For nearly nine decades, Arkansas State Parks have been a destination for generations of residents and visitors alike. During the pandemic, parks throughout Arkansas were a respite during unprecedented times. The department’s mission, to “enhance the quality of life through exceptional outdoor experiences, connections to Arkansas heritage, and sound resource management,” has never been as important or necessary for visitors than over these last few months. In the early days of the health emergency, Arkansas State Parks realized that safety of its guests and staff needed to become paramount as thousands headed to the parks in efforts to maintain some semblance of normalcy.
Working closely with the Arkansas Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a plan was developed to ensure the safety of guests and staff yet expanding park services, all while monitoring and addressing the changing situations caused by COVID-19.
Over the past few months, Arkansas State Parks shifted regular protocols to ensure safety for all involved. Reservations at lodges, camper cabins, cabins, YURTs and Rent-A-RVs are managed to allow 24-48 hours between guests, allowing thorough cleanings after each use. Day-use areas remain open with limited capacity and limited services when necessary for public safety. Social distancing messaging is posted in parking lots, trailheads and other high-traffic areas throughout the parks.
Restaurants are open with limited capacity and social distancing measures. Swimming beaches and pools are open at 50 percent capacity, first-come, first-served. Physical distancing should be observed in all pool areas, including slides and diving boards. All state park museums and visitor centers are open and welcoming visitors. Playgrounds and enclosed pavilions are now open with restrictions. Group lodging remains closed for the safety of visitors and staff. Most important, all visitors must wear cloth face-coverings inside any Arkansas State Park building.
During this challenging time, why not explore some of the “off-the-beaten path” parks that you may not have visited before? Check out the Arkansas State Parks passport program. There are many outdoor activities within the parks that lend themselves to social distancing – fishing, hiking, biking and birding are great options.