South Arkansas Arboretum State Park

Location: Union County
Size: 13 acres

South Arkansas Arboretum State Park preserves native flora and fauna of the West Gulf Coastal Plain while offering educational and recreational activities for visitors. Located in El Dorado (Union County), it is Arkansas’s only natural state park located within a city. Added to the state park system in the 1990s, it is Arkansas’s fiftieth state park.

The late James Riley, a biology teacher at the adjacent El Dorado High School, is credited as the driving force behind the arboretum’s creation, including securing federal education grants for land acquisition and early development. Using an office in the high school, Riley devised a plan to use land belonging to the school system for educational displays, scientific studies, and a park-like setting for the benefit of the community. In 1965, the federal government funded his project with a grant of $200,000 a year for three years to improve the land and establish the arboretum.

Initial projects included perimeter fencing, a service road into the property, trails, and the construction of wooden bridges and two small dams to create ponds. Though the rolling terrain of the property was intended for preserving native vegetation, flowering azaleas and camellias were imported to make the arboretum attractive to visitors. Dr. Dwight Moore, who had recently retired from the University of Arkansas at Monticello, was chosen to be the first director of the arboretum. His wife, Clemmie Moore, was hired as his assistant, and Emily Lancaster was later hired as a second assistant.

By the early 1990s, the arboretum had fallen on hard times. Litter and vandalism reduced its beauty, and it was damaged from bicycles and other vehicles. A heavy rain washed out two concrete spillways, destroying the ponds. In 1991, the state legislature approved Act 1039, which allowed an arboretum to be included among Arkansas state park classifications. The arboretum was leased to South Arkansas Community College from the El Dorado School District in May 1994. It is managed by South Arkansas Community College according to a May 1994 agreement with Arkansas State Parks. All the funding for the park comes from the college, although some state funding to the college is designated for the park. The college also provides for the upkeep of the park’s facilities. The Friends of South Arkansas Arboretum State Park organization provides additional donations to help fund projects in the park.

The site’s facilities include more than two miles of walking trails, interpretive signs, and a pavilion. Small signs in the park identify many of the arboretum’s trees, which include varieties of pines and hardwoods. Limited numbers of wildflowers bloom spring through fall. Birds seen year-round include northern cardinals, blue jays, Carolina wrens and chickadees, tufted titmice, northern mockingbirds, and American robins. Summer tanagers and Acadian and great-crested flycatchers have also been reported.

For additional information:
Arkansas State ParksSouth Arkansas Arboretum State Park. http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/southarkansasarboretum/ (accessed June 24, 2014).

El Dorado, Arkansas. http://www.goeldorado.com/ (accessed June 24, 2014).

Staff of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 06/24/2014

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