Former gristmill site now welcomes thousand of visitors for camping, swimming and other programs
Arkansas has 52 state parks supported by a one-eighth cent sales tax, with funds generated being used for park restoration and refinement, and to provide free access. One of the smaller and more intimate parks is the 785-acre Withrow Springs State Park near Huntsville, Ark.
The name of the park comes from Richard Withrow, who homesteaded the site in 1832 in order to build the first gristmill in the area. The mill provided an outlet for farmers in the Huntsville, Forum and Alabam areas. The site, selected because of a spring originating in a substantial cave system, produces 54-degree water with a volume that varies greatly according to the time of the year and precipitation levels. The Withrow family maintains ties with the park and routinely publishes a newsletter.
In 1960, Roscoe Hobbs, a businessman and land owner in Arkansas and Missouri, donated the land to Arkansas. The state promptly passed a 1961 act that established the park with the opening in 1965. Part of the park’s attraction is being bordered by War Eagle Creek, as well as serving as a jumping off point to other attractions. Within a 30-minute drive are Eureka Springs, Fayetteville and the Buffalo River.
The first trail is named Forest Trail, a 2 1/2-mile out and back relatively easy hike developed from an old logging road. Dogwood Trail is a three-quarter-mile loop especially known for wildflowers, including the Ozark white trillium, trout lilies and toothworts. Some years in the spring the dogwoods and red buds bloom at the same time, providing visitors with a shock of beautiful foliage in striking contrast to the then predominantly barren oak and hickory forest. The War Eagle Trail was recently closed for substantial repair and renovation caused by flood damage over the years and will likely remain so throughout the summer.
“In spite of the closure, our overlook provides a beautiful view of War Eagle Creek. However, it is still accessible by parking at the upper trailhead and walking an easy one-quarter mile to the viewing area,” assistant superintendent Adam Leslie explained.
Other attractions include both RV hookups and primitive campsites, a swimming pool and an enclosed pavilion, as well as a seasonal interpreter from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Withrow Springs State Park has 29 full hookup sites that provide water, sewer and electricity. That area also contains restrooms and a bathhouse. Next to the RV area are 10 primitive walk-in sites with concrete walkways offering close and easy access. One is wheelchair accessible and has perimeter concrete paving. All sites are reservable up to a year in advance at the Visitor Center or online.
The park’s 90,000-gallon swimming pool is a favorite family activity with a special zero entry for young children and wheelchairs. The pool has a large area for young children before dropping to a level of 9 feet which features an enclosed twisting waterslide that delight older children. Other water features are a mushroom-shaped formation with water running down the edges, in addition to a group of raised buckets that fill up only to spill water over delighted youngsters. A 1-foot deep kiddie pool provides safety as does a team of six lifeguards. The pool can be reserved for private pool parties after public swimming hours and make an entertaining birthday party event.
During spring, typically from March to June when the water level is high enough, kayaks and canoes are available for rent. War Eagle Creek is a Beaver Lake tributary and flows to the north, unlike most rivers such as the Mississippi that flow south. The float area is 4 1/2 miles downstream.
The park offers an annual War Eagle Appreciation Day on the first Saturday in June, which involves floating on the creek and numerous educational exhibits at the pavilion, as well as a free lunch and a folk-music style band. The Fourth of July is celebrated by a bike parade. Throughout the season, the park interpreter provides hikes and educational programming with the one on park wildlife being especially popular. In addition, The Northwest Arkansas Astronomical Society offers a number of star parties throughout the year, another popular attraction.
“We attract 26,000 to 28,000 visitors per year, a number that has increased dramatically since I came here in 2015,” Adam said. “I get to be outside with every day offering something different. This is a family-friendly park with everyone on the staff cheerfully helping out where needed. I have my dream job.”