US Mint dedicates first parks quarter in Arkansas

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — The U.S. Mint launched its new series of quarters depicting national parks and wildlife sites on Tuesday at the first natural site reserved by the federal government, Hot Springs National Park.

About 2,000 people crowded the lawn and street in front of the National Park Service office on Bathhouse Row, where a band played patriotic songs and the first quarter in the series was dedicated.

The "tails" side of the coin shows the Spanish colonial revival entrance to the headquarters, with a fountain fed by one of the city's namesake springs. Speakers addressed the crowd from a lectern in front of the fountain and doorway, bringing to life the scene etched on the new quarter.

The 5,400 acres didn't become a national park until 1921, but President Andrew Jackson set the land aside in 1832 as a federal reserve to protect its 47 springs. Yellowstone in Wyoming became the first national park in 1872 and will be the second of five coins in the series to be issued in 2010.

Frankie Ochsner, of Hot Springs, watched the dedication from his seat on temporary bleachers. He said the Hot Springs quarter and the rest of the 56-coin series tell an important story.

"Why is this important? Knowing about American history and your area, how people came here and how after the (Revolutionary) War people started filling up the United States," Ochsner said. "History is important."

U.S. Mint Director Edmund Moy made a similar point, saying the "America the Beautiful" series will remind people of parks they've visited and can be a starting point for students learning about conservation, history and beautiful places in America.

"These are coins that celebrate our nation's wisdom," Moy said, referring to the creation of a national parks system.

The parks and preserves chosen for the coins vary widely, from Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas. The series will conclude in 2021 with a depiction of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama.

Hot Springs National Park is unusual in that half of the city's downtown is within the park's boundaries. The ornate structures along Bathhouse Row on one side of Central Avenue are managed by the National Park Service, as are the trails, campgrounds and the ribbons of scenic roads that stretch through the park's wilderness areas. The Buckstaff Bathhouse is still in operation, and the park is working to find other uses for the remaining structures.

The springs attracted American Indians before European trappers ventured into the area more than 200 years ago. A scientific expedition by commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson sent William Dunbar and George Hunter to the area in the early 1800s, and they carried back stories of the springs.

"This has always been a special place," Moy said. "It's a magical place, it's always been a place of beauty."