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January/February 2016 Issue

Hit the trails in Arkansas on New Year’s Day and beyond

New Year’s resolutions on getting more exercise are easier to accomplish if you have a carrot and a stick, especially if that carrot is the spectacular beauty of Arkansas’s trails and the stick is a hiking staff.

Arkansas participates in a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to get people outdoors with First Day Hikes on Jan. 1. More than 400 hikes are scheduled each year in all 50 states, including Arkansas where the state park system includes 140 trails totaling 388 miles.

On this New Year’s Day, more than 30 of Arkansas’s 52 state parks are expected to offer about 55 guided hikes. To find one near you, just visit and click on the events tab. Then enter #FirstDayHikes in the search bar or click on Jan. 1, 2016, in the date section.

For example, you can hike to Arkansas’s highest point at Mount Magazine State Park near Paris. The guided hike will begin at 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day at the lodge and take about an hour, showcasing the mountain’s winter woodland forest.

In addition to the organized hikes, you can create your own hike on that day or any day of the year to get in shape and enjoy the outdoors. State park trails in Arkansas range from short nature walks to overnight backpacking adventures. Paths cut through mountain ranges, trace the banks of rivers and streams, and meander through meadows.

For instance, the trails at Devil’s Den State Park in the Ozark Mountains near West Fork weave through, around, and over one of the largest crevice areas in North America. Cedar Falls Trail at Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton leads to a 95-foot waterfall. And at Cane Creek State Park near Star City, paths cut through rolling terrain, along a lake, and across three suspension bridges.

Call (888) 287-2757 or visit for details about the park system.


Hikers enjoying Cane Creek State Park in southeast Arkansas. A.C. Haralson/Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism



Mardi Gras World offers captivating look at Carnival season

Carnival season in New Orleans launches after Twelfth Night, Jan. 6 this year, but before the first parade rolls, be sure to explore Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a successful parade and the history of Carnival.

Since 1947, Blaine Kern Studios has built breathtaking floats for major parades all over the world, but it’s known especially for those it creates for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Touted as the only place where Carnival happens year-round, Mardi Gras World offers tours that provide a glimpse of the space where artisans create spectacular floats for more than 40 parades each year. Visitors can gain an appreciation for the work and planning that goes into what has been called the greatest free show on earth.

Tours include a display of Mardi Gras costumes and a video presentation tracing the history of Mardi Gras. There are plenty of opportunities for photos in front of floats, with props, or wearing traditional Mardi Gras costumes. Tours are offered daily, with the first tour beginning at 9:30 a.m. and the last beginning at 4:30 p.m. Tours run every 30 minutes and last about an hour. Ticket prices are $19.95 for adults; $15.95 for seniors and students; and $12.95 for children 2–11.

The studio is located at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place in the Central Business District, but a free shuttle with 20 pick-up locations throughout downtown is provided with ticket purchase.

For more details, click on or call (504) 475-2047.

painting prop

Tour guests might get to see artists at work in the studios. Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World



Oxford fest celebrates cinema

Independent filmmakers and cinema buffs will descend on north-central Mississippi this February for the 13th Annual Oxford Film Festival highlighted by more than 100 entertaining and enlightening films.

The five-day festival, held this year Feb. 17–21, attracts more than 3,000 film buffs and an estimated 75 filmmakers from around the globe to Oxford. The festival kicks off with a special food and film event where you eat what you see on the screen.

In addition to screenings of the short and feature-length films, there will be panel discussions, workshops, parties, and concerts. More than just a celebration of independent cinema, the festival focuses on the craft of moviemaking and features interactions between filmmakers and audience members.

Some programs are free, including a panel on Saturday sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council featuring Blue Magnolia Films of Jackson, Miss. All other events range from $10 per film to $100 for the VIP weekend pass. Other packages include a weekend pass for $50 for adults and $40 for seniors and students. A day pass is $20.

The main box office is at the Malco Oxford Commons Cinema at 206 Commonwealth Blvd.

For details and ticket pricing, visit or call (877) 560-3456.



Take a walk on the wild side in Eureka Springs

When a woman showed up on Don and Hilda Jackson’s doorstep 25 years ago with three cattle trailers filled with lions and tigers because she knew the couple had already been caring for two lions, they couldn’t turn her away.

And the family has been opening their hearts to exotic cats ever since.

They opened the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge soon thereafter near Eureka Springs, Ark., to provide a lifelong home for abandoned, abused, and neglected big cats and other animals. Today, the nearly 500-acre sanctuary is home to lions, tigers, bears, leopards, cougars, and more.

The refuge doesn’t receive federal or state funding, so it relies in part on admission fees for tours to help care for the animals. Guided tours of the natural habitats are offered on the hour each day from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Visitors who want to spend the night can reserve one of the Safari Lodges, bed-and-breakfast rooms, or a tree house. Located at 239 Turpentine Creek Lane, the refuge is open daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. in winter and 9 a.m.–6 p.m. the rest of the year. Admission is $20 for adults, $15 for students 13–19, and $10 for seniors, veterans, and children 4–12.

Call (479) 253-5841 for more information or click on


A host of big cats calls the refuge home. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism


Former sugar plantation captures flavor of French Creole lifestyle in Louisiana

Magnolia Mound Plantation in Baton Rouge is one of the finest remaining examples of the influence French Creoles had on architecture and culture in south Louisiana, and visitors today can experience that heritage at this rare gem.

Celebrated for the quality of its restoration and exquisite collections of period furnishings, the centuries-old plantation remains a vital part of the community through educational programs, workshops, festivals, and tours that showcase the lifestyle of French Creoles.

Once encompassing 900 acres, the former sugar plantation is now located on 16 acres of picturesque grounds with live oaks and magnolia trees. The main house was built around 1791 as a small settler’s house but was enlarged in 1802–1805. Also on site are a kitchen, manager’s cottage, slave quarters, and more.

The plantation is located at 2161 Nicholson Drive. Tours are offered from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1–4 p.m. on Sunday. The last tour begins at 3 p.m. Guided tours are $10 for adults; $8 for seniors and AAA members; and $4 for children 3–17. Self-guided tours of the grounds are $3 per person.

For more details, call (225) 343-4955 or visit


The plantation features the main house and several outbuildings. Magnolia Mound Plantation

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