TRAIN SURVIVES: Outcry ends plan to replace miniature train with walking/biking trail. STATE PARKS AND TOURISM

A miniature train concession will continue to operate at Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

Plans to end the concession and replace it with a walking/cycling path stirred an outcry from people with fond memories of the train ride.

Advertisement

Said a news release:

Arkansas State Parks is pleased to announce an agreement with the miniature train concessionaire at Queen Wilhelmina State Park is now finalized. The State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission endorsed the paper work at its monthly meeting and train owner Ronnie Waggoner signed it this week.

Queen Wilhelmina State Park has a strong connection to trains. A miniature train in front of the park, which is run by an independent vendor, has long been a seasonal attraction for visitors. An idea to turn this area into another type of recreational space was proposed last month. However, community members and park visitors made it clear they have strong emotional ties to the miniature train and want it to stay.

In the late 19th century, the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad built a north-south line that traveled just below Arkansas’s 2,681-foot Rich Mountain. The railroad built a luxurious hostelry for train travelers to stay at during their journey and named it after the young Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who was to be crowned in 1898. Over the years it changed hands several times and finally became an Arkansas State Park in 1957.

The miniature train was built shortly thereafter by the original concessionaire. Arkansas State Parks leases the land to Waggoner, the current concessionaire. He owns and operates all the machinery and buildings on that piece of property.

The operator can keep his train, snack bar and mini-golf course in return for paying the state 10 percent of revenue, or a minimum of $5,500 a year.

Advertisement

The train operation had not been seamless — not operating at all, according to the state when it announced a new idea for the route. I thought the Parks Division had a better idea to turn the train route into a barrier-free pathway, with some playgrounds alongside.  Sit in a dinky train that commemorates a long-defunct KCS passenger train or take a healthy walk around the mountaintop? I vote for the latter.

Here’s the state agreement with the concessionaire.

Advertisement

The operating season is Memorial Day to Labor Day. The agreement runs through 2018 but could extend through 2019 if terms are met and the commission approves.

Does this mean the walking path idea is dead? Meg Matthews of Parks replied:

Not dead – but for the time outlined in the document, the miniature train will continue to run according to the guidelines in our agreement.

The agreement can be terminated if the operator fails to meet terms.