Walking Memory Lane

Paths sometimes act as anchors for memories. As a child, I spent many hours walking trails and roads in Hot Springs, Arkansas, while visiting my grandmother who lived on Highway 7 north of downtown.

I thought nothing of hiking through the woods to Gulpha Gorge where water cooled my bare feet. I can still feel the ever-present pea-sized snails that covered submerged rocks polished smooth from years of tumbling. 

Kodak cameraI sometimes carried a small plastic Instamatic Kodak camera, enchanted by rock formations and towering trees. I felt no fear, only freedom; freedom to go wherever my feet would take me.

As I drove into town early Saturday morning I felt jealous of my wife’s scheduled time for reading and reflection on the front porch of Mountain Thyme B&B. But, I also felt the excitement of knowing I would experience a day of learning while with Arkansas Master Naturalists.


I stopped to view my grandmother’s old house and marveled at how small her front yard was where we played sandlot football and Frisbee. The uphill side had a definite advantage.

The chain link fence was a more recent addition. I remember near panic when momentum would take me close to that downhill edge as a child. I have a small scar on the inside of my lip from one of those games. I’d forgotten there were so many steps next to the driveway. My grandmother used those steps to pose us for dreaded family pictures.

On the other side of Hwy 7 stood an old hotel and long-retired swimming pool next to the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. As a child, I remember seeing the pool in use as my grandfather visited with the hotel owner.


President Bill Clinton’s childhood home in the background

Continuing south on Hwy 7, I came to The Vapors, an old nightclub now way past its prime. While in college, I played percussion in pit bands at The Vapors. It was quite elegant back then but playing there influenced me to continue my education and finish college. After being offered an extended gig playing drums for a chain-smoking, hard-drinking musician, I realized that this wasn’t the direction I wanted to follow.

For several years, The Vapors was used for conference meetings, then as a church. Now it is only a dilapidated old shell of a place with ghosts and stories inside its silent walls. I was surprised that the marquee still stands in good condition.



My favorite part of the Master Naturalists training involved walking through familiar areas while seeing through new lenses of learning.

A group walked north of the Arlington Hotel with geologist Doug Hanson as he shared from his knowledge using road cuts next to parking lots. He had extensive information about novaculite and its many applications as an abrasive. I knew the rock as a wetstone I’ve used to sharpen knives.

Shane Scott, a member of the Diamond Lakes Master Naturalists, led a group on the Hot Springs National Park Greenway. We began by walking alongside the springs above historic bathhouse row. I remembered walking this path many times as a child and marveled at how the springs and brick paths have remained so unchanged over the years.


Lids secure and name the springs above Bathhouse Row

I was pleased to walk next to Hot Springs Creek where it emerged from its manmade covering that extends along Central Avenue.


Before the first section of arched covering was built in 1884, rickety wooden bridges allowed early patrons to get to the bathhouses. The photo below shows the creek tunnel under construction.

Hot Springs Creek tunnel


Hot Springs Creek flowing through a park

A highlight of our walk was seeing the butterfly garden maintained by the Diamond River Master Naturalists. I also enjoyed visiting briefly with a local who appeared to have all his possessions on a small dolly. He sat beside a section of railroad that ran through a small cutaway behind the butterfly garden.


I broke away from the group for a few minutes and visited with the man, offering him some of the snacks from my pack. He was gracious and appreciative. I would like to have heard his story but decided to rejoin the group on the Greenway.


Track where I met the hobo

After backtracking to the hot spring display pool where we began, I dipped my fingers into the water. This heat that traveled from volcanic depths before racing up to the surrounding hillside made me feel a sudden rush of childlike amazement.


As I walked away from the springs, I felt thankful for the memories attached to these paths and the childlike fascination that we can feel at any age. These lines by Mary Oliver came to mind. 

Oliver quote0519.001

More about Arkansas Master Naturalists: A Pause for Learning

Arkansas Master Naturalists Learning Paths


A leashed Hiker-dog on a kid-friendly hike.

Arkansas Master Naturalists participated in the June 2 National Trails Day, so members led several hikes around the state and shared their love of the environment.

