The Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism is on something of a fiscal roll. Total revenue from the agency’s collection of state parks topped $30 million in 2017.
That milestone surpassed the 2016 total of $28.2 million and is more than double the revenue generated by the state park system in 2005: $14.9 million.
“We’re happy with that growth, and we’ve introduced a new reservation system that will help us even more,” said Grady Spann, director of Arkansas State Parks.
The big five money-makers in state parks last year were cabin rentals, more than $5.2 million; camping, $4.8 million; restaurants, more than $4.7 million; lodges, nearly $4.6 million; and gift shops, almost $3.2 million.
The lodges atop Mount Magazine, Rich Mountain and Petit Jean and at Lake DeGray have become showcases for Arkansas tourism.
“Our lodge system is operated at a level that is not seen in other state park systems,” Spann said. “We’re one of the few to operate without a third-party concessionaire.”
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Parks & Tourism counts the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View as a lodge destination even though the 640-acre park has no lodge. “We have so much group business up there for the cabins, that for our purposes, we consider it a lodge,” Spann said.
After receiving an exterior face-lift, the 60 cabins at the Ozark Folk Center are undergoing an interior makeover to update the accommodations.
The $2.8 million project is part of an effort to establish uniformity, an effort that ranges from furnishing comfy beds to supplying bathrooms with aromatic shampoo. The idea is to set a high standard that visitors can rely on no matter their choice of destination.
“Guests can expect the same quality of service across the system,” Spann said. “We want everything up to industry standard.”
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Among the other lodge parks, the visitor’s center at Petit Jean is on the drawing board for a serious redo. The project is getting close to final design.
The state lodges are a big calling card for tourism, envisioned as adding to the area draw of visitors and not competing to the detriment of private enterprise.
Spann believes the state is keeping that public-private tension within acceptable bounds.
“When the lodge on Mount Magazine was rebuilt, that improved business in Havana and Paris,” he said. “Mena saw their tax revenue decline when Queen Wilhelmina was closed for renovation.”
Where are lodge visitors coming from? Mostly from in state, but an exception is Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, which is a magnet for Texans.
“You can’t get to a mountain like that in Texas that’s closer to Dallas than Queen Wilhelmina,” said Joe Jacobs, marketing and revenue manager of Arkansas State Parks.
Arkansas State Park Lodge Occupancy Rates
|Queen Wilhelmina||Petit Jean||Mount Magazine||DeGray Lake Resort||Ozark Folk Center|
*Renovation begins | **Lodge renovated | †Restaurant renovated | ‡Opened in May 2006
Source: Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism