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When Lake Charles State Park was constructed in the 1960s, it was the first of its kind and size in the nation. It is located in the foothills of the Ozarks near the Black River in Lawrence County and is a very popular family recreation area in northeast Arkansas.
Lake Charles was originally planned as a watershed/flood protection project near the Black River in Lawrence County. In 1956, the Lawrence County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors sponsored an application under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program. When the application was submitted, the sponsors were thinking only of watershed protection on the uplands and flood prevention on the bottomlands. However, before an intensive study could be completed, the Small Watershed Act was amended to include fish and wildlife development. The new opportunity caused the sponsors to broaden their thinking. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) owned about 10,000 acres of land immediately below the watershed. Known as Rainey Brake, this tract of land was developed as a public fishing and hunting area, with one portion developed as a rest area for migratory waterfowl. However, given the problem of supplying water during seasons of dry weather, a fresh water supply was needed. A multipurpose lake at the Lake Charles site, with provisions to store water for flooding the game preserve, was shown to be feasible. Local residents formed the Flat Creek Watershed Improvement District, which became the third sponsor of the project. In a joint effort, the local sponsors secured a $30,000 watershed protection and flood prevention loan, which was administered by the Farmers Home Administration. The Publicity and Parks Commission became the fourth cosponsor when it agreed to maintain and operate the development as Lake Charles State Park.
Following approval of plans, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission purchased 964 acres of land for the lake area; when completed, a 645 multipurpose lake, now operated by the AGFA, had been constructed. The Arkansas Department of Transportation relocated 1.1 miles of Arkansas 25, and the county government also had to relocate several miles of roads without cost to the sponsors. Easements were granted for a state park on November 25, 1963.
Lake construction was underway by 1964, and formal dedication ceremonies were held on May 28, 1967. The 645-acre lake was named for the late Charles C. Snapp, who served as District Director of the Lawrence County Conservation District and as chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The park was named in his honor for helping to make this project possible.
Originally, eighty acres were set aside for a state park on the southwest shore of the lake, but the size was eventually expanded to the current 140 acres. The state Game and Fish Commission continues management of the lake with its populations of largemouth bass, white bass, catfish, crappie, and other species. The state park includes sixty-one camping sites—twenty-four with water, electric and sewer, thirty-six with only water and electric, and one site for an RV rental. The day use facilities include campsites, a picnic area, boat ramps, walking trails, interpretive programs, a swimming beach, a pavilion, two fishing docks, a playground, a nature center, a visitors center and gift shop.
What started as LakeFest—an annual festival featuring, an auto show, arts, crafts, beauty pageants, entertainment, and fishing tournament—is now Lake Charles Auto Show with an average of seventy-five vintage automobiles competing for trophies; it is held each May.
For additional information:
Arkansas State Parks–Lake Charles. http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/lakecharles/default.aspx (accessed June 4, 2014).
Staff of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Last Updated 8/3/2017
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