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Easy being green 

Pulaski puts parks in drive.

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Central Arkansas is the urban heart of Arkansas, but that doesn't mean it's all concrete and office buildings. In Little Rock, the Parks and Recreation Department has promoted the moniker "City in a Park," and North Little Rock can lay claim to one of the largest urban greenspaces in the United States, the 1,575-acre Burns Park. The parks offer places to hike, bike, play ball, lie around with a book, get a view of the city, climb on monkey bars, dash through water sprays, look at birds and other respites from the workday world.

Pinnacle Mountain State Park

11901 Pinnacle Valley Road

Roland

501-868-5806

If you haven't hiked to the top of Pinnacle for a view of the Arkansas River valley, you must be new to town. This state park just outside Little Rock's city limits offers points high (the top of the volcano-shaped mountain, or what passes for mountains in the Ouachitas) and low (a trail along the ancient cypress-lined Little Maumelle) and is where you start your journey on the Ouachita Trail. You can hike these 2,100 acres many times and not cover the same path. It's a favorite of birdwatchers and canoers and folks who like to dress up like the olden days and fire off muskets and stuff. Headquarters has a gift shop and a little museum with animal skins for kids to wallow in.

Two Rivers Park

County Farm Road, off state Hwy. 10

Pulaski County/Little Rock

371-4770 (Little Rock Parks and Recreation)

Map at www.littlerock.org/ParksRecreation

Six years after it was announced, the Garden of Trees is finally going in at this 489-acre park jointly owned by Pulaski County and Little Rock. They're probably not native trees to this Arkansas River bottomland, but folks like to see them. Lots of people go to this park, a long peninsula of grasslands, marsh and sandy piney woods, to bike and walk its trails (maps at littlerock.org). Some go for the annual Mud Run, a costumed 5K with a sloppy ending. Millions of birders — only a slight exaggeration — sneak out here to see LaConte's Sparrow and other rarities (if you see a rail there, call us up). But here's the really neat thing: This park will soon be linked to Little Rock's River Trail by a bridge spanning the Little Maumelle. Bikers will be able to get to this park faster than folks in a Ferrari.

Allsopp Park

Cantrell and Cedar Hill roads

Little Rock

371-4770 (Little Rock Parks and Recreation)

Map at www.littlerock.org/ParksRecreation

Here's what you can take to Allsopp Park: A ball and a bat, for practice at the softball field, where the Hillcrest Girls Softball League has played for eons. Hot dogs, to cook on the grills. String with bacon tied to it, to catch the crawdads in the creek. Marshmallows, Hershey's bars and graham crackers, to cook in the rock fireplace in the pavilion. Your tennis racket and a basketball (run those guys who play soccer tennis off). Bring your kids, too: There's a bouncy-surfaced playground with things to climb on and swing from. The creek has big rocks for stepping on and pools for the dog to cool off in. That's the developed part of this hilly, forested 150-acre retreat in the middle of Little Rock, where mountain bikers become airborne and the keen of a bagpipe sometimes fills the air, coming from the direction of a rock garden mysteriously built within the park. Named for the newspaperman and bookstore owner whose home, complete with a planetarium, once overlooked the park.

Burns Park

Interstate 40 at Exit 150

501-791-8538 (North Little Rock Parks Department)

Burns Park is to parks as New York is culture: It offers every outdoor activity imaginable, and a river runs by it. There's not a soccer player in Arkansas who hasn't booted the ball across the turf on one of its 17 fine fields. The golf course isn't like Warren Stephens' Alotian's, but you can't get in Alotian and you can here, and play 36 holes if you want. There's a tennis center and a seven-field baseball complex and a fishing pier and equestrian trails and RV camping and archery and two dog parks and if you want to get there on a bike instead of the interstate you can, since a portion of the River Trail runs alongside it. It's vast and North Little Rock is proud, proud, proud of this park, as well it should be.

Clinton Presidential Park

1200 President Clinton Ave.

Little Rock

374-4242

This is the most underused patch of rolling, perfectly groomed greenspace in Little Rock. It's the front yard of the Clinton Library and the side yard of the Clinton School for Public Service and it's been gently terraced in a way that makes you want to crawl into a sleeping bag and see how far you can roll down its slopes. There's wi-fi access here for folks who can't be parted from their laptops and a 2,000-foot promenade. An Arkansas River backwater along the park is being developed as the Bill Clark Presidential Park Wetlands, and though it won't really be a wetland, it will be a lovely place to walk and see great blue herons and marshy grasses. It will even have an educational component: Since it drains the city, much of the trash that folks throw in the streets makes it here; a collecting area will reveal it as a lesson in littering. Coming soon: The eastern link in the River Trail loop, when the $10 million project to turn the Rock Island Bridge into a pedestrian bridge is completed. Finally.

