MOUNTAIN PINE, Ark. — A gorgeous weather forecast has state park officials urging caution as campgrounds reopen this weekend for RV campers in one of the latest moves to gradually bring the economy back to life.
"We're extremely excited about having our visitors back," said Lake Ouachita park superintendent Lee Howard. "We've been open over a month without having any campers, and of course tourism is what we do, but we're nowhere near as excited as our campers."
The scenic park had to shut down last month when campers tested positive for the coronavirus. By Friday, the park was back to buzzing with a busy boat launch and a steady parade of RV's and fifth-wheels rolling into reserved spots.
"Our campgrounds are absolutely full for RV's that are self-contained," Howard said, referring to the guidelines set down by Governor Asa Hutchinson. "Unfortunately, we can't allow tents to come into the park right now."
In addition, out-of-state campers can't stay overnight.
It's Arkansans only for now, and Howard and his staff will be talking with anyone with license plates from elsewhere, though he doesn't expect too many conversations.
"It is inconvenient to have to tell somebody from out-of-state that their reservation is no longer good, but on the other hand most of them were prepared for it and they know about it," he said.
"We planned this trip probably about two months ago and our last trip last month got canceled," said Dusty Richards of Bryant.
He and his family gathered two dogs from a pen around the door of their camper. Nearby, Howard warned another dog owner that his terrier needed to be on a leash even though the animal appeared to be having a good time in the water.
Everyone is excited to escape their quarantines and get off their leash, or at least get a longer one.
"Man, I'd have come last night if they'd told me I could come last night," said Richards, before shoving off on the first of several planned paddle board trips on the lake.
Over by the boat launch, Susan and Bob Street enjoyed a picnic on a table overlooking the waterfront.
"There's a lot more today then there have been in the past," Mr. Street said, referring to the crowds he saw Friday in what the Hot Springs Village couple said was their third day-trip this season.
"There's a lot more cars on the road too," Mrs. Street said. "A lot more boats going out and coming in."
Howard said no one ever got sick on his staff during their shutdown and now looks ahead to offering all the amenities available in the park, beyond what it has going for it naturally.
"What do we offer at Lake Ouachita," Howard asks while waving his hand to the vista behind him. "Take a look. This is why people come here. This is such a huge, tremendous resource."