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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Lake Ouachita State Park Reopened to the Public Last Friday

Lake Ouachita State Park reopened its day-use areas, including trails and boat ramps, to the public on Friday, one week after they were closed due to campers testing positive for COVID-19.

The park closed April 4 after three campers tested positive for the coronavirus. Melissa Whitfield, communications director for Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism, said the campers’ last day in the park was March 27, and it was a week later before the park found out about the positive tests.

As a result, the entire staff of the park went into self-isolation. Whitfield said the self-isolations ended on Thursday.

Whitfield said none of the 23 employees at the park are showing signs of the coronavirus. She added that the department is happy to see this result, “and I know they’re happy to be back at work.”

“Everybody is well, so they are opening back up for business,” Whitfield said.

Superintendent Lee Howard said he is glad to see the park reopen. “I think that we are like most people who have been cooped up,” Lee said, adding that he is ready to “get out and enjoy this beautiful weather.”

Howard said after the park learned of the positive cases, “all our staff were quarantined.”

“I’m happy to report that we’re all doing well,” he said.

The park, Howard said, is safe and clean. “It’s been two weeks. If there was any sort of virus, it’s long since died. We’re confident that the park is clean at this time,” he said.

Like all other state parks in Arkansas, the park is now day-use only. Howard confirmed the boat ramps and the trails are now open again.

The state has said it will close trails that prove to be too popular, where social distancing can’t be maintained. Howard said that is unlikely to happen at Lake Ouachita.

“Don’t anticipate any closures,” he said.

Howard told The Sentinel-Record that he doesn’t anticipate the reopening to attract a large crowd. “This weekend, I expect that will change,” he said.

As far as self-isolating for a week, Howard said “each person deals with quarantine in their own way. I spent a lot of time working.” He said he spent “a great deal of time” answering emails during the week and he and his wife spent a lot of time working in their garden.

Now that he can leave his house, Howard said he “looks forward to getting a couple gallons of milk” from the store.

The park is open from 8 a.m. until dark. Whitfield said visitors still need to keep a social distance.

“Keep 6 feet apart,” she said.

With Lake Ouachita State Park reopened, there are once again two local state parks for locals to visit. While Lake Catherine State Park has not had to close due to COVID-19, the park has also felt the effects of the pandemic over the past few weeks.

Lake Catherine State Park hosted more than 3,200 visitors over spring break, but attendance has since dropped to a safer, more manageable number as the result of public safety measures and poor weather.

While the marina and beach are closed at Lake Catherine, picnics are still allowed in the park and the boat ramp remains open. Like the other state parks, Lake Catherine is closed to overnight camping and is also now enforcing a limit on how many cars can be at the trailheads for three of the park’s trails.

Whitfield said the state doesn’t know what the visitation will be like at Lake Ouachita now that it has reopened.

“Just have to keep a watch on it,” Whitfield said.

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