Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER
Lake Sylvia’s swim area is a popular summer spot. It’s part of Lake Sylvia Recreation Area in the Ouachita National Forest.
Thursday, July 12, 2018
LAKE SYLVIA -- On a steamy summer day, a refreshing splash or swim is the best reason for visiting Lake Sylvia Recreation Area, a federal reserve on the eastern edge of the Ouachita range about 40 miles west of Little Rock.
Sylvia is one of 62 lakes listed online by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism as a hot-weather attraction. The department's website points out that "a vast majority of recreational vacations are water-related, and Arkansas is ready. With more than 600,000 acres of Arkansas lakes, there's plenty of space for fishing, swimming, sailing, power-boating, scuba diving and more."
Covering only 18 acres in Ouachita National Forest, Sylvia is one of the smaller lakes on the list. Its swim area, which requires a small access fee, is compact and can be crowded on sunny weekends. But even water-shy visitors can find enjoyable activities here on land as well.
One such pleasure is honing your knowledge of The Natural State by strolling the Trees of the Forest Interpretive Trail. This level and blissfully shaded walkway, looping a mere four-tenths of a mile, is marked with signs describing some familiar tree species and others not so well known.
As one of four marked trails at Lake Sylvia, the path can be explored before or after heading to the swimming beach on the 18-acre body of water or having lunch in one of the shaded picnic spots. The trail signs, a bit faded with the passage of time and depredations of weather, are duplicated in braille.
Some of the signs describe trees with familiar names, such as white oak, eastern red cedar, hawthorn and shortleaf pine. Other species have names with an exotic ring to them.
Old man's beard, a playful moniker, is described as a "small tree or shrub sometimes reaching a height of 20-30 feet." It is "one of the most handsome shrubs because of its drooping clusters of fringy white flowers, which occur in April and May. It has been cultivated since 1736."
Rusty blackhaw, typically 40 feet tall, "usually occurs on hillsides or at the edges of bottomlands. The blue-black edible fruit is sometimes referred to as 'wild raisins' because it has a slightly sweet but dryish pulp."
Basswood "grows usually in moist situations, attaining heights of 70 feet. The flowers are fragrant and can be used to prepare a flavorful tea. Sugar may be obtained from the sap. The ground fruits can be prepared into a paste resembling chocolate and used as a substitute."
Ironwood, also called hop hornbeam, "is used in the repair of agricultural implements and wagons, wedges, tool handles, cogs, levers, mallets, rake teeth, ladder rungs and machinery tongues. Of little value commercially."
Several other paths less than a mile long include the Wildlife Trail, marked with interpretive signs identifying mammals and birds commonly seen in the area. This trail loops through part of the Chinquapin Mountain Walk-in Turkey Area, which also connects with the Ouachita National Recreation Trail.
If even a short walk works up a sweat, Lake Sylvia's swim provides a cooling antidote.
To reach Lake Sylvia Recreation Area from Little Rock, head west on Arkansas 10. At Williams Junction, turn right on Arkansas 9. Then turn left on Arkansas 324, which ends at the lake. Accessing the swim area requires a fee of $3 per motor vehicle or $1 per person biking or walking. There is no charge for hiking the trails.
For more information, contact Ouachita National Forest's Winona Ranger District. Visit fs.usda.gov/recarea/ouachita/recreation or call (501) 889-5176. Information on other Arkansas lakes and opportunities for water-related recreation is available at arkansas.com.
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