NEWS RELEASE: 12/11/2015

Grady Spann Named Next Director of Arkansas State Parks


LITTLE ROCK – Kane Webb, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, today announced Grady Spann as the next director for Arkansas State Parks. Spann will replace current director Greg Butts, who will retire Dec. 31, 2015, after 42 years with Arkansas State Parks, the last 25 of those as director.

“Grady Spann has a proven track record of accomplishment within the state parks department, most recently as the Region 5 supervisor over the lodge state park operations. In addition to his 23 years with state parks, Grady is a military veteran, a natural leader and an outstanding communicator. He inherits a parks system that is the envy of the nation, thanks in large part to his predecessor, Greg Butts, and mine, former ADPT executive director Richard Davies. I am confident that, under Grady’s direction, our parks system will continue to thrive, be innovative, and attract visitors from all over the world,” said Webb.

Spann brings more than two decades of experience with Arkansas State Parks, both in day-to-day operations and in executive leadership roles. He currently serves as Region 5 supervisor, a position he has held since 2012. He was previously the superintendent of the Ozark Folk Center State Park from 2005 to 2012, of Historic Washington State Park from 2002 to 2005, and of Parkin Archeological State Park from 1993 to 2002.

“I look forward to this opportunity to lead Arkansas State Parks following the incredible career of Greg Butts. Our state park system is recognized across the nation as one of the best and I plan to build upon that reputation. We must effectively connect with and remain relevant to today’s park visitors, while also reaching the next generation. With the dedicated teams we have in our parks and administration, I have no doubt that we will continue to grow, building on the solid foundation that has been laid over the years,” said Spann.

A 1995 graduate of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy, Spann is a certified law enforcement officer/park ranger. He holds a bachelor of science degree in parks administration, with a minor in military science from Henderson State University, and served as a military officer for nine years previous to his tenure with Arkansas State Parks.

“It’s been my pleasure to work with Grady since 1993, when I hired him as park superintendent at Parkin Archeological State Park. His experience as a park superintendent at Historic Washington and Ozark Folk Center State Parks, extensive training, and leadership experience with community organizations and partners has prepared him for his new role. He is a proven, successful results-oriented manager. He’ll do the right thing leading Arkansas State Parks,” said Butts.

The Arkansas State Parks director is responsible for leading the operation of 52 state parks and central office divisions including administration, planning and development, marketing and revenue, program services and five regional offices. Additionally, the director oversees the Outdoor Recreation Grants Program, which provides technical assistance and grants to Arkansas communities, along with a $126 million annual budget for all of the Arkansas State Parks division’s responsibilities.

Arkansas state parks and museums cover 54,353 acres of forest, wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation facilities and unique historic and cultural resources. The system includes 1,100 buildings (including 183 historic structures), six National Historic Landmarks, a National Natural Landmark and 16 sites on the National Register of Historic Places. The state parks have 1,771 camp sites, 1,050 picnic sites, 208 cabins, four lodges, eight restaurants, ten marinas, and 415 miles of trails. Eight million visitors annually come from all regions of the country. Park staffs provide over 42,000 education programs, activities and special events to more than 700,000 participants each year.

Established in 1927, Arkansas State Parks preserve special places for generations yet unborn, provide quality recreation and education opportunities, enhance the state’s economy through tourism, and provide leadership in resource conservation.

Spann will begin his duties Jan. 1, 2016.

For more information contact: Kris Richardson, Executive Assistant, Department of Parks and Tourism, 501-682-7614, or Kris.Richardson@Arkansas.gov.

Photo available: www.ArkansasMediaRoom.com/press-releases/grady-spann-named-next-director-of-arkansas-state-parks

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"




NEWS RELEASE: 8/28/2015

Public is Invited to Watch Embee Diamonds’ Mike Botha Cut the 8.52-carat “Esperanza" Diamond at Stanley Jewelers Gemologist in North Little Rock During September 9-12


(NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark.)—Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds State Park at Murfreesboro offers a unique experience for visitors—the opportunity to search in the eroded surface of the eighth largest, diamond-bearing deposit in the world. And any diamonds or semi-precious stones found in that 37 1/2-acre plowed field of greenish brown dirt are theirs to keep. Each diamond is unique, as is each diamond finder’s story. Through a partnership between Stanley Jewelers Gemologist of North Little Rock and Embee Diamonds of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada, the public is invited to watch as the story of the 8.52-carat white diamond found on June 24 by park visitor Bobbie Oskarson of Longmont, Colorado, continues to unfold. Named the “Esperanza” for her niece and the Spanish word for “hope,” Oskarson’s high quality gem will be cut by master diamond cutter Mike Botha, president of Embee Diamonds, during a special in-store event at Stanley Jewelers Gemologists, September 9-12. The store is located at 3422 John F. Kennedy Boulevard. Hours for viewing the diamond’s cutting will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

