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State Parks, State Treasures

State parks are the pride of every state in the nation.

More than 7,000 of these sites host more than 720 million annual visits by nearby residents and out-of-state tourists alike. They come for abundant activities and sightseeing opportunities. These parks are special because of their unique natural, historical, cultural, recreational and environmental features.

Here are a handful of outstanding state parks that are popular with groups year after year.

Custer State Park

Custer, South Dakota

The American Plains were once home to millions of them. Today, there aren’t too many places left where you can see the American buffalo. But Custer State Park, located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, is one of the best.

“The No. 1 thing we’re noted for is our buffalo herd,” said Craig Pugsley, the park’s visitor services coordinator. “We have 1,300 head of free-roaming buffalo. They’re very visible on most days over our 71,000 acres.” There’s a buffalo roundup each September that is a tourist draw itself.

The park is also known for its four lodges that offer comfort and beautiful views of the park and its lakes. “There are many group travelers here, mainly by motorcoach, and family reunions, too,” said Pugsley. “There is State Game Lodge, a historic place where two former presidents [Coolidge and Eisenhower] stayed. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Sylvan Lake Lodge overlooks the first man-made lake constructed in the Black Hills, Blue Bell Lodge has a mini dude ranch with horses and a chuckwagon, and Legion Lake Lodge is being completely rebuilt and enlarged and will be ready next summer.

Numerous weddings are performed and special events staged in the park. A new pavilion at State Game Lodge can accommodate 300 people. The park has nine campgrounds and a variety of cabins. They are usually occupied all season long by church and scout groups and families.

“Custer State Park is a vacation and recreational paradise and one of the most beautiful spots you’ll find in the Black Hills,” said Pugsley.

Mount Magazine State Park

Paris, Arkansas

If a group wants to get way above it all but with their feet firmly on the ground, Mount Magazine State Park in northwest Arkansas is a great option.

“We’re on the highest point in the state of Arkansas and are the highest land mass between the Minnesota-Canadian border and the Gulf of Mexico,” said Heidi Ryan, director of sales and marketing at the park.

The Lodge at Mount Magazine is a showplace with stunning views. This mountaintop resort has 60 rustic-looking yet modern guest rooms and the popular Skycrest Restaurant with Southern cuisine. On either side of the lodge, along the bluff, are 13 Arkansas mountain cabins.

“People come for hiking, biking, relaxation and great views,” Ryan said. “All of our rooms and cabins have a view of the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. We have campsites and are expanding them.”

Ryan said that her park sees many bus groups, wedding parties, government and corporate groups, family reunions and church groups, which often use the park for activities like marriage retreats. Some scout troops visit as well.

Mount Magazine is for outdoor-sport and extreme-adventure lovers. There is mountain biking, ATV access, rock climbing, rappelling, hang gliding, backpacking and horseback riding.

The park is also a convenient base for visiting the many attractions in the area. Ryan mentioned Subiaco Abbey and Academy, built in the 1800s as a Benedictine monastery and still operated today by monks as a boy’s prep school. You can tour the facility and learn about the dedicated life of a monk. For wine lovers, there are also five wineries near the park, two of which have restaurants.

Dan Dickson

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