…Stay for the Accommodations!
(MORRILTON, Ark.)—Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park, the legendary mountain lodge on the bluff of Cedar Creek Canyon at Petit Jean State Park, has been closed since December 2010 undergoing renovation. The lodge will reopen on Tuesday, May 8 at 7 a.m., according to Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts. He noted that the renovation did not affect any of Mather Lodge’s original Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and later Works Progress Administration (WPA), work dating from the 1930s. Instead, the renovation work replaced the lodge’s 1960s-era dining room with a more rustic-style design, expanded the kitchen, added a 50-person room for meetings and small banquets, and relocated the guest registration desk. Butts said, “The renovated portion now mirrors the Adirondack-style park architecture of the 1930s’ original portions of Mather Lodge.” In addition, a new lodge swimming pool was constructed. Public restrooms were added underneath the pool due to its proximity to one of the park’s most popular hiking trails.
Petit Jean State Park was Arkansas’s first state park. Act 276 of 1923 authorized the Commissioner of State Lands to accept land donations for state parks and reservations. Then, the area around Cedar Falls on Petit Jean Mountain was acquired by the State of Arkansas as the first land for state park purposes. With this act the Arkansas state park system was born, and Petit Jean State Park would serve as its cornerstone. The actual development of Arkansas’s state park system, however, began in 1933 with the Great Depression-era work projects of the CCC, the civilian “Tree Army” of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. CCC camps were established at Arkansas’s first six state parks. The CCC/Rustic-style facilities, including Mather Lodge at Petit Jean, that were constructed at these parks formed the backbone for all future development within Arkansas’s state park system. The designs mirrored the natural settings they graced. Here in Arkansas, as in states across the U.S., the significant public works projects of the CCC endure as a legacy to their craftsmanship and conservation achievements.
On July 15, 1933, CCC Company V-1781 was formed on Petit Jean Mountain to build Arkansas’s first state park. The “V” indicated that the company employed World War I veterans. This situation was relatively unique. As soon as the camp facilities were in place, work began on two of the most visited structures in the park: a beautiful rock bridge crossing Cedar Creek, and Mather Lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon. More construction followed, including highway improvements, trails, cabins, and the building of two recreational lakes. The work of Company V-1781 is now preserved in three National Historic Districts containing over 80 buildings, structures, trails, and bridges listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mather Lodge is the only CCC lodge constructed in an Arkansas state park. Following the lodge’s original construction in 1934 by the CCC, the Works Progress Administration constructed an architecturally compatible addition to the lodging wing in 1939.
In the 1960s, a dining room and kitchen addition were added on to the lodge. The demolition and replacement of this addition was the major work done during the renovation.
The renovation was designed to have minimal impact on the historic original CCC and WPA work from the 1930s, while providing an updated modern facility. Now, a new entrance, lobby, and dining room waiting area provide improved access and increase the lodge’s capacity to welcome guests and operate efficiently. The previous dining room and kitchen, built around 1967 to 1968, were demolished and replaced by a new lobby, restrooms, offices, and full-service dining room. The lobby and restaurant feature exposed log construction, use of natural materials, and extensive glass window walls that provide a full view of the natural beauty surrounding Mather Lodge.
The new dining room has seating for approximately 104 persons. The design of the new dining room takes advantage of the lodge’s setting and position on Petit Jean Mountain, providing diners with seating near windows that are open to expansive views of the natural terrain. The additional natural light enhances the lodge’s dining experience far beyond what was provided by the ’60s addition. The new facility also includes a private dining room for small banquets and group retreats that seats an additional 50 to 60 persons. The new kitchen facility features upgraded utilities and new equipment.
Parking has been expanded from 44 spaces to 81 including four ADA accessible spaces. A new barrier-free walkway connects the parking area to the lodge’s new entrance. The total construction cost was $4,320,293. Funding was provided by Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council FY 10/FY 11 and FY 12 grants and Amendment 75, Arkansas’s 1/8-cent Conservation Tax. SCM Architects of Little Rock served as the design firm. The contractor was Samco Construction Company, Inc. of Cabot.
Mather Lodge is one of the four Arkansas State Parks lodges. The others are DeGray Lodge at DeGray Lake Resort State Park near Arkadelphia, The Lodge at Mount Magazine at Mount Magazine State Park near Paris, and Queen Wilhelmina Lodge [currently closed for renovation] at Queen Wilhelmina State Park near Mena.
Petit Jean State Park is one of the 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. It is located in Conway County on Petit Jean Mountain approximately 21 miles southwest of Morrilton.
For further information, contact: Joan Ellison, public information officer, Arkansas State Parks, 1 Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201; phone: 501-682-2873; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photography courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.