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This year marks an interesting milestone: the 50-year anniversary of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, MKARNS. At the time of its opening half a century ago, the endeavor stood out as the largest civil works project that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, USACE, had ever undertaken.
Recreation has been positively impacted as the USACE parks along the system’s rivers and lakes see more than 18 million visitors a year, thus contributing various economic benefits to nearby communities.
“Recreation has benefited immensely from the MKARNS,” said Rofkahr. “One of the byproducts of building a dam is often the creation of a reservoir. Lake Dardanelle and Winthrop Rockefeller Lake are two great examples. Together they offer nearly 40,000 acres of water that fishermen, boaters and outdoor loving folks from all over Arkansas can take advantage of. The lakes themselves are ringed by picnic and camping areas that reach from Yell County to Franklin County. If you love the water, you have good reason to love the MKARNS.”
“The Arkansas River cuts through the Arkansas River Valley, which is one of the most scenic and beautiful parts of the state,” said Rofkahr. “More than just being a marine highway that brings commerce to distant ports, the river connects five of our largest cities from Fort Smith to Russellville, to Conway, Little Rock and Pine Bluff. Each of these places are rich in history and are experiencing an incredible growth of recreation opportunities. From the new Monument Trail Mountain Bike trails at Mount Nebo and Pinnacle Mountain State Parks to the Wine Country Tours in Franklin County. Don’t forget Petit Jean State Park either, an amazing park with close access to the river. And where there’s river, there’s sure to be a USACE campground nearby.”
Russellville and Dardanelle are other river cities that have popular outdoor options in and around them. “The USACE park in the area that is most well-known is Old Post Road Park and Campground,” said Rofkahr. “It’s an extremely popular locale in the River Valley and super popular with students at nearby Arkansas Tech University. Old Post has tennis courts, basketball courts, baseball and soccer fields, an 18-hole professional disc golf course, hiking trails, and one of the oldest hand-built mountain bike trails in Arkansas. Better yet, if you’re a hiker, mountain biker, or wildlife lover there are the world-class Monument Trails at nearby Mount Nebo State Park.”
If you are planning a visit, it is always best to call ahead or to check recreation.gov to see if a park is open or if its season has changed. Water levels and release schedules of the MKARNS locks and dams can be found at swl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Water-Management.
Article submitted by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
About Arkansas Tourism
Arkansas Tourism, a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, strives to expand the economic impact of travel and tourism in the state and enhance the quality of life for all Arkansans. The division manages 14 Arkansas Welcome Centers and employs more than 60 staff members across The Natural State. For more information, visit www.arkansas.com.