Queen Wilhelmina State Park has always had a strong connection to trains, and now a new project will add to that rich history in an innovative way.
A miniature train and its tracks will be turned into a walking and cycling barrier free path – in the same manner as the nation-wide “Rails to Trails” initiative. This new pathway will include “playscapes” with the intent of encouraging visitors to connect to the Ouachita Mountains as well as the unique story behind Queen Wilhelmina State Park.
In the late 19th century, the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad built a north-south line that traveled through Arkansas’s 2,681-foot Rich Mountain.
The railroad built a luxurious hostelry for train travelers to stay at during their journey and named it after the young Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who was to be crowned in 1898. Over the years it changed hands several times and finally became an Arkansas State Park in 1975.
For many years, a miniature railroad, putting golf course and a building were located between the camping area and the lodge. It was a seasonal attraction – only open in the summer – and run as a for-profit business by a series of concessionaires. The latest contract between the park system and the current leaseholder expired on December 31, 2017.
With the concessionaire business no longer operating, the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission this week endorsed a planning recommendation to reinvigorate that area of land in a fresh and innovative way. The intention is to provide expanded opportunities for families to explore nature together and build life skills of wildlife watching, nature study, and creative play. These experiences are at the core of our state park mission and offer families a fresh and dynamic experience each time they visit.
Early concepts for the plan include:
· A walking/cycling path that will be free of charge and open all year
· Creating “playscapes” along the path, thereby fulfilling our commitment to give visitors inventive methods to bond with the park and generate life-long memories
· Providing a safer way for guests to walk from the camping area to the lodge (currently they have to share a road with vehicles to do so)
· Turning the currently unused building into a multi-use space
The history of the train will live on through interpretive panels and displays along the route. Also, the path will inspire more physical activity.
This ties directly to a national “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” initiative in which Arkansas State Parks participates.
A date to begin this project has yet to be set. Park planners are busy at work generating ideas that will soon become a detailed design for this exciting renewal of use of this piece of land.