Lake Catherine State Park a gem

Pictures by Gwen Green

HOT SPRINGS -- Lake Catherine State Park started its life as a gift.

The lake was formed in 1924 with the construction of the Remmel Dam. In 1935, Harvey Couch, who founded Arkansas Power & Light, now Entergy, donated 2,048 acres of lakefront property to the state, and the area was designated as a state park on Aug. 22, 1935.

The lake was named after Couch’s daughter, Catherine. She later married Pratt Remmel, the great-nephew of Col. Harmon Remmel, who was Couch’s friend and got his name on the dam.

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Pratt Remmel later went on to be mayor of Little Rock. Remmel Park, near the airport, is named after him.

The state park has 20 cabins along the lakefront, along with extensive areas for tent camping and day use and plenty of spots for recreational vehicles to spend a night or two, or a week, for that matter.

The cabins were started in 1937 as a work project for the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era work program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The CCC’s handiwork is still evident around the state in cabins that are still standing at Petit Jean State Park and White Rock Mountain Recreation Area, among many others.

That’s not the complete story, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

With cabins and other projects still in progress, World War II and its need for soldiers meant that the CCC was done. But that didn’t stop Lake Catherine, as the park was converted to a prisoner-of-war camp for German soldiers captured by the British in the North Africa Campaign during the war.

Arkansas started with 173,000 German prisoners who were housed at what was then Camp Chaffee near Fort Smith, Camp Robinson in North Little Rock and another camp in Monticello before being sent to smaller camps across the state.

Lake Catherine State Park had “213 imprisoned enlisted men guarded by about 16 American soldiers,” and their work is still there. A 210-foot long, 9-foot tall stone retaining wall along the lake and near the foundation of the original lodge remains solidly in place, as well as an outdoor stone oven beside the visitors center. The oven and retaining wall are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Both are also marked with a “P.W.” meaning Prisoner of War even though there’s no signage at the park to note the significance of the initials or that German POWs were kept there.

On a recent overnight visit, the cabins are up to par with other state parks, but have the added bonus of the waterfront.

Read about the glorious tulips at Garvan Woodland Gardens by clicking here.

Our cabin was a duplex studio unit, with a screened-in porch that came with rocking chairs. The entire cabin is built over the water and also features a private pier for fishing or lounging around. The interior of the cabin was around 800 square feet, with about two thirds of that for a single room that included cooking and dining areas, along with a queen-sized bed and chairs.

It also meant a fairly spacious bathroom that ran the width of the cabin and featured a combination shower and soaking tub.

Besides lake access and a marina, the park also features the Falls Creek Trail, which is about two miles in length and features the falls. When you park at the trailhead, take the red-blazed trail to the left and towards the lake. It is quite a bit flatter and easier to hike then the right branch of the trail loop that is more uphill and rockier.

Either way, it is enjoyable but not ADA compliant and not stroller friendly, either.

Another park trail, the Slunger Nature Trail, is paved and makes a roughly half-mile loop. And it is very much ADA compliant.

Reservations are, of course, required for cabins. Book as far ahead as you can. The park fills up fast.

The address for the park is 1200 Catherine Park Road, Hot Springs. For more information, call 501-844-4176.