According to Laura Stanley, vice president of Stanley Jewelers Gemologist, “Embee Diamond’s Mike Botha is a renowned diamond cutter who has worked with many large notable diamonds. As a member of the American Gem Society (AGS), he is looking forward to the opportunity to cut the ‘Esperanza,’ an American diamond of very high quality.” She continued, “This is a spectacular 8.52-carat rough stone, a colorless crystal of extremely high clarity. Embee Diamonds has announced that Mike will transform what nature formed into a 147-facet triolette shape of his own design. Resembling a teardrop, this custom cut will be a composite of emerald and trapezoid giving the gem much brilliance. We are hoping it will be five carats.”

Stanley noted that once the diamond has been cut and polished, it will go to the AGS Laboratories for a final grading report. Next it will be mounted in a custom-designed pendant created by award-winning, U.S. designer Erica Courtney of Los Angeles. “Every one of us involved in this diamond’s journey is an AGS member, and we all feel so honored to spend time with this spectacular American diamond that is receiving so much national and international attention,” said Stanley. The gem will be offered for sale this fall.

Mike Botha said, “It is an honor and a privilege to collaborate with Stanley Jewelers Gemologist on this Arkansas treasure. I’ve lost count of how many thousands of diamonds I’ve crafted over the last 48 years, and the ‘Esperanza’ may not even rank among the largest, but it is an exceptional diamond. And to cut and polish her at home in The Natural State is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

According to Arkansas State Parks Director Greg Butts, “An important part of the Arkansas State Parks experience is making memories for our visitors. This diamond has already made so many special memories for Ms. Oskarson, the staff at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, members of the American Gem Society, and others who have spent time with this stone.” He continued, “Through the generosity of Stanley Jewelers Gemologist in North Little Rock and Embee Diamonds of Canada, we have all been invited to see this diamond, watch its cutting, and continue following its journey.” He emphasized, “The ‘Esperanza’ diamond is an Arkansas, American, and North American pride story. We thank Bobbie Oskarson, Stanley Jewelers Gemologist, and Mike Botha and Evert Botha of Embee Diamonds for allowing all of us to be part of this memory-making adventure.”

Clear white and icicle shaped, the “Esperanza” is the fifth largest diamond found by a park visitor since the state park was established at Arkansas’s diamond site in 1972. Now in the park’s record books, this 8.52-carat diamond is topped in size only by these previous four larger diamonds found by park visitors:  the white 16.37-carat Amarillo Starlight found in 1975 by W.W. Johnson of Amarillo, Texas; white 8.82-carat Star of Shreveport found in 1981 by Carroll Blankenship of Shreveport, Louisiana; white 8.66-carat Illusion Diamond found in 2011 by Beth Gilbertson of Salida, Colorado; and brown 8.61-carat Lamle Diamond found in 1978 by Betty Lamle of Hitchcock, Oklahoma. [NOTE:  The largest diamond ever discovered in the U.S. was unearthed at Arkansas’s diamond site in 1924 during an early mining operation prior to its becoming an Arkansas state park in 1972. Named the Uncle Sam, this white diamond with a pink cast weighed 40.23 carats. Another notable gem found at the site prior its becoming a state park was the 15.33-carat Star of Arkansas, a white diamond found in 1956 by Winifred Parker when the site was operated by Howard Millar as a privately-operated tourist attraction.]

Crater of Diamonds State Park Interpreter Waymon Cox said, “To our knowledge, no other diamond-producing site in the world offers the public the opportunity to search, as well as keep what is found, so we celebrate every visitor’s diamond find here at the park.” He emphasized, “However, most diamonds from the park are small and only about a quarter carat in size. But certainly large, notable diamonds have been unearthed here, too.  The ‘Esperanza’ and the ‘Strawn-Wagner Diamond,’ found in 1990 by Shirley Strawn of Murfreesboro, Arkansas, are among the stones that exemplify the high quality that certain stones from the Crater of Diamonds achieve.”

