DEGRAY LAKE RESORT STATE PARK — The only one of Arkansas’ 52 state parks that bears the name “resort” teems with visitors as summer fuels a desire to enjoy a few normal pleasures of life.
Some people wear masks and maintain social distancing. Some are not. Most of them, the more cautious and carefree, seemed to be having a good time on a recent Sunday afternoon at DeGray Lake Resort State Park.
Most park facilities are open, although the playground remained closed at press time. Reservations for the 94-room lodge and tourist yurts are spaced out to allow two or three days of deep cleaning between uses. The lodge’s Shoreline Restaurant is open with limited seating and hours. The park’s 113 campsites are also open with electricity, water, tables and grills. Tent sites can also be used.
Properly spaced access is permitted to the visitor center, gift shops, and 132-berth marina. Guests are required to wear a mask or other cloth face covering inside buildings.
The Caddo Bend area of DeGray Lake Resort State Park is a magnet for families. (Special for the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
The Sunday afternoon visit found families and other guests crowding the picnic and beach enclave of Caddo Bend on the peninsula at the park’s western end. The park’s 7,100-yard golf course was also well attended, also the site of a driving range and lighted putting green. Half a dozen riders were in the saddle in the stables near the visitor center.
DeGray’s distinctive branding as a “resort” dates back to the 1970s, when the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism leased a portion of the current 938 acres to the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps had dammed the Caddo River in the 1960s to create the 13,400-acre Lake DeGray for power generation and flood control. The tourism bonanza in Clark and Hot Spring counties proved a bonus.
Parks and Tourism built a golf course in the park in 1973, followed by a marina and campsites in 1974, and then a lodge in 1975. Key to further improvements came with voter approval in 1996 of Amendment 75 on the Conservation Fee. This one-eighth-cent levy funded the refurbishment of the clubhouse and improvements to the conference center, golf course, marina, day-use area and showers at DeGray Campground Lake.
The 7,100-yard golf course at DeGray Lake State Park carries the “championship” label. (Special for the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
Visitors who want to get away from the crowds of picnickers and sunbathers can go alone or with family along one or more of the park’s easy hiking trails.
The half-mile Chickadee Trail, beginning near the tennis courts, loops through a pine forest along the shoreline of Lake DeGray. Its attractions include waterfowl and wading birds. Also, a good bet for birdwatchers is the Green Heron Trail, which stretches three-quarters of a mile from the Visitor Center, with an observation station where eagles can be spotted in winter.
Beginning near the lodge’s main entrance, the one-mile island trail splits into a loop that winds back through hardwood forest canopy to its starting point. The park’s website touts the route as offering “the opportunity for solitude and scenic beauty” – a promising prescription in the face of this year’s multiple anxieties.
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To reach DeGray Lake Resort State Park from the Little Rock area, take Interstate 30 southwest to Exit 78 (Arkansas 7) and proceed six miles north to the park entrance . Entrance to the park is free. Some activities are chargeable. For more details, visit ArkansasStateParks.com or call (501) 865-5810.