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Moro Bay State Park is one of the most popular locations for fishing and water sports in south central Arkansas. Located at the convergence of Raymond Lake, Moro Bay, and the Ouachita River, the park also marks the junction of Bradley, Calhoun, and Union counties.
Records from November 18, 1804, of the Hunter-Dunbar Expedition up the Ouachita River described “Bay Morau” as “a large inlet on the right, which swells into a considerable lake during an inundation.” Before railroads, the Ouachita River was the primary means of travel in the region, and many cotton barges used it to make their way from south Arkansas to New Orleans. In days past, the only way to get across the river was by ferry.
The Moro Bay Ferry started in 1828 just after the Indians were moved along the Trail of Tears and just before Arkansas became a state in 1836. It was called Burk’s Ferry because it was built, owned, and operated by William Burk, his family, and his slaves. The original ferry was operated by means of a cable system. The cost of a ride was twelve and one-half cents. Ferry ownership changed hands, and the design was modified several times up until 1948. Around this time, automobiles became more popular, and roads began to improve, allowing people to travel longer distances in less time. The ferry was no longer a good economical venture for the private sector and ceased operations for a period of approximately eighteen years. Local travelers demanded a river crossing, but funding was not available for bridge construction, so the state decided to restore the ferry. Operated by the Arkansas Highway Department, the ferry became an extension of Highway 15. In the early 1980s, funding became available, and in 1992, two bridges were constructed, making the ferry an inconvenient wait and an unnecessary operation. In 1992, the Moro Bay Ferry was donated to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism by the Arkansas Highway Department. It is one of the permanent exhibits at the park.
The ferry had served its purpose of transporting people, horses, wagons, livestock, automobiles, and buses for nearly 150 years, leaving very little physical evidence of its existence. It is estimated that the old ferry made 150 trips per day during its heyday. Visitors can now come to the park and walk on the old ferry, observe the old ferry helm in the visitor center, and learn how life once was at Moro Bay.
In the early 1970s, approximately 117 acres of land along Moro Bay and Raymond Lake was leased to the state by Jimmy Gates. After attempting to terminate the lease agreement with the state, a court settlement was achieved in which the state took ownership and Moro Bay State Park came into the state park system. It was chosen because of its unique location and important historical background. Construction of a campground, a playground, and a small visitor center was completed in 1972. Since then, the park has constructed a new visitor center, a new bathhouse, two pavilions, and two hiking trails.
Large houseboats and barges still travel the Ouachita River. Some adventurous travelers follow the river into the Black River of Louisiana, then to the Mississippi River, and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. They can dock houseboats at Moro Bay’s marina and hook up to electricity and water. It is the only place on the Ouachita River in Arkansas that sells gas.
Squirrels, fox, deer, river otters, mink, and coyote are among the mammals that inhabit the park. It is also a bird lover’s paradise that is home to several varieties of wading and diving birds, as well as songbirds, upland game birds, and birds of prey. Alligators also live in the waters of the Moro Bay area but are not often seen.
Moro Bay State Park has campsites, picnic sites, hiking trails, and a ferryboat interpretive exhibit. The park staff offers guided trail hikes, barge tours on the Ouachita River, and a variety of nature related programs.
For additional information:
Arkansas State Parks–Moro Bay. http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/morobay/default.aspx (accessed June 9, 2014).
Staff of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Last Updated 6/9/2014
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