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Crowley’s Ridge State Park has become a favorite in our quest to visit all 52 of Arkansas’s State Parks. After several visits, we’ve almost become regulars. It has allowed us to get to know this park better and discover what makes it so special. Just 9 miles from Paragould, the park is a slice of nature that is as fascinating as it is serene. So, pack your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready to add another stamp to your Arkansas State Parks passport.
Crowley’s Ridge, the park’s namesake, is not your typical mountain range or valley but a geologic wonder. This fascinating ridge dating back to the Pleistocene era stands out dramatically in the otherwise flat terrain of eastern Arkansas. Crowley’s Ridge was formed when the last Ice Age glaciers receded and left behind a unique landform.
The area was originally settled by Native American tribes and later became home to early European settlers, like Benjamin Crowley, a settler from Virginia. Crowley had received a land grant east of the Greene County area from the government as a thank-you for his service in the War of 1812. When Crowley arrived at his land, he discovered that much of it was unusable due to damage caused by the New Madrid earthquakes in 1811 and 1812.
Crowley moved on in search of something more suitable for his cattle and horses. A surveyor by trade, Crowley became one of the area’s first settlers in the mid-1800s, and word traveled fast of a paradise on a lush and fertile ridge containing forest and rolling land similar to what was being settled in Kentucky and Tennessee. Other settlers arrived in the area, which was officially named Crowley in 1832 and later became the temporary County seat when Crowley and fellow residents officially formed Greene County.
The lush forest, rolling hills and a natural spring were pivotal in Crowley’s original selection of the land for building his plantation. After his death, the area became a popular picnic and camping location for locals. In 1933, Benjamin Crowley’s former plantation was selected as the site for one of Arkansas’s first state parks.
The Civilian Conservation Corps played a significant role in shaping the park into what we see today. Approximately 207 young men constructed cabins, picnic areas, hiking trails, and a dining hall and laid out the camping areas using exceptional stone and timber work. They also created an earthen dam along the spring that drew Crowley to the area and created the picturesque, spring-fed Lake Ponder, perfect for a tranquil afternoon of fishing or a peaceful canoe paddle.
Visitors began flocking to the park long before it was officially declared open, including a record number of 8,000 visitors in July 1935. The park was formally declared the state’s fifth state park on June 21, 1937.
Crowley’s Ridge offers various trails that cater to all levels of hikers, from beginners to seasoned pros. The most popular is the Dancing Rabbit Trail, a name first given by Native Americans. The trail crosses the Dancing Rabbit Aroyyo, a deep steam-cut gully, and features two swinging bridges, which are a highlight in the park.
Other park features include additional hiking trails, the amphitheater, cabins and Shiloh Cemetery, the final resting place for Benjamin Crowley and his wife, Catherine Annie Wiley Crowley.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the park is its remarkable biodiversity. Thanks to the distinct microclimate created by the ridge, you can find species of plants and animals here that are rarely seen in the surrounding flatlands. The Spider Creek Trail meanders through a quiet corner of the park and offers the best opportunity for observing flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for unique wildflowers, unusual bird species, and, if lucky, the elusive bobcat or fox.
Crowley’s Ridge State Park is a place that changes with the seasons. Spring brings a blanket of wildflowers and a chorus of songbirds. Summer offers the perfect backdrop for a family picnic by Lake Ponder. The swimming area and slide are a favorite, especially amongst the kids. Fall transforms the area into a tapestry of vibrant reds and yellows, making it a haven for leaf peepers and campers who prefer the cooler weather. Winter brings a quiet, serene beauty that’s perfect for a peaceful getaway.
Crowley’s Ridge State Park is open year-round, and day-use is free. Camping facilities, including RV and tent sites, are available if you want to extend your stay and immerse yourself in the park’s beauty. There is a visitor center where you can learn more about the history and geology of the area, as well as pick up trail maps and have your passport stamped.
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