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Union County sees damage from Sunday storms

Posted on June 25, 2019

The South Arkansas Arboretum became a State Park in 1995. However, being a State Park is only part of the picture of how the Arboretum housed in El Dorado operates.

South Arkansas Community College signed a renewal of its contract for the Arboretum last month — a three year contract between the college, the El Dorado School District and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

The property that the Arboretum is on was taken over by the El Dorado School District because it is part of the old El Dorado High School property. SouthArk takes on paying for the majority of the upkeep and maintenance for the Arboretum. Meanwhile, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism includes information about the Arboretum on it’s website.

El Dorado School District Superintendent Jim Tucker said the district helps pay the salary of the caretaker and takes turns fronting the cost of removing broken trees.

“Financially, we have a stake in it,” Tucker said. “We help pay the salary of the caretaker for the Arboretum. A lot of times we will rotate the price of trees that need to be taken down or are dead. One time the college will pay for it, the next time we’ll pay for it. We don’t have a written agreement to that. We just try to keep it looking good, in good condition and safe.”

Dr. Barbara Jones said SouthArk is responsible for operating and maintaining the property. Jones said the contract started in the late ’90s. She said the College doesn’t get any money from the state for the park, but it’s part of the regular operational budget to keep things going.

She said they’re tried to get state funding in the past and has received some aid for specific projects, but it doesn’t receive any consistent year-to-year funding.

“The cost of running it is really our’s,” she said. “We keep trying to get some help with that. We do have a fund in our Foundation. It’s the Arboretum Fund that people contribute to. A lot of times the Master Gardeners will get flowers and pay for flowers out of there that they’re planting — or bushes. It’s a wonderful thing to be a state park, but we wish we had more funding.”

When the fall festival is held at the Arboretum each year, the pumpkins for that event comes out of the fund. When SouthArk needs to have a tree removed, part of the funding can come from the fund with the college and the school district contributing as well.

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism visits the Arboretum once a year to check in on the park and talk about goals for it. Jones said if there’s plans to building any structures on the land, it has to get approved by the Department. Additionally, the park is included in brochures for the Department and Jones said if there’s a major event scheduled there the Department will help with marketing for it.

“They kind of act as a consultant a little bit,” she said. “They have sent some people over to help us work on something before.”

Along with the three official parties, there is an Arboretum Board, which makes recommendations to SouthArk on work to be done and helps plan fundraisers to come up with the funding for projects. Tucker and Jones are both on the Board, along with community members and other college representatives. The members of the Board are picked by the SouthArk Board of Trustees. Jones said many of the members on the Board have experience in forestry or other aspects of nature

Barbie Luther, who is one of the community members on the Board, said some of the things the Board looks at what is going on at the Arboretum and what work needs to be done then makes recommendations to SouthArk about what to do. The Board also discusses and looks for how to do the things it recommends.

“We don’t really oversee, that’s probably not the right word,” Luther said. “The college manages. The board, we don’t have any real authority over anything, but we advise the college.”

Luther is also part of the Master Gardeners, who have made the Arboretum one of their projects in 2008. The Master Gardeners do work at the Arboretum by planting flowers and helping with some of the maintenance.

“We do a whole lot of planting and trimming flowers and trying to make it look more attractive than it used to,” Luther said. “There is no budget for that kind of thing. There’s no budget for planting pretty things or making it look more attractive. It is a state park in name only. There is no state funding and never will be.”

Luther said when the Arboretum Board met on Friday morning, they discussed a recent fundraiser held in conjunction between the Board and the Master Gardeners. The fundraiser was focused on gaining funds to do work on two of the bridges in the Arboretum, which are in need of replacement.

“We raised enough money to buy the supplies,” she said. “And the college crew will do the work to replace the bridges.”

She said they also discussed that some of the picnic tables are starting to wear down and whether the best path is to repair them or work on finding the money to replace them.

The Arboretum is frequently used for both public and private events throughout the year. The Master Gardeners hosts the Annual Bulb Sale at the Arboretum in every October. Additionally, the SouthArk Renaissance Faire was held there in April and there’s plans to make that a regular event.

Luther said she knows that people will reserve portions of the Arboretum for weddings or other parties.

Reservations are made through the El Dorado Conference Center. They’re made for either the pavilion or the small gazebo. There is a fee for reserving either.

Luther said one of her main wishes is that people could see what the arboretum is and the ways it could serve the community.

“I wish more people were just aware of what a juel it is,” she said. “What a treasure. It’s a beautiful, natural environment. That front section is for park life. There’s a transitional part that is supposed to be transitioning more to native only. Then across the backside it is all native. We don’t plant anything in those areas that would not have grown here forever.”

The Arboretum is open from 8:00 to 5:00 Monday – Saturday, and 9:00 – 5:00 on Sunday, except for designated holidays. During daylight savings hours are from 8:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, and 9:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free.

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.