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10/24/2012

Big Flat City Park


 Copyright© Jim Long 2012
The Ozarks Mountaineer magazine

Some years ago I was traveling back and forth from Missouri down into Arkansas to the Ozark Folk Center. I gave programs there a number of times, helped with the garden and always felt a close connection to the Mountain View area.
Plaque commemorates efforts in the 1960s to upgrade the park.
Each time I drove south, I tried to take a different route to Mountain View and the Folk Center but over time my favorite route to drive was on Highway 14. There was very little traffic, the scenery wonderful and there were lots of real towns much like the ones where I grew up.


A dozen or more picnic areas dot the park.

I came to especially admire the town of Big Flat in Baxter County. Arkansas Highway 14 makes a sharp, 90 degree turn right in the middle of downtown (the town only has 105 people, according to the 2010 census) so downtown isn’t big. What made it remarkable, besides the old-style store fronts from the late 1880s, was a little roadside pavilion tucked between two stores. Nearly every time I drove past, regardless of time of day, there would be several men sitting at the tables, playing cards and visiting.
Well made, stone picnic tables abound.
Just outside of Big Flat to the north is one of the more remarkable city parks I have ever seen in a rural area. Big Flat City Park is used for weddings, family reunions, picnics, family gatherings as well as providing a welcome and beautiful rest stop for travelers. I have taken many a nap in my pickup truck, parked under the shade trees and I’ve eaten lots of picnic meals there, as well.
Small, rustic shelter for serving small groups.
Round table in smaller shelter.
 There are two large, group-sized barbecue pits on the grounds, (along with several smaller family-sized barbecue pits), a rustic outdoor kitchen/serving area and a large covered shelter for gatherings. There are smaller shelters, as well, for smaller groups’ picnics and numerous picnic tables and benches throughout the grounds.
A large shelter for big family gatherings, weddings and other events.
In looking at the park one would assume it was a WPA project from the 1930s but a plaque designates it as an Arkansas Farmers Union Green Thumb project, dedicated in 1969. A small shelter that contains the plaque, designates it the Uncle Willie Huffines Park Green Thumb Project, while an older sign out front still reads Big Flat City Park. It’s hard to tell, but my guess from the age of the stonework and the amount of stone buildings and shelters, is it was originally a WPA project with a serious renewal and update in the 1960s. Either way, it’s a unique park.
Round picnic area provides lots of seating and shade.
The picnic tables and benches are made from slabs of stone that were mined nearby. I’ve never counted the number of picnic tables, but there are a dozen or more. Little architectural features, created by the local workers, add charm to the park. The walls, posts, barbecues and everything are built of stone, but laid with thoughtfulness and attention to detail. For example, the stepping stone into one of the shelters is sandstone, with ripples for traction, obviously found in a stream where water had rippled over it for eons.
Ancient stalactites mark park entry.
The two entry posts on either side of the gateway into the park are made from large stalactites from some nearby cave. There’s a hand pump that used to bring up water from a dug well, but the park has been updated to have a drinking fountain and water from city water.

If you’re looking for a scenic drive and a delightful place for a picnic, in winter or summer, I highly recommend Big Flat City Park. It’s one of the amazing little secret places you’ll discover along less-traveled roads, and demonstrates well why Arkansas is still knows as the natural state.