[SIDEBAR:  The Crater of Diamonds State Park staff plans to visit Stanley Jewelers Gemologists on Thursday, September 10, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the cutting of “Esperanza.” They will bring the “Strawn-Wagner Diamond” from the park so that it can also be on view at Stanley that day. Originally weighing 3.03 carats in the rough, this splendid stone was cut to a 1.09-carat gem and graded D Flawless, 0/0/0 (“Triple 0”), the highest grade a diamond can achieve. A diamond this perfect is so rare that many gemologists and jewelers never see one. This is the most perfect diamond ever certified in the laboratory of the AGS. The state of Arkansas received private donations and grant funds to purchase the “Strawn-Wagner Diamond” in 1999 so that this museum-quality, Arkansas treasure could be placed on permanent display at the Crater of Diamonds State Park where it was unearthed.]

[MIKE BOTHA BIOGRAPHY:  Canadian master diamond cutter Mike Botha is president of Embee Diamond Technologies, Inc., a family-owned diamond cutting and polishing atelier located in Saskatchewan, Canada. An internationally acclaimed master diamond cutter, with four decades in the profession, Botha’s training and subsequent career began in South Africa—a journey which has led him to Russia and Canada—from Vancouver to the Northwest Territories to Saskatchewan. He worked as the occupational certification officer for the diamond industry in the Northwest Territories under the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, as well as the technical consultant for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment for their Government Diamond Certification Program. He led the Diamond Training Program at Aurora College in Yellowknife, Canada. During his six-year tenure with Aurora College, he developed and delivered programs, earning the college the coveted Yves Landry Award for Outstanding Innovation in Education. In 2008, he relocated to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan on the promise of its diamond mining future. His rare perspective, craftsmanship, leadership, academic achievements, and entrepreneurial enthusiasm combine to make him one of North America’s most iconic and successful diamond professionals. Botha’s lifetime of experience and in-depth knowledge of diamond cutting, polishing, and diamond crystallography formed the foundations for the critically acclaimed Sirius Star—the world’s brightest diamond— mined, designed, cut, and polished in Canada by a growing team of Canadian diamond cutters.]

Crater of Diamonds State Park is one of the 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Additional information about Arkansas’s diamond site can be found at CraterOfDiamondsStatePark.com and ArkansasStateParks.com.

To follow the journey of this diamond via Facebook, search for the “Historic Esperanza Diamond Cutting” event page or go to https://www.facebook.com/theesperanza . Use #esperanza.

For additional details about the upcoming cutting of the “Esperanza” diamond, contact:  Laura Stanley, vice president, Stanley Jewelers Gemologist, 3422 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, North Little Rock, AR; phone: 501-753-1081; email: laura@stanleyjewelers.com or Evert P. Botha, chief operating officer, Embee Diamonds, 1203 Central Avenue, Prince Albert, SK, Canada; phone:  306-763-3388; email: evert@embeediatech.ca.

For further information about the Crater of Diamonds State Park, contact:  Joan Ellison, public information coordinator, Arkansas State Parks, 1 Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201; phone: 501-682-2873; email:  joan.ellison@arkansas.gov.

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NEWS RELEASE: 06/26/2015

Park Visitor from Colorado Finds 8.52-carat White Diamond at Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds State Park


 

(MURFREESBORO, Ark.)--An 8.52-carat white diamond was found Wednesday (June 24) by Bobbie Oskarson of Longmont, Colorado, at Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds State Park, according to park officials. Clear white and icicle shaped, this gem is the fifth largest diamond found by a park visitor since the state park was established at Arkansas’s diamond site in 1972. Twenty minutes into her search, she found the diamond in a couple scoops she had dug from a small mound of dirt. Oskarson was in the southwest corner of the park’s 37 ½-acre search field in an area known as the Pig Pen, aptly named because it is the muddiest part of the search area after a good rain. She named her gem the Esperanza Diamond, both her niece’s name and the Spanish word for “hope.” At this time, Oskarson plans to keep the gem.

Now in the park’s record books, this 8.52-carat diamond is topped in size only by these previous four larger diamonds found by park visitors:  the white 16.37-carat Amarillo Starlight found in 1975 by W.W. Johnson of Amarillo, Texas; white 8.82-carat Star of Shreveport found in 1981 by Carroll Blankenship of Shreveport, Louisiana; white 8.66-carat Illusion Diamond found in 2011 by Beth Gilbertson of Salida, Colorado; and brown 8.61-carat Lamle Diamond found in 1978 by Betty Lamle of Hitchcock, Oklahoma. [NOTE:  The largest diamond ever discovered in the U.S. was unearthed at Arkansas’s diamond site in 1924 during an early mining operation prior to becoming an Arkansas state park in 1972. Named the Uncle Sam, this white diamond with a pink cast weighed 40.23 carats. Another notable gem found at the site prior its becoming a state park was the 15.33-carat Star of Arkansas, a white diamond found in 1956 by Winifred Parker, when the site was operated by Howard Millar as a privately-operated tourist attraction.]

