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The Wilbur Mills Park Trail offers easy access to nature

Outdoor writer and photographer Corbet Deary is regularly featured in The Sentinel-Record. Today, Deary takes readers on a journey down the Wilbur Mills Park Trail.

The word wanderer is a fairly broad term. Some people proclaiming the title are more than satisfied with a pleasant and easy stroll down a paved, level path that barely extends out of sight of their vehicle before winding their way back to the trailhead.

However, there are others who prefer to tackle designated trails, which are far more strenuous and meander for several kilometers through forest, over mountainous terrain and along natural subsoil.

And then there are those who are most interested in going into the depths of the forest without a trace. These people relish using a sense of direction, telltale signs lurking in the natural environment, a compass, or possibly a GPS as a means of navigating to and from their destinations.

Personally, I enjoy the latter of the three the most, as I’m always on the lookout. Of course I hope to find places that are obviously used by deer.

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But deer hunting is only a small part of why I’m drawn to the great outdoors. I get just as excited when I notice the fresh turkey sign. And while I have no intention of taking down a black bear, I definitely make a mental note whenever I come across a place to go back and snap some photos.

Hell, I even find it exciting to find spots where wildflowers thrive that aren’t typically found along the roadside, let alone finding the occasional deep pool of water in a secluded stream or small river where the fish are barely or see no fishing pressure at all.

That being said, my preference isn’t an indication that I have anything against trails. I also consider a love of easy excursions no less important than my need to explore an uncontrolled environment.

In fact, it’s safe to say that I spend more time romping around designated trails than bushwhacking, largely because my favorite excursions can often prove more time-consuming. And to be honest, there are just times of the year when navigating an uncontrolled environment can prove pretty miserable.

In short, I’m not a big fan of the muggy summer days when high humidity and temperatures are a recipe for triple digits. And I despise ticks and ticks alike.

You can even see me taking a leisurely stroll through a park on a level, paved path. In fact, today’s goal fits that description perfectly.

The Mills Park Trail was introduced to me a few years ago by a friend who lives near the town of Bryant. Although the main trail was paved and is on the edge of a subdivision, part of the route passes through a wooded area. It provided an opportunity to get out and enjoy a 1.4 mile walk under the shade of native trees.

In fact, 50 of the 80 hectares designated as a park are in a natural setting. The rest of the property consists of three pavilions, a swimming pool, basketball court, tennis courts, practice fields and a playground. This particular facility certainly has something to offer people with a variety of interests.

OK, back to the paved trail. From the parking lot near the playground, the trodden path descends slightly into the heart of a wooded area and is expected to stay under the treetops for 0.75 miles.

The trail levels out shortly thereafter as it turns left and comes within sight of a nearby subdivision. However, it doesn’t feel crowded as the property lines of the subdivision are separated from the hiking trail by a narrow patch of forest.

The trail continues on level ground past the subdivision and finally turns further left and back towards the park. The only climb of the entire hike then begins. The climb is hardly a cause for concern as it is slight. In fact, the paved trail was built to accommodate people who rely on wheelchairs and other mobility devices. I also noticed a couple of ladies pushing prams.

However, one should keep in mind that this section of the trail leads through a forest area. And in such an environment, roots cause a few bumps and bumps along the way.

The trail eventually leads out of the forest and along another subdivision. The main path continues along the perimeter of the property through an open field. However, if you prefer to shorten the excursion, you can turn left at the crossroads and take a short hike back to the parking lot.

Those who choose to stay on the main trail can look forward to an easy and level route that eventually returns to the starting point of the journey.

But wait, there’s more. Those who venture down this trail will likely notice the crossings of some dirt roads that appear to lead into the forest along the way.

Well, that’s exactly what they do. Those who prefer trekking on natural ground should consider embarking on one of these trails. What the heck: why not try them all? They are all connected and eventually lead back to the main path.

One of the routes meanders within the paved loop for about a half mile before crossing the main trail and connecting to another route that meanders along the sidewalk edge for probably 1.5 miles.

Who knows, you might meet a local creature going about its daily rituals along the way. And you’ll likely find some interesting plants taking root within sight of the trail. In fact, on a previous visit, I can recall finding and photographing a particular wildflower just a few yards off the dirt route.

This particular trail is one of the places I have returned to several times over the years. Admittedly, it is far from being in the depths of the National Forest and, as a reminder, you will pass through a few subdivisions in sight along the way.

However, a hike on this particular trail is more relaxing. And I’m sure that rest and relaxation are the main reasons many people long for time in the midst of Mother Nature.

Yes, the Wilbur Mills Trail is a perfect example of how people don’t necessarily have to travel far from home to enjoy an outing in the great outdoors.

To get to Wilbur Mills Park from Hot Springs, take Highway 70 East for approximately 17 miles and merge onto Interstate 30 East towards Little Rock. Stay on I-30 for approximately 12 miles and take exit 123. Go 0.7 miles and turn right onto Lora Road. Drive 0.4 miles and turn right onto Mills Park Road. Walk 1.3 miles and the destination is on the right.

photo The main section of the Wilbur Mills Park Trail makes a 1.4 mile excursion on a relatively flat and paved trail. – Photo by Corbet Deary from The Sentinel-Record

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