I participated by leading a kid-friendly hike on part of the Shepherds Spring Loop Trail at Lake Fort Smith State Park. With the heat, a short out-and-back hike was the best option and made it a fun outing for folks at all experience levels.

Becoming involved with Arkansas Master Naturalists placed me with a group of people who share a commitment to conserving and improving Arkansas’ environment and beauty. I’ve benefited from the expertise of members and look forward to continued learning. They are true to their mission of “providing education, outreach, and service” to benefit the natural environment of Arkansas.

Ark Master Nat logo

When I first got involved, I attended all the training possible and volunteered where I could, not completely understanding how my actions would lead to certification.

To help my understanding, I made graphic organizers to communicate the process of becoming a Certified Master Naturalist and the Continuing Education to maintain certification each year.

The first graphic shows the path from being a Naturalist in Training (NIT) to certification. It made me happy that the trainers decided to use this graphic as part of the Naturalists in Training materials. I appreciated Care Butler’s suggestions as I revised these to be as clear as possible.

Master Naturalist graphic0118

The graphic below shows the required Continuing Education and volunteer hour requirements to meet annual certification requirements. Read the pages from bottom to top to follow the sequence for becoming certified or continuing annual certification.

Master Naturalist graphic adv training0118

If you enjoy the rich natural environments found in Arkansas, get involved with the Arkansas Master Naturalists. You’ll immediately be immersed in an exceptional group of like-minded folks where you can contribute according to your interests. Through learning and volunteering, you’ll positively impact the natural world in your own backyard, and have a lot of fun in the process!

New Lake Alma Trail and Disc Golf Map


The following link will open a pdf of the Lake Alma Trail Map and Disc Golf Map, suitable for printing or using with your electronic device. We’ll eventually post this link on the City of Alma website. Hardcopies are being distributed through Arkansas Tourism Visitor Centers.

Alma Park Map 2017

  • Thank you to Western Arkansas Planning and Development Commission and Rep Charlotte Douglas for design grant.
  • Thank you Crawford County Advertising and Promotion Commission for printing grant.
  • Thanks to Mayor Keith Greene, the City of Alma staff, and Harry McWater, for technical assistance and support.
  • Thank you to Arkansas Master Naturalists for inspiring me to invest the time to write grants!
  • Thank you to Calvert McBride Printers in Fort Smith
  • Thank you to Kristian Underwood, for his commitment to producing beautiful and functional maps, whether for a city park or the Ozark Highlands Trail!


New Map of Lake Alma Trail and Rec Areas

LAT Map 1

partial page 1

Coming soon! A beautiful map of the Lake Alma Trail, Disc Golf and recreation areas designed by Underwood Geographics.

  • Thank you to Western Arkansas Planning and Development Commission and Rep Charlotte Douglas for design grant.
  • Thank you Crawford County Advertising and Promotion Commission for printing grant.
  • Thanks to Mayor Keith Greene, the City of Alma staff, and Harry McWater, for technical assistance and support. 
  • Thank you to Arkansas Master Naturalists for inspiring me to invest the time to write grants!
  • Thank you to Calvert McBride Printers in Fort Smith
  • Thank you to Kristian Underwood, for his commitment to producing beautiful and functional maps, whether for a city park or the Ozark Highlands Trail!

We’ll be able to share this map/brochure in print and digital forms soon!

LAT Map 2

partial page 2

Arkansas Master Naturalists: Pausing to Learn

Ark Master Nat logoSince January I’ve been involved in training with Arkansas Master Naturalists (AMN), putting a crimp in my hiking plans but with great rewards. It’s easy to plow ever forward almost mindlessly from one outdoor adventure to another without appreciating the gifts to be found along the trails.

Becoming a Master Naturalist required completing 40 hours of formal training on Saturdays, so I sacrificed some trail time, but I met a great group of diverse people with many talents and areas of expertise. This training served as a beginning point for future learning and helped me realize how little I know about our natural world. The AMN encourages participants to follow their interests in learning and volunteer efforts.

