Going to the Lake: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

One of summer’s favorite activities is going to the lake. With modern transportation, that can mean going north to Greers Ferry Lake or going south to Lake Ouachita, Lake DeGray or Lake Hamilton. But in past years, Faulkner County residents couldn’t go that far to swim, fish or picnic.

Many Faulkner County families had their own favorite spot along the Cadron Creek or the Arkansas River to fish or picnic on those hot summer days. Residents in Pleasant Valley often gathered at “the forks of the Cadron” to picnic. There was a great swimming hole with nice shady trees nearby for picnics. Often on the fourth of July, the Cadron was low enough that the men and boys could drop a sein in the deeper holes of the creek and haul out a load of fish for frying. Other Faulkner County residents also gathered at the closest swimming hole or stream they could find.

The creation of three man-made lakes in the 1930s through the 1950s would give Faulkner County residents new places to swim, fish and boat. The opening of Lake Bennett (Woolly Hollow), Lake Conway and Lake Beaverfork would provide locals with a variety of opportunities for summer outdoor activities.

Lake Bennett is one of the oldest man-made lakes in the county. It was constructed in the mid-1930s as part of a soil-erosion and water conservation project. A dam was built to create a lake that was fed by runoff waters as well as spring water in the area. The lake was named for Hugh Bennett, a pioneer soil scientist and conservationist who made recommendations to President Franklin Roosevelt about what to do about the loss of topsoil in the country.

Lake Bennett was stocked with fish and became the feature attraction of the “Woolly Hollow Recreation Center (now Woolly Hollow State Park). It became a popular place for swimming, family picnics and other recreational activities. There were rental pedal-boats and a big concrete platform in the lake for jumping.

One of my most enduring memories of childhood was going to Lake Bennett with my cousins in the summer. We would travel the long and dusty road to Lake Bennett where we would swim and float on large tractor tire inner tubes. One of the reasons I remember that trip so vividly is that our inner tube capsized with about a half-dozen wiggly cousins on it. We all came up sputtering.

In 1946, the Conway Chamber of Commerce led a campaign to create a recreation area for Central Arkansas residents. With contributions from the cities of Conway, Morrilton and Little Rock, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission purchased land south of Conway and dammed up the Palarm Creek. The 6,700-acre Lake Conway opened in 1951 and is the largest man-made Game and Fish Commission lake in Arkansas. It has provided some of the best fishing in Arkansas right here in Faulkner County.

Lake Beaverfork, a 960-acre lake north of Conway, was created in 1955 to be Conway’s primary drinking water supply. It quickly became a popular spot for swimming, fishing and water skiing. In the first few decades after it opened, the lake would be crowded every summer weekend with ski boats and party barges. Boats would be lined up on the south side of the lake with skiers. Both my generation and my parents’ generation spent a lot of time at this lake with friends.

Although there was a period of relative inactivity at the lake, Beaverfork Park has added a lot of attractions over the last several years that are bringing more people to the lake. Annual events like triathlons, cross-country meets, Dragon-Boat races and fishing tournaments attract crowds but on a daily basis there are always people there playing Frisbee golf, practicing their golf swing, having baseball practice, flying radio-controlled airplanes or just fishing. The pavilions provide a place for groups to gather for reunions and other gatherings.

Soon there will be a new attraction. The 1874 Springfield-Des Arc Bridge is being moved to the lake. It will be placed across the northwest cove between the fishing pier and the swimming area. It will be a great place for photography sessions and weddings.

So if all this talk about lakes has got you itching to take a dip or drop a line, head on out this afternoon to one of our local lakes!

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