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The start of a new school year means summer vacation has come to a screeching halt. A recent weekend trip to Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View served as the grand finale for my summer park tours.

This last trip came about as a result of an earlier column in which I mentioned some memories from my growing-up years, including listening to John Denver's songs with my childhood friend, Patty.

After that column was published, I e-mailed Patty and sent her a link so she could read it online. She e-mailed back with an idea.

"Let's meet in August for a weekend in Mountain View," she suggested.

Perfect for me! I had yet to visit Ozark Folk Center this year, so meeting up with an old friend and going to another state park would kill two birds with one stone.

Patty and I met in fourth grade when she transferred from Colorado to my tiny, rural school. She was my first friend from the start and she remained one of my best friends throughout our school years. It was during junior high that the two of us listened to herJohn Denver albums until the lyrics were burned permanently into our minds. After graduation, Patty moved to Wyoming for the next 20 years or so. She returned to Arkansas a few years back, moving to the Hot Springs area to be near her dad. Except for brief visits here and there, we have not spent much time together since our school days.

In preparation for our weekend, I made reservations for lodging just off the Mountain View square. Patty ordered tickets for us to see Michael Martin Murphy, the featured Saturday night concert at Ozark Folk Center. For old time sake, I dug out my John Denver CD and took it along.

Mountain View, know as "Folk Music Capital of the World," is located in north-central Arkansas. During the daytime this charming little town offers a smorgasbord of small shops around its historic square. Come evening, the same area becomes a backdrop for a scattering of folk music groups playing free mini-concerts in various locations around the square. This tradition is another popular feature of the town and draws quite a crowd.

Ozark Folk Center State Park, located a short drive from downtown Mountain View, is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the heritage and culture of the Ozark Mountains. This taste of yesteryear is accomplished not only through music and dance performances at the park, but also through educational programs and demonstrations of pioneer skills and crafts by artisans in the village.

The folk center theater seats over one thousand and offers musical and dance performances (acoustic instruments only) during the regular season which runs April through October, with additional special show dates.

Patty and I spent Friday evening listening to the music on the square. Saturday was split between wandering through the shops around town and taking in the craft demonstrations in the park village. We listened to John Denver songs any time we were in the car, and although our short-term memories show signs of wear, we recalled just about every word we had memorized years ago.

At the craft village, we enjoyed watching - and tasting - the Dutch oven cooking, as well as observing hand quilting, basket weaving, pottery making and various other homespun crafts. That evening we settled into our seats at the folk center theater to watch the featured show.

Opening acts included a couple of local cowboy singers, followed by Michael Martin Murphy and his band - all great musicians. During the performance, Murphy gave some background about his long-running career. Out of the blue he mentioned that he had had met John Denver during their early years and had written some songs for him. Neither Patty nor I were aware of this connection.

At the end of the concert, the performer left the stage, then returned for an encore. We were again pleasantly surprised when he chose to end the concert by paying tribute to his old friend. He talked more about John Denver's life and untimely death and then sang some of his songs.

Patty and I thought it was all pretty cool : or, as we might have said in junior high, "Far Out!"

(Answer to last week's trivia question: Mount Magazine State Park is located inside Ozark National Forest.)

Opinion, Pages 5 on 08/19/2009

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