WHERE IS NORMAN ROCKWELL

The good thing about visiting different parks and campgrounds in our beautiful nation is the uniqueness of each. Each park has something to offer and there are no bad campgrounds; some are just better than others. Then there is that one park that is stumbled on and gives the new visitor that “WOW” factor. This happened to me last week.
When my wife and I and our friends the Post’s arrived at the visitor’s center we felt like we had entered a time warp and were thrown back to a long-ago simpler time. The visitor center at Lake Catherine State Park overlooks Lake Catherine, the first of the three lakes built on the Ouachita River. The other two are Lake Hamilton and Lake Ouachita. If a camper shows up to camp in the park and expects to acquire food at the visitor center store the camper will be sorely disappointed; there is little there. The store does sport cast iron cookware and plenty of reading material.
Below the visitor center is a large stone verandah with pick nick tables. I was told by the ranger that the carved stones that make up the retaining wall were cut and set into place by German POWs during World War II. They even carved “PW” in the wall so visitors would know it was them and not the CCCs, Civilian Conservation Corps, that built the wall. Several of the prisoners returned to the Hot Springs area after the war and settled in Arkansas.
Cabins are available and look like something that came off a hand painted tourist poster from the 1930s. In fact the cabins were built by the CCC men in the 1930s when they were developing the area. The state completely refurbished the inside and they are in big demand. If someone wants a cabin they had better book a year in advance. If a large group books the cabins they can book as far out as two years, and it does happen. Winter is a little more accommodating and many cabins have fireplaces.
The State Park prides itself in that it does not have WiFi. This adds to the 1930s feeling and gives a person time to exhale and enjoy the trip. Slowly a camper is transferred back to a simpler and quieter time.
The campsites are definite throwbacks to a time when large tents or airstream trailers filled the sites. The three main campsite connections are available at each site. These are electricity, water and sewer. Sewer connections are rare in most campgrounds so Catherine is a true novelty. Most sites have pull ins for Travel Trailers. Also at the sites are large twelve foot by twelve foot tent pads. Everything is there including the view of the lovely lake. Today the cost to build sites like the ones available at Catherine would be cost prohibitive. When the construction is done in the middle of the Great Depression and desperate men looking for work are brought in to work or when prisoners of war are available, great things can be done.
Also, for those that like to hike, Catherine has four trails. The two mile trail that goes to the camp’s waterfall is listed as moderately rigorous. As one that hiked it I would hate to go on the ones listed as rigorous. During our stay a lady went on the trail, had an anxiety attack due to the high cliffs and had to be carried out by a search and rescue team. The park has recently opened a .6-mile ADA concrete trail.
Park interpretive programs are available and covers anything from snakes to Caddo Indian culture. My wife enjoyed petting the rat snake; being from Truxno that is understandable.
I kept thinking that there is something missing. I had commented that in winter you would expect people to be wearing red checkered Woolrich jackets but couldn’t place what was missing at the camp. Then it occurred to me that what would have rounded out Lake Catherine would have been for Norman Rockwell to have shown up. The art of Rockwell graced the Saturday Evening Post cover for years. His iconic medical print enhances many a doctor’s office and I still remember some of his paintings showing up in Boy’s Life Magazine. His 1930s and later drawings epitomize the camping at Lake Catherine State Park.
It was a wonderful five-day experience; so good that I have already booked a ten-day trip for next summer and the camp is already filling up.

HIDDEN DIAMOND IN THE OZARKS

In 1948 permission was granted to begin construction of a new lake in Western Arkansas.  Construction was completed in 1952 and the only total concrete dam in the Vicksburg Corps of Engineers District crossed the Little Missouri River and formed Lake Greeson.  This is the same Little Missouri that caught the Farmerville,  Louisiana Boy Scout troop in a torrential flood. The Troop barely made it out but others were not so lucky.   Had it not been for the quick leadership of the scout leaders the fate of the young scouts could have ended tragically like other campers.

Lake Greeson is approximately twelve miles long and with an average depth of sixty feet and it appeals to a wide variety of water sports.  For many years Lake Greeson drew people from all over the deep south who wanted to experience the deep waters of an Ozark lake.  It was close to the North Louisiana and Northeast Texas tourist base so this provided a tourist stop closer than Hot Springs.

Another draw to the area is the only open diamond mine in the United States and anyone entering the State Park can dig for the stones.  Located in Murfreesboro, ten miles south of Greeson, the mines were an added attraction for the tourists.

In 1971 I visited a new dam site in Arkadelphia that was crossing the Caddo River.  Four years later after leaving the U.S Navy I was talking to one of my college professors at Northeast Louisiana University.  He was retired from the Army, had taught electrical engineering at West Point and was the past commander of the Vicksburg District of the Corps of Engineers.  Mr Garrett proudly told me that he was the man responsible for the construction of Lake Degrey at Arkadelphia.  What he didn’t realize was that the construction of Degrey had sucked the life out of Greeson.  The new interstate that connects Texarkana to Arkadelphia and Little Rock made Degey the lake of choice.  Also Degey was much larger and Hot Springs is a mere thirty miles away.

Greeson languished and the once popular Daisy State Park was all but empty.  Cabins are twenty dollars a night cheaper than Lake Ouachita and the lake is every bit as beautiful, though much smaller.  The Little Missouri boasts good trout fishing and SCUBA divers will enjoy the many inlets of the lake.

Near by is the small town of Delight.  This is just another very small stop in the highway to Greeson with one exception.  This is the home of Glenn Campbell.  One of his early songs was titled “The Witchita Lineman”.  The original song was named the “Washita Lineman” and was named for the mountains in the area.  The record producers said the name would not relate with the audience and the title was changed.

I rediscovered Greeson and stayed at Swaha Lodge.  I sat on the porch of our cabin and remembered the story when I was in Junior High of Johnny Albritton going SCUBA Diving and hunting diamonds in the mountains of Arkansas and at the time I thought how fun that would be.  Unfortunately, Johnny never got to complete his adventure quest.  He won the silver star, posthumously, protecting his comrades in some little know outpost in Viet Nam.  The owner of the Lodge tald me that he had bought a cutting horse from a man in Farmerville.

What I found at Greeson was a great place to commune with nature and rediscover a lost diamond in the Ozarks.  You won’t find three star accommodations but when on a lake who needs it.  Hiking trails abound and smallmouth bass fishing is great.  SCUBA would be good when the water warms and of course there is the Diamond Mines and the Caddo Indian excavated burials.

The State Park at the Diamond Mine has camping available as well as Daisy State Park on the lake.  The sleeper for campers is the Corps of Engineers camp ground near Swaha Lodge.   It is hardly over 50% filled and is immaculate with full hook ups  and showers.  It is located across the street from the swimming area near the dam.  The price is right.  Fifteen dollars a night is all it takes to stay in the park and if you are a senior with a gold card you will pay $7.50 a night.

Can’t wait to get back later this year.