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Hot Springs National Park’s Centennial Celebration


Hot Springs National Park is celebrating its 100th year with a full calendar for its 12-month-long celebration. Park Ranger Ashley Waymouth noted,

“This is a once in a lifetime experience to be here for a centennial celebration. These thermal waters belong to everyone. We protect these lands because they deserve to belong to everyone, and everyone deserves to experience them.”

Many are making family travel plans this summer while still seeking socially distanced safe travel options. One of the most searched travel options is our National Park System, and one of the travel destinations in Arkansas most searched is Hot Springs National Park.

History of Hot Springs National Park

The history of Hot Springs National Park (HSNP) dates back at least 3,000 years when five different Native American tribes used these hills to gather novaculite rock, also known as Arkansas whetstone. These tribes would use the stone to make materials for their day-to-day living like weaponry and building tools and found it a valuable commerce tool in trading and establishing an economic value.

Part of the exploration President Thomas Jefferson commissioned for explorers Dunbar and Hunter of the newly gained Louisiana Purchase included a specific mission to explore the tales of the hot springs north of the Ouachita River. What Dunbar and Hunter found were spring areas with shack-looking buildings built around them. While no one inhabited them at the time, it was evident that this was a transient area that attracted visitors.

A snowstorm kept the explorers in the area longer than expected, so they brought back minerals, observations, and creatures in these waters they had never seen. The attention of the springs grew, and as people came to visit, it became apparent that the hot springs would need protection. The thought was that regulation would protect the hot springs and land around them for all Americans to enjoy regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity or economic status. On April 20, 1832, the Hot Springs Reservation was established. It was the first time the U.S. Government set protected land, and their goal was to protect the water.

People felt the water had a curative nature and began overusing it and making it more accessible to others. Since it was coming out of the ground at 143 degrees, bathhouse owners moved the water into troughs, creating mud pools. They also built shacks and later wooden bathhouse structures. In the mid-1800s, an unofficial “Bathhouse Row” was developed, replacing the wooded structures with ornate and lavish buildings that created an experience around the pools adding hotels, boutiques, restaurants and spa services.

Even while transportation was still blossoming, roads were not paved, and no one had a cellphone. Word-of-mouth was the greatest asset to Bathhouse Row and the National Reservation. The father of the National Park system and her first Director, Stephen Mather, was a big advocate of the springs and knew its status needed to change for stronger protection and preservation. So, on March 4, 1921, Congress passed an Act to officially change the name to Hot Springs National Park (HSNP).

Public bathing practices began to shift in the mid-1960s, and some of the bathhouses started to close, leaving many empty by the mid-80s. It was time for a pivot and change to focus on the modern visitor. The government established a program to lease the 100-year-old historic buildings of Bathhouse Row to new businesses.

Highlights of Hot Springs National Park

  • 5,500 protected acres
  • 26 miles of trails
  • Two scenic drives that go to the top of two mountains
  • Mountain Tower and Observation Deck
  • Superior Bathhouse – brewery
  • Hale Bathhouse – luxurious boutique hotel
  • Fordyce Bathhouse – HSNP Visitor Center and Museum, only historic bathhouse that the public can freely tour
  • Ozark Bathhouse – cultural center hosting art from recent Artists in Residence program
  • Quapaw Bathhouse – modern-day spa
  • Buckstaff Bathhouse – historical hydropathic bathing experience, continual service since 1912
  • Lamar Bathhouse – HSNP store and gift shop

What sets Hot Springs National Park apart from other National sites?

  • Home to the only brewery inside a National Park.
  • Human factor and fusion. The main thing that sets HSNP aside from other National Park properties is the fusion of city and nature. Here you come to get in the middle of everything, even while getting away.
  • Take home the most significant resource. Most National Parks and Arkansas State Parks operate under a “leave no trace” philosophy. HSNP encourages you to fill up jugs of water to take home.
  • Hot springs are not volcanically heated. Most springs located in other National Parks, especially along the coasts, are heated from volcanic activity. The more than 40 hot springs in the park form from water pulled 6000 feet into the ground.

How is Hot Springs National Park celebrating their Centennial Year?

  • Iron Ranger Challenge – complete 100 miles of biking, walking, paddling, or hiking on any public lands in Arkansas. The 2021 patch will be commemorative of the 100th Anniversary.
  • Monthly Photo Contest – park visitors are encouraged to share their experience on social media and tag #HotSprings100 and #HotSpringsPhotoContest. The park offers a monthly focus area, and the photos can be current or historical. Learn More
  • Monthly Events – connecting with different types of learners and nature explorers. These features include a pet day, junior ranger day, 1920s block party, wellness weekend and Thermal Springs Festival.

To hear more about the celebration, listen to a recent interview on The Ouachita Chronicles, an Arkansas-based podcast that emerged in 2020.

Meet the

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in South Arkansas with her husband and sweet Boxer, Bailey and one-year-old son! Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now she is using all of those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom!

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3 responses to “Hot Springs National Park’s Centennial Celebration”

  1. […] Hot Springs National Park | Hot Springs […]

  2. […] are covered with murals from bike trails to former speakeasy brick walls, many adjacent to the National Park and Bathhouse Row, including headlines commemorating a historical baseball […]

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