A recent journey across northern Arkansas included a visit to Ozark Folk Center State Park. Located in the small town of Mountain View in the north-central part of the state, this unique park is dedicated to preserving Ozark Mountain cultural heritage and traditions with an emphasis on pre-World War II crafts and music. Our visit to the park turned out to be one of the trip highlights.
A Festival Evolves into a Village
The annual Arkansas Folk Festival, initiated in 1963 by the Ozark Foothills Craft Guild, proved so successful that within a few years guild members commenced searching for a private commercial craft center that could serve as a permanent home. With the assistance of the local government, a grant from the United States Economic Development Administration, and the state park system of Arkansas, Ozark Folk Center State Park was born in the town of Mountain View.
Situated in a scenic location on the edge of Ozark National Forest, the park’s Crafts Village encompasses approximately 20 workshops in which master craftsmen and craftswomen demonstrate their skills and offer finished items for sale. Village crafts include basket weaving, blacksmithing, weaving, quilting, potting, wood carving, woodturning, coopering, and the crafting of dolls, knives, guns, brooms, candles, jewelry and dresses. Heritage herb gardens are planted in beds scattered between the village buildings.
The majority of the village’s craftspeople have honed their skills for many years resulting in custom products unlike those likely to be found in other regions of the country. One artist, Doris Panicci, has been working with leather for 57 years and crafts items as small as wrist bands on which she will stamp a buyer’s name. She also crafts leather items as large as saddles.
Gunsmith Jim Purdom makes custom rifles, each of which he said requires approximately 150 hours of labor. Beadmaker Sage Holland has worked with glass for 25 years and has conducted workshops throughout the U.S. and Europe. She is considered an American pioneer in her craft.
The Crafts Village is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, April through November. The entrance fee is $12 for adults and $7 for children. Various workshops and craft classes are offered throughout the year.
Music as Folk Art
In addition to crafts, the village offers vintage Ozark music each evening in the park’s auditorium, Wednesday through Saturday from mid-April through October. Tuesdays are added to the schedule during October. Concerts typically consist of five acts, with each act performing four to five songs.
Fiddles and banjos are popular instruments, but the audience is also likely to be treated to guitars, mandolins, bass fiddles, hammered dulcimer, and other instruments. The music is quite lively and members of the audience are encouraged by the musicians to come on stage and dance during several songs. Best of all, the musicians appear to be having a great time entertaining the audience.
Musical workshops are offered throughout the year along with special concerts featuring celebrities and tributes to past folk musicians. Tickets for evening performances are $12 for adults and $7 for children. Combination tickets for the Crafts Village and musical performances are available.
The newest addition to the state park, Loco Ropes, is described as a “tree top adventure park.” It consists of a high-wire rope course with three segments that include 30 activities to test a participant’s strength, endurance, agility and especially his or her nerves.
Food, Lodging, and Special Events
The park includes a restaurant (open April through November) and 60 cabins that are open year-round. Special events are frequently scheduled on weekends, making it worthwhile to check the events calendar for both the park and the town of Mountain View prior to making a trip. Examples include craft and music workshops, concerts, and festivals.
The largest event that started it all over 50 years ago is the Arkansas Folk Festival held each year in mid-April. Each October, the town of Mountain View holds the Annual BeanFest & Great Arkansas Championship Outhouse Races. Who wouldn’t want to chow down on some beans and witness an outhouse race?
Nearby Sights and Activities
There is much to see and do in this area of Arkansas. Recreational activities include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and fishing. Canoeing and kayaking are popular on the Buffalo National River. Further north, the White River offers excellent trout fishing.
Less than 100 miles northwest of Mountain View, Bull Shoals Lake offers facilities for all types of boating including houseboats rentals.
The town of Mountain View has shops, galleries and is home to the Arkansas Craft School. The school offers craft education to assist aspiring and practicing artisans master a variety of skills including pottery, blacksmithing, photography, glassblowing, stained glass, wood working, weaving, and basket making. Interestingly, the school also provides classes in the business management of small craft businesses.
Blanchard Springs Caverns, just north of the state park in Ozark National Forest, offers several types of guided tours including a “Discovery in the Dark Headlamp Tour.” Also offered is a three- to four-hour “Wild Cave Tour” that allows participants to explore undeveloped portions of the caverns.
Having been on numerous cave tours including Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, we found the tour at Blanchard Springs Caverns to be one of the most enjoyable.
This area of the state with its winding rural roads is particularly popular with motorcyclists. Much of the scenery is similar to that found along the Blue Ridge Parkway, another popular route for motorcyclists.
David and Kay Scott reside in Valdosta and are authors of “Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.” Visit them at www.valdosta.edu/~dlscott/Scott