Sunday Boat Tours at Lake Fort Smith
The interpretive boat tour given by park interpreter Joe Hamilton provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse at stories that reveal the history and resources of the area. “It’s a way of connecting visitors to the park so they come away with a better understanding of what is still a hidden gem,” Hamilton said. “Most people are still unaware of what all we have to offer.”
After boarding a comfortable pontoon boat at the park marina, Hamilton beings letting visitors in on the secrets of the lake. Not long ago, two lakes became one, creating what is now known as Lake Fort Smith. Four miles end to end, the lake is 1,400 square surface acres at an average of 65 feet deep and is the drinking water resource for the city of Fort Smith.
“That’s 27 billion gallons of water,” Hamilton said with a smile. “To give you a better idea of how much water that is, it would fill 500 million bathtubs. Every man, woman and child could fill their bathtub with water in the United States and the lake would still be half-full.”
Two curious butterflies decide to inspect boat passengers as the tour nears a cliff outcropping in order to have a better look at the abundant wildlife drawn to the water. All the passengers pause to take in the hushed silence of nature.
The lake has a “no human contact” rule to preserve the quality of the city drinking water. This serves to keep the lake free of human contamination, hence no swimming, skiing or jet skis are allowed. Boating, fishing and other forms of recreation are allowed as boat pollutants are easily removed from the water whereas bacterial contaminates are not. The result is a much quieter lake atmosphere to enjoy, Hamilton said.
Bald eagles are year-round residents at the park and their white feathers are easy to spot against the lush greenery of the mountainside. Visitors might also catch glimpses of black bear, beaver, river otter or fox at the water’s edge. Birds such as kingfishers and loons mix with migratory birds that visit the lake throughout the year.
Hamilton said an unexpected aspect of the pleasure cruise is from how far away visitors have come. Local guests mingle with travelers from the Czech Republic, Great Britain, France, Australia and more.
“This year’s changing of the seasons is expected to be colorful from the rainy year we’ve had and our water level is 96 percent full – it can’t get better than this,” Hamilton said.
Twilight and full-moon boat tours are also offered by the park. Every boat can accommodate wheelchairs and the park amenities are all handicap-accessible.
Nestled in a scenic valley of the Boston Mountain Range of the Ozark Mountains, this state park on the western side of Lake Fort Smith now offers 10 cabin rentals. Visitors can enjoy camping, fishing, kayaking, swimming, mountain biking, hiking and nature study. For backpackers, the park serves as the western terminus of the 165-mile Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail.
For park details or to book campsite, cabin or group overnight reservations online, visit ArkansasStateParks.com/LakeFortSmith. Campsite reservations also can be made by calling the park at 479-369-2469.
Fall Magic Boat Tour dates are Sept. 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 from 2-3:30 p.m. Depart from the park’s marina. Admission: $9 adults, $5 kids 6-12, under 6 free. Reservations are taken at the marina at 479-369-1018. This is a weather-dependent event and may be canceled.