Mississippi River State Park was recently named the Overall Park of the Year within the Arkansas State Park system and superintendent Kristina Root-Carranza, a second-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, was recognized for her leadership as the park found a number of innovative ways to work with the community to improve its overall experience.
“The projects and partnerships we created were solutions to difficult issues we face in providing the best public service possible,” Root-Carranza said. “These solutions didn’t have straight forward answers. It took time, listening, understanding to solve.”
The different community collaborations increased spring break camp participation, created innovative designs for new observation shelters, and added capacity to interpretive programs. Root-Carranza said many of the efforts were years in the making.
“In this process, we have been able to create critical stakeholders in the community, new stakeholders, and introduce a new generation to Arkansas State Parks,” she said. “At the same time, we were solving problems and fulfilling the Arkansas State Parks mission.”
The park secured a grant that led to the help of an AmeriCorps NCCC team, allowing 11 volunteers to spend six weeks working at the park for a donated value of $47,520 in labor. The AmeriCorps team helped reduce the backlog of maintenance projects, spark new interpretive ideas, and enhance resource protection.
Additionally, Root-Carranza and the park staff looked for ways to help at-risk children through its Spring Break Camp. The park sought the community’s input to help solve three barriers for many children: transportation, costs, and timeframe.
With the community’s help, the park was able to find answers for each of the three.
Transportation was provided by a local health group, Lee County Cooperative Clinic. Camp fees were paid by community members who sponsored children to attend. In just two days, $2,000 in donations were collected, allowing every child to attend the camp for free. Finally, thanks to the help of the AmeriCorps NCCC team, the park staff extend camp hours to accommodate working parents.
Of the 20 children who attended the camp, 15 had never before visited a state park.
A partnership with the Lower Mississippi River Foundation has helped add capacity to the park’s interpretive programs. The Lower Mississippi River Foundation’s goal is to bring awareness to the ecological importance of the Mississippi River. Through this combined effort, park staff was able to connect with elementary school teachers and discover how the park could help them reach state standards and curriculum goals. The park staff hosted meetings with kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers and translated the teachers’ concerns into elements they could insert in interpretive park programming.
The results of another park partnership will be seen in the near future. Working with the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, the park welcomed students to help with the design of proposed observation shelters. In Spring 2020, Arkansas State Parks will begin construction on those designs.
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.