By Airman 1st Class Scott Poe
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A beautiful lakeside view, all the swimming and fishing one can handle, and I did it all on an Airman’s pay. Lake Ouachita State Park was my choice for a budget friendly getaway.
The trip started on a Friday afternoon. My friend and I rented a canoe from Outdoor Recreation and headed down the winding roads to our camp. We became concerned by slow drizzling rain as we neared camp, but soon the rains subsided, which eased our worries.
After a drive of approximately an hour and a half, we arrived at Lake Ouachita State Park’s Visitor Center to check in.
The staff was friendly and eager to answer our questions. There were live displays of snakes, fish, spiders and other native critters in the lobby. The park also had programs, tours and activities such as kayak races, a bird island tour, snorkeling and an island adventure. Each day the park offers three to five activities to help visitors make the most of their stay. A majority of the activities are free, the others were around $10 to participate.
We chose the walk-in camping area located on a small peninsula reaching out into the lake. Locating our camp was a fast and easy find. Our site was right next to the water’s edge on a specially leveled area just for tents. The site resided underneath the shade of tall pines, providing relief from the summer storms. The threatening thunder in the distance motivated us to quickly setup the tent. Perfectly timed we hid in the tent as a summer shower passed through and put our plans of fishing on hold. The thunder and lightning shattered our hopes of fishing for our dinner. So plan B was a good ol’ MRE. As we got ready to eat our meals, our neighbor in the tent across from us invited us over for dinner. We had juicy thick pork chops with noodles, bread and great conversation.
After the rain passed, it was perfect weather to take the canoe out and try our luck at hooking a fish. The water was smooth as glass. The rain-cooled air was calm and refreshing; the only thing that could have made it better is if the fish were biting.
The next morning we tried our luck once again on the lake with little success. It was time to enjoy the lake for another reason since it was not producing the fishing environment we were hoping for; so we went for a swim. The water was very clear and the temperature was perfect.
Tired of MRE’s, we decided to check out one of the local places for lunch. We ended up at Home Plate Café, which was 15 miles away between the camp and Hot Springs Village. The food was great. I got a 7 ounce steak with fries and freshly steamed broccoli. The steak was cooked just as I asked and it was very tender and juicy. Our waiter, Zach Geiling, said everything from the restaurant was fresh and made from scratch. Nothing came prepackaged. He never let our drinks run dry and had a great attitude with a smile.
After the meal, it was back to camp to enjoy the warm tranquil water once again, swimming and fishing. Even though we were having an immense amount of fun, we stayed safe by following these guidelines. Always stay safe when you’re out on the water whether it’s on a boat or swimming in a pool. If you’re swimming, never swim alone, and don’t mix alcohol with water sports/activities. Always use a lifejacket when you are in water.
We took the canoe to explore some of the islands to find a new place to camp when we decided to come back. The next morning it was time to pack up and head home. I can almost guarantee that I will be going back. The hospitality of the park staff and the other campers made the experience fun and memorable.
My main goal on this trip was of course to have a good time, but I had to do it on an airman 1st class’ budget. We rented all of our goodies from Outdoor Recreation. The tent, two cots and the trailer with the canoe cost $83 for two days. Lunch at the Home Plate Café cost around $11 and our campsite was $12 a day. I spent $106 total but my amigo helped with his share of the bill.
It was a great feeling to get away from the stress of the work week and enjoy the outdoors. The park was so peaceful and had an abundance of activities to take part in. I had a blast, and I didn’t spend a lot of the little money I make. Lake Ouachita State Park is definitely a place I will visit again. To contact the park call 501-767-9366 or go visit them online at http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/lakeouachita/.