A 10- to 15-degree drop in summer temperatures has prompted vacationers as early as 1900 to journey up the 2,753-foot summit of Mount Magazine in Paris, Ark. The cool breezes and sweeping panoramas are still enjoyed by those who meet in the warmer months at a lodge and conference center built three years ago atop the mountain in Mount Magazine State Park.
The park’s position on the dramatically rising mountain boasts an unobstructed view of the Petit Jean River Valley and, on a clear day, about a quarter of the state.
Mount Magazine State Park
What’s new: After becoming a state park in 1998, Mount Magazine State Park opened a 60-room lodge, 13 cabins and 3,840-square-foot conference facility in 2006. All-terrain vehicle (ATV) rides through the park were recently added, and horseback rides and a spa are in the park’s plans.
Rooms: Every lodge room and cabin overlooks the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. Forty of the 60 rooms have private balconies; four suites have two balconies each. Cabins have full kitchens, washers and dryers, satellite televisions and wood-burning fireplaces.
Meeting space: A 3,840-square-foot conference room can seat up to 192 people or be divided into thirds. Two 880-square-foot meeting rooms accommodate up to 70 people each.
Amenities:The lodge’s Skycrest Restaurant features Southern fine dining with an extensive catering and banquet menu for groups. Other amenities include wireless high-speed Internet access, a fitness center, a game room, a business center, an indoor swimming pool and a hot tub.
Groups can hike, rock climb or enjoy the recently added ATV rides at Mount Magazine State Park.
Meetings at the park benefit from not only the expansive views and new facilities, but also the flora and fauna for which the park has become known.
Built from the ashes
Nestled within the 2,234 acres of the Ozark National Forest, the state park and its 60-room lodge and 13 cabins have revived area tourism, which slackened after the original 1940s lodge burned in 1971.
“We’ve been a state park for a little over 10 years,” said Becky Bariola, park superintendent. “There was originally a lodge over here owned by the U.S. Forest Service before the area was a state park. We formed a partnership with the Forest Service to build the new lodge where the old lodge used to stand.”
Meetings looking for an escape from the distractions of the city can unwind at the park’s lodgings and conference facilities, which face the south bluff and its far-reaching views. The conference center’s 1930s rustic-style architecture relies on native stone and heavy timber.
A two-story stone fireplace and large windows in the lodge’s lobby frame the valley, which can also be seen from a rocking chair on the lodge’s Grand Deck.
|Southern specialties in the lodge’s Skycrest Restaurant are enhanced by miles-wide views of the Petit Jean River Valley.
Even with its somewhat isolated location at the highest point in Arkansas, the park keeps pace technologically with other meeting properties, with satellite television, a business center and high-speed wireless access in the lodge, cabins and conference area.
Conference room with a view
State-of-the-art computer projection, and audio and video technology help meeting planners convey information to participants.
“We have large screens and overhead projectors in each room,” said Heidi Ryan, group sales director. “Usually, what we tell people to do is to just bring their laptops, and our equipment will plug right into their system.”
Mount Magazine State Park’s 3,840-square-foot main conference room can be divided into three 1,280-square-foot conference rooms. For breakouts or smaller meetings, two 880-square-foot meeting rooms seat from 35 to 70.
No seats lack views in the lodge’s Skycrest Restaurant, which is wrapped by windows, including a two-story wall of windows that overlooks the Petit Jean River Valley, Blue Mountain Lake and the Ouachita Mountains. The restaurant specializes in Southern cuisine and seats up to 175.
City slickers who have reached their full share of nature can entertain themselves in the game room, the fitness center or the indoor swimming pool with a lap lane and a hot tub. There are also plans to add a spa.
However, a hike down one of the park’s forested trails remains the No. 1 amenity for guests. The easy and popular Signal Hill Trail starts 100 yards east of the lodge and climbs 153 feet to the mountain’s highest point.