Park Interpreter Waymon Cox said, “Ms. Oskarson and her boyfriend Travis Dillon saw the Crater of Diamonds State Park on an Arkansas highway map while in the nearby town of Hot Springs and decided to visit the park. And what a lucky first visit it was for her!” He noted that Oskarson found the diamond on Wednesday around noon hunting in the park’s 37 ½-acre search area that is the eroded top of the eighth largest diamond-bearing deposit in the world in surface area. “It was hot and sunny at the park, but Ms. Oskarson was staying cool by searching in a tree-shaded area when she found her diamond.” Park officials recommend that visitors bring drinking water and stay in shade as much as possible when looking for diamonds during the summer.

At first she thought it might be a quartz crystal due to its elongated shape, but park staff later confirmed that she had found a diamond. Cox said, “Ms. Oskarson’s eight-and-a-half-carat diamond is absolutely stunning, sparkling with a metallic shine, and appears to be an unbroken, capsule-shaped crystal. It features smooth, curved facets, a characteristic shared by all unbroken diamonds from the Crater of Diamonds.”

He continued, “Ms. Oskarson’s diamond is about three-quarters of an inch long and as big around as a standard No. 2 pencil.” It was found very near where Carroll Blankenship found the 8.82-carat white Star of Shreveport in 1981. “Now Ms. Oskarson’s diamond is a very special part of the Crater of Diamonds State Park’s history, too.”

Oskarson’s find is the 227th diamond certified by park staff this year. Cox noted that more than 30 other diamonds have been found on the surface of the search area so far in 2015, due in part to frequent rains this spring. “Rain, plus the regular plowing of the search field by our maintenance staff, increases visitors’ chances of finding diamonds in the search area.” Regular plowing loosens the soil and brings more diamonds to the surface, and then rain erosion plays its part. “Diamonds are a bit heavy for their size, and they lack static electricity,” Cox continued, “so rainfall slides the dirt off and leaves them exposed. When the sun comes out, they sparkle.”      

The search area at the Crater of Diamonds is the world’s only diamond-producing site open to the public. The park’s policy is finder-keepers. What visitors find is theirs to keep. The staff provides free identification and registration of diamonds. Park interpretive programs and exhibits explain the site’s geology and history, and offer tips on recognizing diamonds in the rough.    

Over 75,000 diamonds have been unearthed here at Arkansas’s diamond site since the first diamonds found in 1906 by John Huddleston, the farmer who at that time owned the land, long before the site became an Arkansas state park in 1972. Pictures and information about notable diamond finds from the site are featured on the park’s website at:  http://www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com/history/famous-finds.aspx)

Another notable diamond from the Crater of Diamonds that has received much national attention is the 1.09-carat, D-flawless Strawn-Wagner Diamond. Discovered at the park in 1990 by Shirley Strawn of Murfreesboro, this white gem weighed 3.03 carats in the rough before being cut to perfection in 1997 by the renowned diamond firm Lazare Kaplan International of New York. The gem is the most perfect diamond ever certified in the laboratory of the American Gem Society. It is on display in a special exhibit in the Crater of Diamonds State Park visitor center.

Another gem from the Crater of Diamonds is the flawless 4.25-carat Kahn Canary diamond that was discovered in 1977. This uncut, triangular-shape gem has been on exhibit at many cities around the U.S. and overseas. It was featured in an illustrious jewelry exhibition in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1997 that included precious stones from throughout the world including the Kremlin collection, the Vatican, Cartier, and Christies. In late 1997, the Kahn Canary was featured in another prestigious exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York entitled “The Nature of Diamonds.” Former First Lady Hillary Clinton borrowed the Kahn Canary from its owner, Stan Kahn of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and wore it in a special, Arkansas-inspired ring setting designed by Henry Dunay of New York as a special way to represent Arkansas’s diamond site at the galas celebrating both of Bill Clinton’s presidential inaugurals.

Over 40 different rocks and minerals are unearthed at the Crater making it a rockhound's delight. In addition to diamonds, semi-precious gems and minerals, including amethyst, garnet, peridot, jasper, agate, calcite, barite, and quartz, are found in the park’s search area.

Crater of Diamonds State Park is on Ark. 301 at Murfreesboro. It is one of the 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

For more information, contact:  Waymon Cox, park interpreter, Crater of Diamonds State Park, 209 State Park Road, Murfreesboro, AR 71958; phone: 870-285-3113; emailWaymon.Cox@Arkansas.gov; or visit www.CraterofDiamondsStatePark.com.

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