Louisiana Purchase State Park: Tiny Park, Tons of History

#2 on my quest to visit all Arkansas state parks is the Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park! (Check out my other blogs in this series here!) At only 37.5 acres, I thought for sure this tiny state park was Arkansas’ smallest. It’s actually the eleventh smallest, which means there are ten even tinier parks out there to check off my list! Despite its small size, there is plenty of history and natural beauty to soak in at this gorgeous park.

How to Get to Louisiana Purchase State Park

The Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park is located at the end of highway 362 outside Blackton, AR. The park is a 10 minute drive from Blackton; 25 minutes from Brinkley; and about an hour and a half from Little Rock. The road to the LPSP is flat and paved, accessible to any type of vehicle. The park’s boardwalk is also accessible for folks in wheelchairs or strollers. Dogs are allowed in all AR state parks, as long as they are leashed.

Painted sign at Louisiana Purchase State Park
LPSP sign at the start of the boardwalk

A Brief(ish) History Lesson

I’ll try to refrain from rehashing the entire history of the Louisiana Purchase, but if you’d like to dig into that topic, I recommend starting here! On April 30, 1803, delegates from the United States and the First French Empire signed the Louisiana Purchase agreement. This purchase effectively doubled the size of the United States, adding over 830,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River. A decade after the Lewis & Clark expedition, then-president James Monroe commissioned Prospect K. Robbins and Joseph C. Brown to complete a survey of the purchase. On October 27, 1815, Robbins began surveying at the mouth of the Arkansas River (moving north), while Brown began at the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi Rivers (moving west). The place where these lines intersected, known as the Initial Point, eventually became this state park.

“As luck would have it, the intersecting point happened to fall in a headwater swamp in eastern Arkansas, near the present day town of Brinkley. While Brown and Robbins probably did not think it particularly lucky, it made it possible for surveyors to find the original bearing trees (two Tupelo Gum trees) in 1921 to resolve a land dispute among Lee, Phillips and Monroe Counties.”

“It Started Here,” Point of Beginning Magazine
The monument at the Louisiana Purchase State Park in Arkansas
The monument in the swamp

Soon after the rediscovery, the L’Anguille chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution began a campaign to commemorate the Initial Point. Their efforts culminated in the placement of a stone marker and dedication ceremony in 1926, on the 111th anniversary of the Initial Point’s establishment. Collaboration between the AR Natural Heritage Commission & the Parks Department led to the area’s designation as a state park in 1961.

Out in the Delta Boonies

Driving to the LPSP from Little Rock, I kept thinking, “Wow, I’m really out here.” After exiting I-40 in Brinkley, I took highway 49 south towards Blackton. The scenery was rural, a little stark, and endlessly flat in all directions. I passed field after field of rice, corn, and soybeans; farm equipment, silos, and derelict barns dotted the roadside. To be honest, I didn’t even notice Blackton when I passed through it. After I turned down highway 362, the road entered a tunnel of trees, which was gorgeous in the morning light. Golden rays of sunshine drifted through the thick green canopy. After about 2 miles, the road dead ends at the parking lot and boardwalk trailhead. There are trash receptacles, Port-a-Potties, a picnic table and a trailhead board with pamphlets about the park.

Light rays shining through tree canopy over the highway
Highway 362 heading towards the state park

By the way, this is one of the few AR state parks that is day-use only. It is open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. year-round. There is an automated gate that will shut you in if you’re late, and you’ll have to call the park service to come let you out! That would probably take a while, too, so better make sure you’re out on time.

Stroll on Down the Boardwalk

Part of the boardwalk

It’s impossible to get lost in this park! From the parking lot, just head on down the boardwalk. While researching this trip, I saw lots of photos of the park at different times of year, and it seems the swamp was particularly dry this time. I didn’t see much water until I’d walked a little further into the swamp. (If you look at the location photos on Google Maps, you’ll see some really cool photos of the swamp in January, frozen solid and covered in a dusting of snow!)

The word “swamp” doesn’t traditionally equate with beauty, but this swamp is truly breathtaking! It is a “headwater swamp,” one of the largest remaining in the Lower Mississippi River Valley. The bald cypress & tupelo gum trees towered overhead, thick with green foliage. The sun was already beginning to blaze, but the swamp was dim, almost like twilight. There wasn’t a soul around. It was so peaceful listening to buzzing cicadas and the sweet song of the prothonotary warbler, a dazzling yellow songbird native to swamp lands. I glimpsed a few flitting through the trees. Although the swamp is home to all sorts of reptiles, I didn’t see any snakes, turtles or gators this time. There sure were a lot of mosquitoes, however! (I knew what I had signed up for, though, and doused myself in bug spray back at the parking lot.)

The boardwalk is only about 950 feet in length, so the entire round trip is only 3/8 of a mile. Because it’s so short, you can really slow down and enjoy the scenery. There are a few benches and educational placards along the way with interesting facts about the flora & fauna, as well as the history of the park.

After a short walk, the boardwalk dead ends at the Louisiana Purchase historical marker itself. The marker is small, but the overall scenery and mood of the place was stunning, in my opinion. I loved the dim, dappled summer light; it was surprisingly pleasant even in August. The opportunities for wildlife viewing are excellent here. It’s a great place to sit a spell and just take it all in, if the mosquitoes aren’t swarming you!

Louisiana Purchase historical marker in the state park, Arkansas

P. S. While you’re out in the boonies, you might as well grab some lunch– at Craig’s BBQ in DeValls Bluff. It’s about 40 minutes east of the state park, back towards Little Rock. This might be the best little barbecue joint in the state. It has been in business for over 70 years, and apparently has a James Beard award, but it’s as casual as they come. Walk on in, grab a seat, and take my advice– get their sweet tea and at least two chopped pork sandwiches with slaw, HOT! I often bring extras home (along with bottles of their sauce) because they keep so well. I remember coming here with my dad as a kid when they still had a cigarette vending machine in the corner. Besides that, it hasn’t changed much. FYI, it’s cash only!

Additional Resources

“It Started Here” – PoBOnline.com (great article about the monument and its history)
Arkansas State Parks official park page
AR Natural Heritage Commission site
Arkansas Life article about Craig’s BBQ (seriously, you have to try it.)

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6 thoughts on “Louisiana Purchase State Park: Tiny Park, Tons of History

  1. Beth, you have done such a nice, thorough job with your descriptions of these first two State Parks that I think the Parks Department should link to your blogs. Iā€™m looking forward to the next one. (Iā€™m also glad you held off the skeeters.)

  2. Since its been a documented historical area for so long, I have to ask….are the original bearing trees, the two tupelo gum trees still standing?

    1. Good question. From what I can tell, they are still there. According to one article I read, the witness trees were one of the things deemed special by the Parks dept/Natural Heritage Commission, and were part of why they pushed to protect the area. But I don’t remember seeing them or seeing anything pointing them out.

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