Two wineries remain wrapped in their European roots
When two immigrants, Jacob Post of Germany and Johann Wiederkehr of Switzerland, arrived in Altus, Ark., in the late 1800s, the mountains and valleys reminded them of wine regions in the homelands they had just left.
The pair set out to re-create a bit of their heritage by planting grapes, berries and fruits to their mother countries.
Meeting attendees at Mount Magazine State Park can tour Post Familie Winery and Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, the wineries passed down from the two immigrants, as well as three other nearby wineries on the park’s Guided Tour of Wine Country.
The region’s five wineries help participants taste some of the flavors that contribute to Arkansas’ claim of being the largest and oldest wine-producing state in the South.
“We can provide transportation for the smaller functions going on wine tours on Saturdays,” said Heidi Ryan, the park’s group sales director. “Altus has four wineries and is only a 45-minute drive from us.”
The tour’s first stop explores Cowie Wine Cellars in Paris, the only winery on the tour not in Altus. On each tour, one winery demonstrates how wine is made so tasters can understand the complicated process.
Groups can compare staple wines such as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon with wines made from native grapes of Arkansas, including Cynthiana and muscadine. Cowie Wine Cellars also operates the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum, where winemaking artifacts and biographies of early Arkansas wine pioneers line the walls.
If the cheeses and snacks provided during wine tastings don’t provide enough nourishment, groups can dine at Weinkeller Restaurant, inside Wiederkehr Wine Cellars’ hand-dug wine cellar. Swiss delicacies transport visitors to the region that inspired the wines. – Eliza Tychonievich
Arkansas River Valley Tri-Peaks Region
Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, near the park in Altus, Ark., is operated by the decendants of the Swiss immigrant who founded it in the late 1800s. Swiss foods are served in the winery’s restaurant, inside its hand-dug wine cellar.
During summer meetings, attendees stand a chance of spotting some of the estimated 86 species of migratory butterflies that flutter over the mountain each year. Many visitors keep their eyes peeled for the dark browns and oranges of the Diana Fritillary, as Mount Magazine remains one of the best places to spot these brightly colored creatures.
Outdoor programs, guided hikes and other activities increase attendees’ chances of identifying the various wildlife species while curing their cabin fever.
“We can do interpretive programs, or our activities director can set up other activities,” said Ryan. “We have several programs on the history and wildlife of the mountain. Our Diana Fritillary butterflies are really popular. They were named the State Butterfly.”
If the group is large enough, the park can also schedule an Owl Prowl, where guides hoot owl calls into the night in hopes of coaxing a response. Screech owls, barn owls and great horned owls often make their presences known.
Other activities include all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rides, bike rides, rock climbing and geocaching expeditions.
At the top, a 400-square-foot stone map of Arkansas helps hikers get their bearings as they survey the surrounding valley through the trees. Trails vary in difficulty, but the opportunity to see wildlife and wildflowers is a feature they all share.
|The spicebush swallowtail is among the estimated 86 species of migratory butterflies that flutter about the mountain each year.|
“The thing that’s special to me about the park is that we have such a luxurious lodge with all these amenities, yet we are located right in the middle of a U.S. Forest with all the wildlife and adventures of a state park,” said Bariola. “Once you walk out the door, you’re surrounded by wildlife.”
When the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services held both its leadership program and managers meeting in June at the park, attendees took advantage of the surrounding wilderness with four-mile and two-and-a-half-mile group hikes.
“At both meetings we went hiking,” said Patti Gillioun, staff development coordinator for the workforce department. “They all really enjoyed the hikes and the freedom to roam around. Coming from a hectic agency, they enjoyed the peace and quiet of it all.”
Both meetings lasted two days and two nights, and meeting goers attended from all over the state. Gillioun found that the facilities provided plenty of room for her smaller leadership program of 20 participants and for her larger 45-person managers meeting. Her favorite memories came from unexpected wildlife sightings along the trails.
“We caught a glimpse of a bear eating berries and of a rattlesnake,” said Gillioun. “Another participant saw a doe and fawn. Our trip was very exciting and fun despite the work involved.”