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Queen Wilhelmina State Park renewed and continues a tradition that began near the end of the nineteenth century by providing mountaintop lodging and recreation on Rich Mountain, Arkansas’s second highest peak at 2,681 feet above sea level.
With the construction of the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad (now the Kansas City Southern) through the Ouachita Mountains of west-central Arkansas, railroad officials sought to increase passenger traffic by opening, on June 22, 1898, a thirty-five-room hostelry on Rich Mountain. Its 300-seat dining room was sometimes used as a ballroom where an orchestra entertained guests. Because Dutch investors had provided financing for the railroad, the lodge was named Wilhelmina Inn after Holland’s Queen Wilhelmina.
The venture proved unsuccessful, and after 1900, the lodge changed ownership several times. In 1905, it was raffled off as the prize in a thirty-dollars-a-ticket lottery. Permanently closing in 1910, it fell into disrepair, at times being used to house livestock. A group from Mena (Polk County) which included state Senator Roy Riales and state Representative Landers L. Morrow purchased the site in the 1950s. In 1957, Riales authored a Senate concurrent resolution that designated the site “Queen Wilhelmina State Park,” and the park was established by Act 76 of 1957. A dedication ceremony for the park was held in Mena on March 21, 1957, to celebrate passage of the legislation creating the park. It was held in Mena since there were then no facilities on the mountain. The first land for the park was acquired on June 19, 1957.
In 1959, using the ruins of the 1898 lodge as a base, a second lodge was constructed as funds became available. A porch was roofed to create a pavilion, and a kitchen and serving room were constructed, leading to the opening of a cafe in 1961. As funds became available, the lodge was constructed in stages and had seventeen guest rooms upon completion. Though some rooms had been rented previously, the new lodge was dedicated and officially opened on June 22, 1963, the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Wilhelmina Inn opening. On November 10, 1973, the second lodge was destroyed by fire. Modeled after the 1898 lodge, a third, modern inn was constructed in 1974–75. On November 23, 1975, the present building was dedicated. Park facilities include the lodge with thirty-eight guest rooms, a restaurant, hiking trails, a native plant and wildlife center, and a campground that accommodates recreational vehicles and tents. Also located on park property are a 1.5-mile miniature railroad brought to the park by Rep. Morrow in 1960; a full-size steam locomotive, hauled to the mountaintop by the Arkansas National Guard in 1963; and the “Wonder House,” built in 1931 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The unusually designed house, built in two sections, occupies nine different levels.
Two federally designated recreational travel routes pass through the park. The fifty-four-mile Talimena Scenic Drive, a National Scenic Byway, runs along the crests of Rich and Winding Stair mountains within the Ouachita National Forest between Mena (Polk County) and Talihina, Oklahoma. The 225-mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail (U.S. Forest Service) connects Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Talimena State Park in Oklahoma and includes 162 miles within the national forest.
Rich Mountain’s elevation significantly influences natural phenomena in the park. Summer temperatures atop that mountain can be up to ten degrees cooler than in lower, surrounding areas. Oak trees at the mountain’s crest are stunted by harsh weather and winds. Blooms of spring-flowering trees and wildflowers are generally delayed by several weeks compared to adjacent lowlands.
Special events held annually within the park include Pioneer Day in May, Mountainfest in August, and the Wings of Wonder Butterfly Weekend in September. Special activities for lodge guests are scheduled during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park closed to the public in February 2012 for renovations, which are scheduled to be completed by summer of 2013, but all other facilities remain open.
For additional information:Arkansas State Parks–Queen Wilhelmina. http://www.queenwilhelmina.com/ (accessed May 29, 2012).
Copeland, Clovis. “After 60 Years Top of Rich Mountain Again in the News; It’s Now an Arkansas State Park.” Mena Evening Star. March 20, 1957.
Holleman, Bradley H. Mountain Memories: The History of Rich Mountain. Little Rock: Arkansas State Parks, 1997.
McCurry, LaVerne Lingold. “Memories of Mt. Mena.” Mena Evening Star. July 19, 1962.
McWilliam, Aileen, Lloyd Lane, and Homer L. Johnston. Guide to Talimena Scenic Drive. Rev. ed. Talihina, OK: Talimena Scenic Drive Interpretive Association, 1994.
“The Rise and Fall of Arkansas’s Queen.” Mountain Signal, March 1991, 9–13.
Staff of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Last Updated 5/29/2012
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