LOUISIANA PURCHASE HISTORIC STATE PARK -- A special exhibit now at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock can provide the impetus for a road trip to one of Arkansas' most secluded state parks.
Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park is tucked away in a swamp reached via a dead-end road. It has no visitor center and no employee on site. Though only 90 miles east of Little Rock, it has the feel of a remote wilderness to urban visitors who stroll the zigzagging 950 feet of boardwalk from the parking lot to the site's monument -- which is partly underwater at present.
The drive may seem like a lengthy one just to view a monument, even one as history-making as this. But the natural setting is the captivating allure. It offers a vivid example of the primordial landscapes that confronted explorers and other pioneers two centuries ago in what today is the Arkansas Delta.
Placed in 1926 by Daughters of the American Revolution, the marker bears an inscription with its final line currently at water level: "This stone marks the base established Nov. 10, 1815, from which the lands of the Louisiana Purchase were surveyed by United States engineers. The first survey from this point was made to satisfy the claims of soldiers of the War of 1812."
Surveyor Prospect K. Robbins had traveled north from the mouth of the Arkansas River, proceeding mainly by boat across uncharted terrain, four years before Arkansas became a U.S. territory and 21 years before statehood was achieved. Fellow surveyor Joseph C. Brown traveled west from the mouth of the St. Francis River.
Two trees were blazed with an axe to mark the crossing point of their south-north and east-west survey lines. This key initial point for platting much of the Louisiana Purchase land was later lost to memory until 1912, when two public surveyors came across the marked trees. Developed as a state park in 1977 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1993, the 38-acre site marks the meeting of three counties: Lee, Monroe and Phillips.
Most distinctive about the park's natural setting is that it preserves one of the state's few remaining headwater swamps, which were common in the Arkansas Delta before the advent of wholesale drainage and clearing for agriculture. Headwater swamps seldom see deep flooding. But they rarely dry up, in contrast to the more familiar backwater swamps that come and go in flood plains.
Along the boardwalk, one interpretive sign urges visitors to "take a moment to look at the unusual plants and listen to the sound of life in the swamp." One possible sound is a sharp, birdlike whistle from above -- not made by any flying species, but rather by male bird-voiced frogs.
Plant life along the way includes a forest of slender water-tupelo and bald-cypress trees, as well as swamp cottonwoods and swamp chestnut oaks. Another sign notes that eastern Arkansas wetlands like this one still shelter raccoons, beavers, minks, swamp rabbits, opossums, gray squirrels and deer.
Before heading to the state park, it's worth stopping at the Clinton Presidential Center for the exhibit lengthily titled "The Great Expedition: Exploring the Louisiana Purchase and Its Impact on Arkansas." On display through March 4, it delves more widely and deeply into history than is possible at the park site.
Among the exhibit's artifacts is the American original of the 1803 treaty with France ceding the 830,000 square miles of land that makes up all or part of 15 states, including the entirety of Arkansas. The document is signed for the United States by Robert Livingston and James Monroe. Their signatures also appear on the paper agreeing to pay the French 60 million francs -- about $15 million, or less than 3 cents an acre.
Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park is open 6 a.m-9 p.m. daily. There's no admission charge. To reach the park from Little Rock, take I-40 east to Exit 216 at Brinkley, then continue south 21 miles on U.S. 49 to Arkansas 362 and go east 2 miles to the park. For details, visit ArkansasStateParks.com.
Clinton Presidential Center, 1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults; $8 for visitors 62 and older, college students and military veterans; $6 for children 6-17; free for active U.S. military and children under 6. Visit clintonlibrary.gov.
Weekend on 02/22/2018
Print Headline: Big history awaits out in the middle of a swamp