Riders make their way to the next obstacle in the American Competitive Trail Horse Association competition trail ride in 2012 at Arkalon Park. L&T file photos/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Travelers on U.S. Highway 54, struck by the round horizon and massive skyscapes, would be surprised to find a series of ponds, streams, marshlands and groves of cottonwood trees just north of the straight path they drive.
Yet such a place exists, nestled in an area of canyons and hills north of the highway. It’s Arkalon Park, home to a variety of wildlife, the favorite haunt of local fishermen and a welcome shady spot for campers and picnickers.
Located 13 miles northeast of Liberal, Arkalon is a project that will always be in progress. The Arkalon Council continues to add to the campground facilities and improve on the overall quality of the area, which is owned by the City of Liberal and is part of the community’s park system.
Arkalon Park began in 1989 as the idea of local resident O.H. “Pete” Wriston, who had experience with wildlife and conservation. Dean Blagrave and Vernon Behren, both past council members, added plenty of their own ideas, doing much of the work, including engineering, themselves.
To help the park commemorate its 25th anniversary, Saturday, Arkalon will play host to a trail ride, and coordinator Patricia Sizemore said she plans to spend much of today and Friday marking a path for horse riders to follow.
“I’ll mark a trail with flags for them to follow,” she said. “There will be a marked path.”
In the past, Sizemore and others have hosted competitive trail rides at Arkalon in association with the American Competitive Trail Horse Association. Money collected from those rides went to benefit Crossroads Center, an organization that provides therapeutic horse riding.
Sizemore emphasized Saturday’s ride is not competitive. There is no registration fee, but free will donations are welcome. Those donations will go to benefit Arkalon Park itself.
“They’ve always been very helpful,” she said. “The trails are always mowed. They take good care of us, so I wanted to give back to the park. I’m hoping we’ll have a good turnout. It’s a free will offering. I’m hoping we’ll get a lot of riders out there, and everybody has fun.”
Sizemore said the money collected from the donations for the ride are not being specifically targeted for any projects at the park.
“Just wherever they need it and wherever they can use it,” she said. “I know they’ve been working on some of the ponds out there, some of the fishing docks.”
No stallions are allowed in the trail ride, and Sizemore said youth age 18 and under must have a completed parental consent before they can go out on the ride.
“They can contact me,” she said. “Those forms will be available at the time of registration if they need them.”
Sizemore can be reached at 629-1477. She said before riders take to the park, they will be given some basic common sense trail rules.
“I generally try to have a riders meeting,” she said. “We’re going to have registration from 8:30 to 9:30. I will just have a brief riders meeting just kind of going over some of the rules. There aren’t really any rules, but it’s more common sense trail riding courtesy. Then we’ll head out on the trail. I’m wanting to have the morning ride at 10 o’clock.”
Sizemore said she is not sure how long the trail riders will take.
“We’ll come back in,” she said. “Everybody’s going to bring their own lunch. We’ll just take a lunch break, and we’re going to head back out on the trail at 1:30. It’ll be a different trail and different areas of the park.”
Sizemore said she was hoping to see more interest in the competitive rides Arkalon has hosted.
“It can be a good money maker for 4-H groups and groups that have the volunteers that can put it on, but it is a lot of time, a lot of effort,” she said. “I don’t know that we will be hosting anymore rides like that in the area.”
Sizemore said she simply hopes for a good rider turnout and appreciation for both the ride and the park itself.
“It’s a free will donation,” she said. “Personally, I go out there quite often. It’s just a nice place to ride. I appreciate it, and that’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. Provided the weather cooperates, I think it’ll be a good weekend.”
As part of the ride, participants will likely see the three lakes and a marsh area in Arkalon, along with an unusual variety of birds. The park provides a permanent home to a gaggle of approximately 40 Canadian geese.
Arkalon also has several nature trails through a wooded area, providing visitors with an opportunity to sight beaver, deer, kingfishers, turtles, snakes, squirrels and raccoons.
Bird watchers frequently sight a spectrum of species, from bluebirds to falcons. Markers identify many of the unusual trees and shrubs, and benches offer hikers a spot to sit and take in the natural beauty of the scene.
Arkalon Park is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily from April 1 through Oct. 31. There is shelter available from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and fishing from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 626-0531.