Emerald Park

North Little Rock

791-8538 

Map at www.nlrpr.org/parks/trails.php

There's a reward at the top of this jewel of a park: A view of the Arkansas River and West Little Rock from Big Rock Mountain. But unlike Knoop Park's route to a vista, it's not a walk in the park to get to the top. It's a climb, in some places over loose rocks, a steep four-mile hike for the physically fit, or folks who travel with a sherpa. At the top, the trail follows the edge of Fort Roots before dipping (if you are traveling west) into forest; there are super views all along the way. Access to the Emerald Park trail is from the River Trail, the paved bicycle/hiking path that connects Little Rock and North Little Rock via the Big Dam Bridge.

Knoop Park

Ozark and North Martin Sts.

Little Rock

371-4770 (Little Rock Parks and Recreation)

Map at www.littlerock.org/ParksRecreation

There are two ways to get great views of downtown Little Rock from area parks and this one is the easy way (Emerald Park in North Little Rock is the rugged way). From the apogee of a paved semicircle around and below the Water Works you can see the Arkansas River and the Little Rock skyline; it's a popular spot for watching Riverfest and the Fourth of July fireworks shot from the Main Street bridge every year. You'll also see runners, people pushing strollers, bluebirds and birdwatchers, teen-agers hanging out and, if you're lucky, a fox or two.

MacArthur Park

Ninth and McAlmont Sts.

Little Rock

371-4770 (Little Rock Parks and Recreation)

Map at www.littlerock.org/ParksRecreation

A grass-roots effort to fulfill the great potential of this downtown park the size of four city blocks, which incorporates the Arkansas Museum of Military History in the historic Arsenal building (where Gen. Douglas MacArthur was born and resided for about 15 seconds) and the Arkansas Arts Center, is making strides, winning design awards and getting grants. Their tackling its looks first — the Ninth Street side of the park doesn't have much presence — and have ambitious plans for a park/bridge over the park's southern boundary, I-630. But now, here's the park you'll go to to see fine art, dodge Muscovy ducks in the pond out back, play bicycle polo on the basketball courts, and just to stroll its grassy expanse. Creeping along: Plans for the Firehouse Hostel and Museum in a historic firehouse on the southwest corner of the grounds.

Riverfront Park

Along the south shore of the Arkansas River from the Clinton Library west to the Broadway Bridge

371-4770 (Little Rock Parks and Recreation)

Map at www.littlerock.org/ParksRecreation

The Riverfest Amphitheatre and Peabody Park Playground are the super attractions in this long and narrow park along the river. A waterspray that shoots water out in various configurations on screamingly happy children and a climbing area that features real rocks (with rubber landing areas) and a ropey-jungle-gym and tunnels is one of the parks department's biggest hits. Looking for the Little Rock? It's here — or some of it is, most of it having been blown away in the late 1800s to build the Junction Bridge, now a pedestrian and bike link to North Little Rock. The park also features a sculpture garden of what might be the nation's largest grouping of small sculptures, placed on pedestals in a landscaped area behind the Peabody Hotel. Judge for yourself on that. Little Rock's biggest festival of the year, Riverfest, is played out along the grassy knolls of Riverfront Park and in the amphitheater; the River Market, a food vendors hall, is the park's public face.

War Memorial Park

Van Buren and Markham Streets.

Little Rock

371-4770 (Little Rock Parks and Recreation)

Map at www.littlerock.org/ParksRecreation

The parks department has been putting some big bond bucks into this midtown park to make it more attractive to folks who don't want to play golf (though they can, on War Memorial Golf Course) or go to football games (in War Memorial Stadium). There's a greenspace where tennis courts used to be and a new walking path surrounding it that connects with other new walking paths in the park. The playground, once known as Splinter Park, is getting a big facelift and a fancy waterspray feature for kids to run through during Little Rock's hellish summers. The biggest draw to War Memorial Park is the Little Rock Zoo, where lions have a mini-savannah, monkeys swing from rope ladders on their own island and silverbacks beat their chests. There are still a few funky and frowned-on cages from the WPA era, but the Zoo has been working with a limited budget and a few generous benefactors to get with the 21st century conservation ethic. Second biggest: The Jim Dailey Fitness and Aquatic Center, with an indoor pool for exercise, an outdoor pool to keep the kids cool, resistance machines, a small track and ferocious games of pickleball.

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