Josh Jeffers remembers when some of the spaces that now make up the state's most popular state park were littered with rusted-out cars and kitchen appliances.
"In the early '70s, the area around Pinnacle Mountain was not cherished and loved like it is today," the park's superintendent told the crowd.
"The park was literally a dumpsite," he said.
More than 2 million pounds of trash were picked up by more than a thousand volunteers in 1975, which was known as the "Great Cleanup." It was the first clear-cut sign that the public wanted to clean up and and preserve the area that would later become Pinnacle Mountain State Park.
On Tuesday, with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on hand, the new state-of-the-art Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor Center at 9600 Arkansas 300 was unveiled to the public during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of people.
Sanders also spoke during the grand opening celebration.
"This is a place filled with incredible memories both from childhood and now as a parent sharing with my own kids," she said.
"This is a state park that no matter what your adventure level is, there is something here that you can enjoy whether as an individual, as a couple or as a family."
The new visitor center includes an entrance from the base of the West Summit Trail. It contains a concession stand where people can fetch a scoop of Loblolly Creamery ice cream after a long trek up and down the mountain. It also includes restrooms, bike racks and interpretive exhibits.
The park encompasses more than 2,300 acres and is located about 15 miles northwest of downtown Little Rock. It is a day-use park that offers a variety of outdoor adventures on the Big and Little Maumelle rivers, in the Arkansas Arboretum and across 22 miles of trails. Hikers can reach the mountain summit using the East Summit Trail or the West Summit Trail.
Sanders said the park, with its new visitor center, serves as the centerpiece of a system that comprises 52 parks across the state. She added that Arkansas has "the best state parks anywhere in the country."
The old visitor center, located 3 miles to the east on Pinnacle Valley Road, was built 46 years ago and had become too small and too hidden by the expanding trees. It also was built too far from the mountain for it to serve as an adequate education and reception center, park officials said.
The new 13,700-square-foot center was designed by Little Rock-based Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects. The building was constructed mostly out of stone, glass and wood, Arkansas State Parks Director Shea Lewis said.
The $8.7 million construction project was paid for using revenue collected under Amendment 75, the existing one-eighth percent sales tax devoted to conservation.
More than 500,000 visitors come to Pinnacle Mountain State Park every year, Shea said.
Arkansas first gentleman Bryan Sanders, who said he takes his mountain bike to Pinnacle at least once per week, called the state's park system a "unique selling proposition," one that differentiates Arkansas from its neighbors.
"There's really limitless opportunities when it comes to our recreation here in the state, and I'm so blessed to call it home," he said.
Among those in the crowd was Greg Butts, who was the first park planner for Pinnacle Mountain State Park during the mid-1970s and would later serve as the state's park director for 23 years.
In 1973, he climbed the mountain for the first time. He realized its potential and decided then that the land around it needed to be protected and converted into a tourist attraction. That same year, the General Assembly voted to turn it into a state park.
Butts attended the grand opening of the first visitor center in 1977. Attending the one Tuesday was extra special for him because he always knew the park had the potential to become something grander. Now it has a visitor center that matches the park's size and appeal, he said.
"This is a culmination of many years of effort," Butts said. "It's exciting to see."
Mike Terrell of Little Rock said he is among those who regularly visit the park. He had always hoped to see a building befitting the scenery of the area.
"It always felt like this park deserved a visitor center like this one," he said. "It's really beautiful."