Fall a great time to visit Mather Lodge

story and photo by Janna Virden

The newly renovated Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park saw a tremendous amount of traffic during the spring after it re-opened in May. It had been closed since December 2010.  

Wally Scherry, park superintendent for the past 23 years, said the new 104-seat restaurant has had an average of between 500-600 people on weekends coming in to eat and see the new facilities. “Eight hundred people showed up on Mother’s Day alone,” Scherry said.   

According to Scherry this has caused some problems with patrons having to wait in long lines and the small staff being almost overwhelmed. However, Scherry said people have waited patiently a long time to see the changes that were made to Arkansas’s first state park.

“The heat has slowed people down, but once the temperature cools, the park will become busy again,” Scherry said. 

If people haven’t had an opportunity to see the new lodge, fall will be the time to plan a visit.

The Civil Conservation Corps built the original lodge in 1934, and then the Works Progress Administration constructed an architectural compatible addition to the lodging wing in 1939. In the 1960s, a dining room and kitchen addition were added. This portion of the facility was demolished. A new beautiful lobby leading into a large dining area was built in a rustic style to match the old CCC construction but with modern amenities and a wall of windows to take advantage of the tremendous view of Cedar Creek Canyon.  

The lobby and dining area may be rustic, but the new kitchen is completely modern. The lodge also boasts a large banquet room that can double as a meeting room. Scherry said visitors will still notice the old sturdy Adirondack-style furniture has remained in the waiting area — it’s just livened up with new cushions. The new lodge and dining are open and airy, but comfortable like the old friend the park is to so many people.

In addition to a new lobby, a new lodge swimming pool was constructed. Public restrooms were added underneath the pool due to its proximity to the hiking trail near the lodge. The pool has a small Spring House waterfall where kids can play. 

Also, the rooms connected with the lodge have been updated. Scherry said one of the best parts of the renovation has been the expansion of the parking lot from 44 spaces to 88.  

With the fall months fast approaching, and an expected increase in attendance, Scherry reminded visitors, “Don’t leave your common sense at home. Natural beauty has natural dangers.” 

He said many people get caught up in the ruggedness of the mountain and do things they ordinarily wouldn’t dream of doing. His rangers rescued more people last spring than in years past. But he said he hopes the new renovation will continue to draw many visitors to Petit Jean Mountain.

“Taxpayer dollars paid for the renovations,” Scherry said. “This is an investment in the state that will keep paying dividends for people to enjoy for years to come.”