Many of Arkansas’ familiar and cherished assets emerged not from a generous person but through coalitions, partnerships, community efforts or popular demand.
Hobbs State Park Conservation Area is today’s example.
Thirty-three years old and the largest state park in Arkansas, it still draws the reaction of "what is that?" in many casual conversations.
The park is in Benton County, with a few acres spilling over into Madison County. It is next to Beaver Lake, and it is more than 12,000 acres of green, relaxation and fun in the fastest growing and crowded part of the state.
Only by a thin margin was the park conceived ahead of a massive development project by California interests.
In a nutshell, timber mogul Roscoe Hobbs, who died in 1965, specified that the state of Arkansas have first priority at buying his northwest Arkansas estate. His estate executors waited a few years then put it up for sale. At $3-plus million, it would be a real bargain today, but in the 1970s, that kind of money was not within reach of the state.
Those California developers were no dummies. They envisioned what was coming in northwest Arkansas, the boom times and the influx of people, Local interests scrambled, got the ear of the Nature Conservancy, then 22 banks came up with the money. Gov. David Pryor and U.S. senators Kaneaster Hodges and Dale Bumpers were instrumental in the effort.
The Hobbs Estate was bought and handed to a state four-agency consortium – Forestry, Game and Fish, Parks and Tourism and Heritage – in 1979.
Administration by committee often does not work out, and in this case, what has taken place is the withdrawal of Forestry and State Parks taking the lead role with some input from Heritage and Game and Fish.
Hobbs is a multi-use state park almost in the fullest sense. Notable absences are developed campgrounds and cabins. These are in long-range plans but not likely to come about soon. What has appeared recently is an impressive and functional visitor center. Such visitor centers are one benefit of the money from the Conservation Sales Tax approved by voters in 1996. Similar visitor centers have been built at Lake Dardanelle, Bull Shoals, Mount Magazine and other state parks, including smaller ones at Cossatot and others.
A heavily used facility at Hobbs is its shooting range. Park staff member Steve Chyrchel said more than 14,000 used the range last year. It is for rifles and pistols but not shotguns. There is recycling here, too. Four and a half tons of lead bullets were recovered in the range’s bullet trap last year, Chyrchel said.
Hobbs has trails, some 35 miles of them.
Walkers, hikers, runners, cyclists and equestrians can make use of these varied trails, but all are not suitable to each group. Some are shared. They range from the Ozark Plateau Trail, wheelchair accessible, near the visitors center to the Hidden Diversity Trail, 24 miles but with loops that can shorten the distance.
Park instructions to users are to share. Walkers should step aside for horses. Horse riders should proceed at only a walk past hikers and cyclists. Horse riders should pickup manure in parking lots. The trails are mostly rocky and steep in places.
A visitor with an interest in history can find days of exploring at Hobbs. The acreage was first accumulated by Peter Van Winkle in the 19th century. He made extensive use of its pine timber. Later, Hobbs acquired the land and made its hardwoods the base of his railroad crosstie industry.
Local residents who remember Hobbs point out that he allowed then to hunt, fish, gather berries and cut firewood at no charge on the estate.
Today the local people and visitors have use of Van Winkle and Hobbs’ sprawling tract at no cost but with some necessary rules and guidelines. Hobbs is the only Arkansas state park in which hunting is allowed.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.