.

The half-mile Chickadee Trail, starting near the tennis courts, does a loop through a pine forest along the DeGray Lake shoreline. Its allures include waterfowl and wading birds. Also, a good bet for birders is the Green Heron Trail, stretching three-quarters of a mile from the Visitor Center, with a viewing station where eagles can be spotted in winter.

Starting near the front entrance to the lodge, the one-mile Island Trail splits into a loop that circles back through a forest canopy of hardwoods to where it started. The park's website touts the route as providing "the opportunity for solitude and scenic beauty" — a promising prescription in the face of this year's manifold anxieties.

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GETTING THERE

To reach DeGray Lake Resort State Park from the Little Rock area, take Interstate 30 southwest to Exit 78 (Arkansas 7) and proceed 6 miles north to the park entrance. Park admission is free. There are charges for some activities. For details, visit ArkansasStateParks.com or call (501) 865-5810.

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