BY MELANIE WADE –
A road leading into a long-beloved place that covers part of two counties, Polk and Howard, has been paved. Shady Lake Recreation Area visitors will now travel on a comfortable $6 million road that will also deter dust that leaves area residents in lingering clouds of haze as travelers flock to the area during summer months.
The road, Polk Road 64, also known as Shady Lake Road, has been in the works since 2008, when the planning stages began. Since then, approximately $6 million has been poured into the project.
Construction began in 2013 and was completed in August 2017, paving a 2-mile stretch leading to the coveted attraction. The project was completed through a partnership that included the U.S. Forestry Service, Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division, Federal Highway Administration, Ark. Highway and Transportation Department, and Polk County. The project was federally funded. Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison said that Polk County’s role was simply an acceptance of right of way.
In the original proposal for the newly paved road, the purpose of the project was stated to be, “to provide a safe, long-lasting driving surface for visitors and Forest Staff accessing the Ouachita National Forest. The new entrance road alignment has been modified to minimize impacts to the environment.” And indeed, several studies were done to ensure that no plant or animal life would suffer from having the road paved. ‘Best Management Practices’ were implemented to “minimize erosion from disturbed soil.”
The partnership also created a mitigation agreement with some Native American tribes that align with the National Historic Preservation Act to ensure proper handling of remains in the case they, or sacred objects, were found, while construction took places. There are areas nearby which have qualified for the National Register of Historic Places, including a homestead (site 3PL355) and site 3PL576, that have had previous archeological findings, as well as a bridge (site 3PL1325). The bridge, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936 during construction of the Recreation Area, is still in great condition and remains in use today. The mitigation agreement is held with the Caddo and Osage Nations.
Although some visitors expressed that they wish the old dirt road would have stayed, citing the feeling of nostalgia when ‘riding the backroads,’ many others have said they are glad to see the road complete and hope that it will create a new sense of pride to bring Shady Lake Recreation Area back to its original glory.