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As the dog days of summer began to bear down on Arkansas, and the coronavirus was still heating up, families began to change their vacation plans.

As Arkansas State Parks Director Grady Spann pointed out weeks ago, the state's parks have become more than recreation and nature.

They've become essential.

Sales of RVs and campers have been brisk, and people didn't have to look far to see why we call ourselves the Natural State.

Eric Jackson, chairman of the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission, proudly relayed the fact that our state has 52 state parks covering more than 55,000 acres with access to 24 lakes and 18 rivers.

Jackson, who's real job is senior vice president of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, has long been an advocate of the state and his home town of Hot Springs.

If it is good for the Spa City, Jackson is all for it.

Same for the state. He and his wife Lynda have visited all 52 of the state parks.

Just how critical cabins and campsites have been to so many in Arkansas was never more obvious than when your trusty scribe went looking for a boat slip.

Monica, the wife, grew up boating. Yours truly grew up on land.

Recently, she bought, with a hearty blessing from her spouse, her parents' boat.

They celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next week and are of the age that taking care of a boat was more than they needed.

In fact, the boat had been in storage for more than three years.

With their decision to downsize, including moving to an apartment in Little Rock, it fell to us to do something with the boat.

Monica admitted she really wanted to keep it.

The initial visit to check it out in Bismarck was not encouraging.

The carpet was filthy, the seats were dirty and who even knew if the engine worked.

After some negotiating with the guy who stored the boat, we decided to have the boat moved to a dock.

There was no trailer.

Every lake within two hours of Little Rock said they didn't have a single slip available and had a waiting list, but the second call to Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa on Lake Ouachita got us in touch with Todd Gadberry.

Gadberry, the harbor master, had been off the first day we called.

Yes, he had one slip left at the state's largest marina.

Sight unseen we took it and made the final deal with the guy who had been storing the boat, and he agreed to deliver it the following Monday.

He even cleaned it up a little. Last Sunday we took Monica's dad, Pat Timpani, to see the party barge for the first time in three years.

Suddenly, his memory was great, recalling family trips and outings.

Gadberry, who is incredibly friendly and easy to work with, came by on a mission to make an extra key. He didn't know we would be there but was just doing his job on a hot afternoon.

Ouachita is a beautiful lake in one of our state's forests.

There were people checking out of the lodge and new people checking in.

Standing in the shade near the restaurant it was easy to see the excitement the families were sharing as they began their vacation.

A vacation made possible because we have so many beautiful places in the Natural State.

Our boat looks like new after some elbow grease.

Pat figured out it needed a new bilge pump, and yours truly figured out he didn't know what a bilge pump was or that it was actually part of the motor.

The only thing left is for a mechanic to check the engine out, and because of the popularity of our lakes and rivers, that will take another week.

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