Beech Ridge Trail at White Oak Lake State Park in Bluff City, Arkansas is a two-mile loop that offers hikers a look at the Gulf Coastal Plain region of the state. Even though the trail is not a particularly long one, it gives hikers a glimpse of the transitions from one ecosystem to another. The trail begins in a hardwood forest of beech and hickory trees, then climbs to a loblolly pine forest.
The state’s coastal plain region begins just south of the Ouachita Mountains, spanning south to the Louisiana border and east to the Arkansas Delta. The land features unique characteristics, including large areas of loblolly pine forests. This particular area of south Arkansas was built on the timber and petroleum industries, all thanks to this rich coastal plain land.
Beech Ridge Trail starts just behind the visitor’s center. Hikers are encouraged to stay on the trail, marked with red blazes, so as not to damage wildlife habitats. Be on the lookout for deer, squirrels, turkeys, rabbits, and hawks. Park at the visitor’s center, where restrooms and water fountains are available. This easy trail is good for hikers of all skill levels, including children. Leashed dogs are also allowed.
The change in ecosystems is the theme of Beech Ridge Trail at White Oak Lake State Park. Nothing shows this change better than the trees along this trail. Beech and other hardwoods start the trail, climbing up to pine forest. The area specifically features loblolly pines, often referred to as yellow pine or southern yellow pine. The timber industry, which along with early petroleum discovery built this region of the state, largely focused on the loblolly pine.
This loop trail starts near the visitor’s center and takes about an hour and a half to hike, depending on the hiker’s experience level and speed. All four of the state park’s trails start at the same location, so stay on the red blazed trail for Beech Ridge. As the trail nears its lake view, hikers will have a chance to see what locals call “the canyon.” The canyon is easily recognized by its striated walls.
There are a couple of hills along the trail that offer a slight challenge, but nothing too strenuous for most skill levels. The earthen path is easy to navigate for people and their dogs alike, making it a popular walking trail for those who camp with their four-legged friends.
White Oak Lake State Park spreads across two counties, Ouachita and Nevada, in southwest Arkansas. In addition to its four public trails, the state park offers fishing, camping, and a variety of interpretive programs by the Arkansas State Parks. Before becoming a lake in 1961, this land was bought by the federal government in the 1930s to aid farmers during the Great Depression. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission joined forces with the Arkansas State Parks Division to create the lake for recreation and conservation.
The lake is broken into two sections. The upper lake is south of state highway 387; the larger lower lake area is north of the highway. The park opened in 1967 and became a state park two years later.
The terrain of the White Oak Lake State Park’s trails provides a glimpse at the land’s past. Along some trails, hikers will spot white sand, a holdover from millions of years ago when the region was under the Gulf of Mexico’s water. The area was also a crucial element of the Red River Campaign of the U.S. Civil War. Several battles and skirmishes were fought in the region. The visitor center has a display about the region’s role in the Civil War.
In addition to family-friendly trails, White Oak Lake State Park offers a marina with boat rentals, picnic areas, a campground, and a nice playground.