(BPT) - For 100 years, Hot Springs National Park has provided a peaceful and enjoyable getaway for millions of Americans. Originally established in 1832 as Hot Springs Reservation, it is the oldest federally protected site in the national park system. And as Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas celebrates its centennial year, there’s no better way to celebrate the anniversary than to visit, take in the sights and sounds, and reflect on its legacy.
Where history and nature cross paths
As its name implies, the park is known for its thermal springs, breathtaking mountain views and an abundance of hiking and biking trails. It’s no wonder nearly 1.3 million people visited in 2020.
The spring water that flows on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain is formed by rain that takes about 4,400 years to travel roughly 6,000 feet into the Earth before reemerging at more than 40 hot springs. Most of the springs are capped to prevent contamination and are the only such springs that are managed for both public health and consumptive use. However, there are plenty of places to interact with the natural flowing water, like in the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row.
While the hot springs are the main attraction, here are a few things you may not know about the park and the town:
- The springs produce thousands of gallons of water: There are several locations throughout the park at which consumers can bottle their own water directly from the springs. Between 600,000 and 800,000 gallons of water is produced each day, emerging at an average temperature of 143 degrees F/62 C.
- Hot Springs is also a town of lakes: A trio of lakes surround the Hot Springs area. Lakes Ouachita, Hamilton and Catherine share the same water but are separated by dams. These clear waters offer thousands of acres of recreational fun to fish, swim, float, sail and enjoy time on a party barge. The shorelines offer beautiful space for camping and for picnics.
- It was the first location for MLB spring training: Before Major League Baseball retreated to Florida and Arizona for spring training, the greatest players in the game prepared for their seasons at Hot Springs. For much of the last century baseball legends like Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Satchel Paige trained there and “boiled out the alcoholic microbes of winter” in the local thermal baths believing in the healing powers of the water. The Hot Springs Baseball Trail will take you to important locations in the town’s rich history with America’s pastime.
- It was a hotbed for illegal gambling: At one point in its history, Hot Springs had the largest illegal gambling operation in the country. While those days ended in 1967, you can now treat Hot Springs like a small-town Las Vegas at the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. Today, Oaklawn continues to be one of the nation's leading Thoroughbred racing facilities and has a world-class casino.
- It was neutral territory for gangsters: Gangsters didn't just hang out in Chicago and New York. Many came to Hot Springs to take advantage of the bathhouses. Al Capone even had a suite in the Arlington Hotel, which is located near Hot Springs National Park. If you want to learn more about the history of gangsters in this area, you can visit the Gangster Museum of America.
Looking at the next century
Times have changed a lot since Hot Springs National Park was established 100 years ago. Many are looking forward to what the next century holds and both the park and the city hope to expand and preserve their legacies for future generations.