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.