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Near Little Rock, Pinnacle Mountain Is Showcase

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During his 1992 presidential campaign, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton hiked to the Scenic Overlook in Pinnacle Mountain State Park to receive the national endorsement of the Sierra Club.

As media events go, one could scarcely ask for a more impressive background: the lush Arkansas River Valley below and that central Arkansas landmark--cone-shaped Pinnacle Mountain--dominating the horizon.

Located east of Pleasant Valley, west of Gravel Ridge, north of Shady Grove, south of Toad Suck, and just 12 miles from Little Rock, the state park is a popular getaway for urban and suburban Arkansans.

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“Pinnacle Mountain is Arkansas’ first state park set aside near a major metropolitan area,” said Randy Johnson, a park naturalist. “It’s a great escape.”

I may not be an expert on the relative stress levels of Arkansas cities, but I can state that the park system in “The Natural State” is first-rate: user-friendly, well-maintained, extremely clean. And the park entrance fees are either very low or not at all.

The park emphasizes environmental education and has a nature program that, in this age of budget cuts, is close to astonishing: canoe float trips through a cypress grove, a “Fungus Fair” celebrating wild mushrooms, photo safaris, bird-watching expeditions, ranger-led hikes and much more. Sign up at the visitor center for these fun and informative walks and tours.

Pinnacle Mountain and other park peaks are part of the Ouachita (pronounced Wash-it-tah) Mountains, America’s highest range between the Rockies and the Appalachians. While elevations vary only from 600 to 2,600 feet, these sharp-ridged mountains are rugged and represent a challenge to hikers.

The Ouachitas are a rare east-west winding range, one of the few in the United States. Southern California hikers probably will be less geographically disoriented by the east-west mountains than hikers from other areas because the Southland has a couple of transverse--or “sideways”--ranges of its own--among them the Santa Monica and Santa Ynez mountains.

Pinnacle Mountain State Park is the starting point for the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which traverses the pine- and oak-clad Ouachita Mountains. The 218-mile trail travels over hill and dale in west-central Arkansas and into southeast Oklahoma. After traveling through the state park and along nearby Lake Maumelle, the trail meanders 180-plus miles through the heart of Ouachita National Forest, the South’s oldest and largest national forest.

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Weekend backpackers should enjoy the 20-mile hike from Pinnacle Mountain State Park to campsites along Lake Maumelle or the 38-mile trek to Lake Sylvia. The park rents backpacking equipment.

For maps and additional information about the Ouachita Nation al Recreation Area, contact: Forest Supervisor, Ouachita National Forest, P.O. Box 1270, Hot Springs, Ark. 71092, (501) 321-5202.

If you’re not quite up for a 218-mile hike, or even one of 20 miles, but want to learn more about Ouachita ecology, the park’s half-mile-long King Fisher Trail is a good one to take.

The best day-hiking is up and around Pinnacle Mountain. If you’re in a hurry to get to the top, both West Summit Trail and East Summit Trail offer 1 1/2-mile round trips to the top. But to really savor the approach, join the famous Ouachita Trail near the park visitor center and head west. Make a loop of about four miles by hiking Base Trail, ascending Pinnacle Mountain on West Summit Trail and descending on East Summit Trail.

To reach Pinnacle Mountain State Park from Little Rock, take exit 9 off Interstate 430 to Arkansas 10, then west seven miles to Arkansas 300. Turn right and drive two miles north into the park.

Hike with John McKinney’s guidebook: “Walk Los Angeles: Adventures on the Urban Edge “ ($14.95). Send check or money order to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Dept. 1, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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Ouachita Mountains, Little Rock, Ark. / East Summit, West Summit, Ouachita National Recreation Trails Where: Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Distance: To summit of Pinnacle Mountain, 1 1/2- 4 1/2 miles round trip, with 600-foot elevation gain. Terrain: Wooded hillsides, lush lowlands, cone-shaped Pinnacle Mountain. Highlights: Grand views in a superb state park. Degree of difficulty: Easy-moderate. Precautions: Stay on the trail to avoid poison ivy. For more information: Contact Pinnacle Mountain State Park, 11901 Pinnacle Valley Road, Roland, Ark. 72135, (501) 868-5806.

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