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— One of the neat results from our zigzagging across the state to see all the parks is that I have become more familiar with names of small Arkansas towns. This causes me to pay more attention than I used to when places are mentioned in the news.

When something happens in a town that I remember passing through, my ears are likely to perk up and listen. This is especially true if the news happens to involve one of the state parks we have visited.

For instance, a recent article in the Style section of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that a new type of excavation is taking place at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park in Scott. We visited the park on Labor Day and afterwards I wrote about some things we saw there and included notes about our visits to the other two archeological parks - Parkin and Hampson Museum.

The recent news article reports that park officials and archeologist are all a-buzz over something that happened a while back at Toltec Mounds, located just southwest of Little Rock. A large oak tree toppled over! Just what makes this newsworthy, you wonder? Well,there is a little more to the story. When the tree’s 15-foot-high root ball uplifted, it exposed bits of artifacts. After a period of careful planning, archeologist are now excavating the root ball site, searching for more clues to help understand the people who lived there from 600 to 1150 A.D. Maybe they will find something that unlocks the mystery of why these ancient inhabitants were motivated to pile dirt up to 50 feet high to build 18 different mounds at this location. There must have been a compelling reason to complete such a magnificent project, considering the very primitive tools available for digging and the limited means of transporting the dirt (in baskets?) to mound sites.

The park is offering tourist a rare chance to see the excavations up-close and personal by providing tram tours later in the month. It might be fun if you happen to be in the area or have a great interested in this type of history. More information is available by calling 501-961-9442

Looks like I have column space to talk about one more park, so I will choose one I haven’t mentioned before in a previous column. Plantation Agriculture Museum is also located in Scott, only a few miles from Toltec Mounds. As the name implies, this park offers a look back at the state’s heritage of plantation life and cotton farming. Exhibits utilize historic photos, farm implements and items such as cotton scales and cotton sacks - and lots more - to tell the story of cotton agriculture “from the field to the gin” as it was before the changes brought about by mechanized practices.

Outdoor exhibits include a cotton pin, which is a small wooden building constructed on runners so that it could be pulled to the cotton picking site to hold the newly picked cotton until time to transport it to the gin. Also on display were several pieces of old style farm machinery used before the availability of modern tractors. A nearby two story building houses a cotton gin operated by the Dortch Gin Company in the early part of the 1900s.

There were few visitors in the museum the day we were there so we got some time to talk with the ladies behind the counter. Let me side track here and say that we have had the most interesting conversations over the last several months with the folks that work at parks. If they aren’t too busy, they are a great source for interesting park trivia and lots of other conversational topics. This happened to be the case on the day we visited Plantation Agriculture Museum. In fact, come to think of it, one of the women there told us she is related to a Gentry resident, Merrill Reynolds. So, if you happen to see Merrill, maybe you wouldn’t mind passing along that his cousin says, “Hello.”

(Reminder: I am compiling a list of places to see and things to do within 50 miles of the hometown area. I will choose places on the list to visit and then share them with you in future columns. Thank you to those who have shared suggestions already. I’m still looking for more ideas so e-mail me at awalkinthepark50 @ yahoo.com or drop me a line in care of Gentry Courier-Journal, P.O. Box 677, Gentry, AR 72734.)

Opinion, Pages 5 on 11/18/2009

Print Headline: A Walk in the Park Toppled Oak Opens Door to the Past

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