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Having always lived out in the countryside, I often take for granted how easily I can get outside and spend time in nature. Not everyone can do that with ease. Parks and trails preserve a bit of nature and provide opportunities for the public to enjoy outdoor recreational activities. If you love nature like I do and are looking to gain a greater appreciation for the outdoors, look no further than Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
In 1937, the Jonesboro Young Men’s Civic Club applied for Public Works Administration funding and built a levee creating a lake for public use in an area south of Jonesboro. After construction of an earth dam came the establishment of a 60-acre lake. The lake, along with over 600 acres of surrounding forest land was later donated to the city, making the area the only municipally-owned recreational forest in Arkansas.
Originally somewhat remote and accessible only by gravel road, the park is now accompanied by homes and businesses, modern bathroom facilities and paved roads. The city has worked hard to create a park that is appealing to all ages and accessible for people with different abilities. The nearly 700-acre park is divided into seven access areas and provides residents of Jonesboro and the surrounding region with a variety of outdoor experiences.
It’s hard to think of outdoor recreation without outdoor sports, and Craighead happily obliges. An outdoor basketball court, a volleyball court and several open spaces for soccer, football, baseball and other field events wait for game participants to have a great time.
Walking and Running
Ready to run? How about a walk? The park is surrounded by a 2.9-mile paved trail perfect for either activity. The paved trail is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs (in most areas) and includes several fitness stations. Visitors can explore a trail that circles the lake as well as several forest trails, three that lead to the Forest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center.
Mountain Bikers will love what Craighead Forest Park has to offer. The color-coded trails have earned nicknames like “Screaming Eagle,” “Dragon’s Back,” and “The Switchback” in the mountain biking community as part of a system of 15 miles that caters to bikers of all skill levels. For a heart-pumping experience and plenty of variety, bikers can combine trails or courageously take on the skills park located at access #5 to practice on technical skills, drops, climbs and other obstacles.
ATVs and Horses
Not many public parks are as welcoming to ATV or horseback riders as Craighead Forest Park.
When it comes to which trails they can take, ATV riders have few limits; they are invited to ride all of the trails in the northwest section. The ATV access area is accessible from the parking lot on Craighead Forest Road and extends westward to Culberson Drive. Horseback riders may access all areas outside of the drive that circles the park.
Playgrounds and Splash Pad
Any parent knows that a good, well-placed playground can save everyone’s sanity. Craighead Forest Park doesn’t hold back and provides three fabulous play areas for children and families to enjoy.
Three Jonesboro rotary clubs combined forces to create a playground in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Rotary International. Named Rotary Centennial Park, the park is fully handicapped-accessible and designed so children of all abilities can enjoy playtime together. In addition to the large playground, there is a splash pad that is especially popular during the summer months and a bank-shot basketball court. This park has won several local, regional and national awards. A fort playground and a castle playground complete the play area collection for the park’s young visitors.
Boating is allowed on the lake with a strict, slow “no wake” zone enforced at all times. It’s the perfect spot for canoers, kayakers and standup paddleboarders who want to enjoy a leisurely paddle across the lake.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regularly stocks the waters of Craighead; anglers can expect to find bass, bream, crappie and tilapia in the main lake. The lake has several fishable banks and fishing docks. The commission has even designated an entire fishing section as a handicapped-accessible family fishing area. Family fishing areas are designed to encourage families to fish with older or younger generations. This area is heavily stocked with bass, bream, crappie, catfish, trout and tilapia. Anyone may fish in this area if accompanied by an angler under the age of 16 or over the age of 65. During the summer, the Commission provides fishing poles and free bait while they host “Fishing Friday” to encourage families and children to fish together.
Jonesboro was host to a Pro Disc Golf Association tournament in 2018 and is home to several courses including the 18-hole course at Craighead Forest Park. Reviews of the course are generally favorable, and the course seems popular with both experienced and beginner disc golfers. Play it Again Sports in Jonesboro regularly hosts disc golf clinics in the park to help teach beginners about the sport and encourage people to get out and enjoy the course.
The campground in Craighead Forest Park offers 26 sites perfect for RV or tent camping as well as a primitive tent-camping area. Each site offers water and electrical hookups, a paved driveway, tent pads, picnic table, fire ring and grill. In recent years they have added a modern bathhouse with showers and a laundry facility. A dumping station is also available. The campground is open year-round, and rates vary depending on the season.
Picnics and Pavilions
Picnicking is encouraged throughout the park and visitors can find several picnic areas with grills. The park also offers nine large pavilions which can be rented for larger groups and events, and smaller pavilions available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Craighead Forest Park is a wonderful addition to the community of Jonesboro, and the city continues to improve the facilities. Eventually, the Greenway Trail will be completed, tying the park to downtown Jonesboro via Harrisburg Road.
If you are interested in learning more about Craighead Forest Park or would like to reserve any of their facilities, you may visit them online or contact Patsy Bishop at 870-933-4604.
Craighead Forest Park is located at 4910 S. Culberhouse Rd. in Jonesboro. You can also find them on Facebook.
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