words: Dwain Hebda
images:courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
At 47,000 square miles, the Ozark Mountains are the most extensive highlands region between the Appalachians and the Rockies and, with the Ouachitas, make up an area known as the U.S. Interior Highlands. Touching Oklahoma and Kansas, the Ozarks predominate Missouri and Arkansas where it’s split into two ranges: The St. Francois Mountains in Missouri and the Boston Mountains in Arkansas.
Here lies the hamlet of Mountain View, Arkansas, home of the Ozark Folk Center State Park. The park is the only facility in the nation that perpetuates the Ozark heritage of music and craftsmanship, which it does through live craft artisans, musicians and special events that crowd the calendar from April to November.
The very name Ozark evokes images of hardwood forests and rushing streams as well as the unique breed of people who have inhabited the hills since American pioneers arrived at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Not unlike the Cajuns of Louisiana, the people of the Ozarks gained a reputation for a distinct dialect, architecture and culture, which includes handiwork and music. The Ozark Folk Center not only preserves these traditions but displays them for all to see and experience.
Folk music native to the region is everywhere to be found at Ozark Folk Center State Park, giving visitors a sense of the important place music held in the lives of early settlers. Fiddle and banjo take center stage in much of this brand of folk music, rounded out by other acoustic instruments including guitars, mandolins, dulcimers, and autoharps.
The park features a robust concert series, giving audiences a taste of the best folk musicians working today from local players to national touring acts. You can even sample the art form without leaving the comfort of your home thanks to Ozark Highlands Radio, a weekly program that features live music, jam sessions and interviews recorded at the park’s 1,000-seat auditorium.
Amateur musicians and folk music aficionados will also appreciate the workshops and special events celebrating the sounds of the hills. May’s Thumbpicking Weekend, June’s autoharp workshop and Shapenote Singing Gathering and August’s Old Time Fiddle Weekend are just a sample of events on the music calendar.
Once you’ve been inspired by the slate of professionals, don’t miss the chance to pick up your own mountain musical instrument with a visit to McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers in Mountain View. They’ve been hand-crafting fine, native stringed instruments since 1962. The shop is also a sponsor of the Ozark Roots Dulcimer Festival this July.
Ozark Folk Center State Park is equally known for its heritage crafts, which include basket weaving, broom making, blacksmithing, pottery making, knife making, weaving, quilting, wood carving, yarn spinning, soap making, herb gardening, doll making, candle making and letter press printing.
Such crafts aren’t just on display, they’re handmade by more than twenty independent business artisans who operate out of their workshop in the park. They create, demonstrate, teach and sell what they’ve made. The skill and beauty of the items produced here defy the imagination.
You might not think of something as pedestrian as a broom as art until you’ve seen the remarkable creations of Shawn Hoefer and Lena Larson, whose work has earned them champion honors at the National Broom Corn Festival in Arcola, Illinois, three out of the last four years. Another notable couple, Charles and Linda Widmer, are world renowned for their wood carving with pieces collected by presidents and museums; they now operate the jewelry shop here.
The Craft Village also demonstrates the resourcefulness that is the hallmark of the Ozark people. For instance, apothecary artisan Linda Odom recycles cooking oil from the park snack bar to make soap, also using fragrant herbs from the onsite Heritage Herb Garden.
That garden, by the way, is part of the Herb Study Center, a nationally recognized repository of native Ozark plants that generations of hill folk identified and used for food and medicine. Made up of eleven distinct gardens throughout the park, it illustrates the importance plants held in the daily health and wellness of the Ozark lifestyle.
As with the musical attractions, a wide range of classes and workshops focusing on individual handicrafts are featured throughout the season. Many of the crafts on display have their own park-sponsored workshop and most of the artisans also participate in the center’s Design Your Own Workshop program whereby individuals and groups can arrange for customized instruction. You can also take a painting class, led by master artists of the Mountain View Art Guild, whose work is among the Craft Village offerings.
From whittled wooden handles to blacksmithed iron gates, clay pottery to knives made of Damascus steel, the range of artistry at the park’s Craft Village is nearly limitless.
The park offers other accommodations to make for a unique visitor experience. The Ozark Folk Center State Park’s Cabins at Dry Creek give guests a sample of local hospitality with cabins that impart the flavor of the Ozark countryside. Located just outside of Mountain View, all sixty of the units provide a unique and affordable way to enjoy the beautiful vistas after a day of music, shopping or craft instruction at the state park.
All of the cabins, two of which are handicap accessible, are at ground level and provide a delightful mix of rustic charm and modern amenities including wireless Internet. Or, you can skip all that stuff and just take in the relaxing view from your porch while the kids splash in the pool or frequent the communal game room.
Cabin guests can also purchase discount admission tickets to the Craft Village as well as certain music events.
During your visit to the park, don’t miss the Skillet Restaurant, perched atop a wooded Ozark hill with expansive views of the surrounding butterfly garden. Nearby wildlife feeding stations draw woodland creatures into view including birds, raccoons, foxes and even a stray bear or two. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the season offering Southern and native cuisine as well as more contemporary selections to fit modern tastes, including several gluten-free options.
If you want to add a little excitement to your stay, check out the Loco Ropes treetop ropes and zipline course, adjacent to the park.
Finally, save time during your visit to take in some of the natural splendor in and around Mountain View itself. The community sits just off the White River, and outdoor activities abound from hiking and biking to the best trout fishing in mid-America. It’s also not far from the Buffalo River, the first national river in the nation. And, you’re only about fifteen minutes from one of the most stunning waterfalls in the state, Mirror Lake Waterfall. Continuously fed from water by nearby Blanchard Springs Caverns, it’s an angler’s and photographer’s dream come true.
Any time of year is a fine time to head for the Ozarks to explore the simpler pleasures that truly typify Arkansas as the Natural State.
Ozark Folk Center State Park
1032 Park Avenue, Mountain View
Phone: 870.269.3851 | Lodging: 877.879.2741
1025A Park Avenue, Mountain View
870.269.6566 | locoropes.com
McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers
1104 Sylamore Ave., Mountain View
870.269.4313 | mcspaddendulcimers.com