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A walk in the park: Calhoun County creates its own park system and boosts economy.

TINY CALHOUN COUNTY, with a population of 5,826 and a land mass of 629 square miles, has decided to do for itself when it comes to parks.

Along the way, the county residents created a tourist draw that's boosted the limited local economy.

The southern Arkansas county is among 31 of the state's 75 counties that don't have a state park. But, rather than feel sorry for themselves, county leaders decided to create a county park system when they assembled the five-member Calhoun County Parks and Recreation Board in 1991.

From there, the parks board spearheaded an effort to amass volunteers, donations and other financing sources to create a multipurpose park on a 40-acre tract three miles southwest of Hampton, the county seat. International Paper Co. donated 20 of those acres.

Citizens were so willing to see the land transformed into a park wonderland that several agreed to sign a bank note for an $18,000 loan. Another financial boost came from a $25,000 matching grant from the state Parks and Tourism Department.

The loan, now almost paid off, was used to buy a factory-built, 1,500-seat rodeo/riding arena, called "Hogskin Arena." It has become a major drawing card at Calhoun County Park and was a centerpiece of the first Hogskin Holidays event last April.

Two nights of rodeo performances brought about 6,000 people to the county's park, even more during the course of the weekend festivities that included a parade, buffet dinner, music and entertainment, arts and crafts and greased pig races.

"I think altogether the activities of that weekend brought somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000 people into Hampton," says Gene Hill, parks board chairman.

"Just the parks board itself recognized about $25,000 in revenues from the weekend of the Hogskin Holidays."

Naturally, that kind of infusion of people into a small town benefits many others, too, notes James Rawls, who recently stepped down as chairman of the parks board but remains a member.

"When you bring in that many on the weekend, the gas stations, the restaurants, the convenience stores, everybody benefits from it," Rawls says.

"It's given the community and the county something to be proud of, but it's also helping the pocketbook as well."

Rawls terms the success of the first-year event "unreal."

The county is hoping the second Hogskin Holidays, set for the weekend of April 9, 1993, will grow in popularity.

Meanwhile, the parks board is funneling the money from the event into creating another county park, Woodberry Park, which will take shape on 37 acres of timberland deeded to the county by Carlton Smith. Lock 8 park on the banks of the Ouachita River is a third park in the area.

Taking Advantage

While the Calhoun County Park was envisioned as one that appeals to diverse recreational interests, and the Lock 8 park caters to fishermen and campers, Woodberry is being designed with educational and recreational purposes in mind.

Hill says the parks board plans to take advantage of the natural beauty of the wooded setting by creating nature and hiking trails, along which various species of trees and plant life will be identified.

He hopes the park will be popular with school groups, as well as families seeking a natural refuge for picnics and relaxation.

Hill and Rawls both say the parks board has gained widespread acceptance and support from the community following the success of the Calhoun County Park development and the institution of Hogskin Holidays.

Unlike other parks boards, Calhoun County takes an active role in park development, not just an administrative one.

"It's a working group of folks," Rawls says. But, he adds, the major force behind the county's park boom is community volunteers, who have donated money and time into developing and operating the parks.
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Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 23, 1992
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