If the bright lights
of the Branson area set a too hectic pace, visitors seeking an Ozarks experience may want to follow Highway 65 into Arkansas to the Ozark Folk Center. One of Arkansas’ premier state parks, the Ozark Folk Center offers a look at the past without any intrusion from the present. The park’s mission statement states that the Ozark Folk Center is dedicated to living history and exists to provide, preserve, document, display and interpret the cultural and social history of the Ozark region. Translated, the park offers an unadulterated look at Ozark history and folk ways from the past. Two areas are the focus here – homestead crafts as done before 1921 and traditional mountain music as heard before 1941. Efforts to preserve such history offer both an opportunity for fun and to learn.
Admissions are available to the park alone or in combination with a ticket to the nightly music performances. Walk through the recreated pioneer settlement to view weaving in process, candle making, broom making and other all but lost arts. In addition to the performance each evening at 7:30pm, impromptu music performances occur during the day. Visitors can also attend the Ozark Folk School and other learning programs to gain craft skills.
Eighteen arts and crafts are performed daily. An herb garden is grown and visitors are welcome to learn more about the plants that both flavored the food and doctored the ills of early pioneers. A stroll through the village is like a return to an earlier age. Staff wear period clothing and shops offer pioneer craft items to take home. Country foods are also sold and baskets may be ordered to send anywhere. Delicious barbecue sandwiches are found at the Smokehouse in the park; just outside the Skillet Restaurant serves up country cooking in their dining rooms that featue native cedar, stone, and a vista of windows with a fantastic view. Diners can gaze outside to view a butterfly garden, water garden, and wildlife feeding stations that draw assorted animals into view. Squirrels, raccoons and even an occasional black bear come out of the forest to the delight of diners.
Musically inclined visitors may wish to enroll to learn to play the dulcimer, autoharp, or even the fiddle. Because the fiddle and banjo were the two most popular instruments among early settlers in the region, these instruments are featured here. Music isn’t limited to just two instruments, however – guitars, mandolins, dulcimers, and auto harps all add to the music. Those interested in learning dance steps from yesteryear can also take lessons on site.
All ears turn toward the featured songs of the south and folk dance tunes that are sure to have feet itching to dance.
Several festivals are held at the Ozark Folk Center each season and the park is open with a full staff from late May into early August. Exhibits and music continue into the fall but during the off season, the full array of attractions are not available. Workshops, special events, and holiday specials are held in the off season.
Tributes to country music greats that include Jimmy Driftwood, Merle Travis, Grandpa Jones, and grandfather of country music Jimmie Rodgers are also featured at the park. Until his death Jimmy Driftwood often performed here and was an integral part of the Ozark Folk Center. Driftwood, an educator and folk singer from Arkansas, is best known for penning “The Battle of New Orleans”, the song that won Johnny Horton a Grammy and greater fame.
Annual festivals include the Arkansas Folk Festival, Southern Regional Mountain and Hammer Dulcimer Workshop and Contest, and Old-Time Fiddlers Association State Championship. Check with Ozark Folk Center for dates.
In addition to the Skillet Restaurant, the Dry Creek Lodge on site offers affordable lodging. All rooms are ground floor level and the facility has been newly remodeled. Comfortable rooms offer stays for singles, couples, and families.
Other attractions in the Mountainview area include Blanchard Springs Caverns. Guided tours of three passageways beneath the ground are given. A visitor’s center offers exhibits and a twenty-minute film shown each half hour. Tours range from the half mile Dripstone Tour to the 4 hour, 2 mile long Wild Cave Adventure.
The Old Mill on Main Street in Mountainview dates to 1914 and was restored in 1983. The original kerosene engine still powers the gristmill for demonstrations and a small museum offers more information.
Swimming and fishing opportunities abound in season in the nearby White River. Hiking is available in the abundant Ozark forests.