At the graduation program while listening to others discuss our path to this point, I decided to draw a visual aid to show how the training lays a foundation for future learning and service to our environment. My favorite part of this visual is the two arrows up and out indicating future work and continued learning. (Revised in Jan. 2018 for the incoming Naturalists in Training.)

Master Naturalist graphic0118

My formal pause for learning is coming to an end, but I’ll be sure to slow down and look more carefully as I hike along the trails. I also look forward to meeting my classmates as we volunteer in service to our natural areas.

Now, my mind is buzzing with ideas for future trips. So many trails and so little time!


A few of the graduates of the Naturalists in Training


Tom was my mentor and encourager

Beauty in Our Own Back Yard – The Lake Alma Trail


Area photographer at McWater Falls

Here’s a link to my article in the April issue of Entertainment Fort Smith. I’m pleased to share the Lake Alma Trail with the readers of Entertainment Fort Smith. Wouldn’t you know Hiker-dog made it into the article’s slideshow. Hope her ego doesn’t get out of hand.

Beauty in Our Own Back Yard – The Lake Alma Trail


Yard Work in God’s Backyard

Lake Alma Trail mile marker 3.5

Lake Alma Trail mile marker 3.5

While working on a local trail this morning, Clifford, a fellow volunteer said, “When I tell people what I’m doing out here, they think I’m crazy!   But I love it.”  Exercise, fresh air, beautiful surroundings, and good fellowship, all for free.  We both agreed it was nice to do yard work in God’s back yard.

Clifford doing some side-hilling on the Lake Alma Trail.

Clifford doing some side-hilling on the Lake Alma Trail.

As we continued our work, Clifford stopped, looked at his watch, and commented that he had just met his Arkansas Master Naturalists certification requirement of 40 volunteer hours.  About 30-minutes later we reached our stopping point for the day.  We walked the short section several times commenting on the difference our work had made.

Little Frog Bayou

Little Frog Bayou

I continued around the trail with Pulaski in hand to chop out several little stubs I’d been noticing on my daily walks.  As I hiked along thinking of many workdays on this trail since March of 2012, I began to realize what a wonderful treasure we have here.

I experienced a sense of deep gratification and thought of the thousands of steps that have already been taken on this trail.  Some of our local hikers, especially children, got their start on this trail.  The Lake Alma Trail is having an impact on the health of our community.  I know it has benefited my own health and wellbeing.

I began to think of some of the trail volunteers I’ve worked with and how committed they are to making hiking trails available to others.  Working with them has given me a new appreciation for every step I take on a trail.

Here’s a short list of reasons to volunteer to do trail building and maintenance.

1. Trail work is good exercise – It is a full body workout for sure.  No gym charges and no gym smells.

2. Good fellowship – Great chance to work with good people.

3. Satisfaction – Tangible results from work is rewarding.  It is nice to hike a section of trail where you’ve done some work.

4.  Trail work blurs the lines between work and recreation.  Nice to have an activity that you can frame any way that suits you.   If you want others to think you have a strong work ethic, tell them you’re doing trail work.  They don’t have to know how much you enjoy it.

5. Building or maintaining trails is a way to express your gratitude for creation and share the beauty with others.   A well built trail allows many caring eyes to view an area and increase the likelihood that it will be protected.

If you want to be a trail volunteer, how do you get started?

1. Place a small trash bag in your pack and pick up any trash you see on the trails.

2. Occasionally hike with loppers and cut limbs back that brush against you as you hike.  Kick rocks off of the trail or drag small trees off the trail as you hike.

3. Be part of a volunteer work crew on a workday.  All you need is lunch, water, and work gloves.  You might want your own loppers but most tools are provided.

4. Join a hiking community.  If you’re in Arkansas, the Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) or Friends of the Ouachita Trail (FoOT) are great places to make contact for volunteer opportunities.  Membership is inexpensive and your money goes to maintaining trails.  Go to the Lake Alma Trail Facebook page to volunteer on a local community trail here in western Arkansas.

Nice place for a break on the Lake Alma Trail.

Nice place for a break on the Lake Alma Trail.