Thursday, August 13, 2009

Petit Jean State Park - Arkansas

While many Southern waterfalls dry to a trickle (if that) during late summer, one spectacular place to see one that runs year round is at beautiful Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton, Arkansas.

Located between Little Rock and Russellville, Petit Jean Mountain is home to a fascinating history and some of the most striking scenery in the Natural State. Taking its name from the story of a French girl who followed her love to America during colonial times and supposedly still haunted by her ghost, the mountain was once the property of the Fort Smith Lumber Company. In 1907, however, a group of executives from the company came on a business trip to explore the timber resources of the mountain. So stunned was the group by the natural beauty of Petit Jean Mountain that a decision was quickly reached that it should be preserved for future generations.

In fact, it was the timber company itself that launched a major lobbying effort to have the mountain and its spectacular scenery preserved as a park. They hoped it would become a national park, but the National Park Service felt at the time that the tract was too small. The director of the park service recommended, however, that the company consider donating the land to the state of Arkansas.

The wheels of government turned slowly, but in 1923 both houses of the Arkansas State Legislature voted unanimously to accept the first 80 acre tract (surrounding magnificent Cedar Falls) to become the state's first state park.

The Great Depression intervened for the good of the park and in 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps began work at the site. Trails, overlooks, bridges, cabins, a lake, picnic areas and the magnificent stone Mather Lodge were built by the Depression era workers and Petit Jean today is recognized as an outstanding example of CCC work. In fact, the mountain preserves three National Historic Districts.

Petit Jean State Park now encompasses 2,568 acres including spectacular natural scenery, the ruins of an early resort, the alleged grave of Petit Jean, unique natural formations, ancient Native American cave paintings and a number of structures built during the Great Depression by the CCC.

Among the undeniable highlights of the park is Cedar Falls. One of the tallest waterfalls east of the Rockies, Cedar Falls can be viewed from platforms at the top of the canyon or by hiking a strenuous trail to the bottom for a view of the waterfall from the bottom up. It flows year round and is one of the most remarkable sights in the South.

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