Encompassing 200+ acres and a 34-acre lake located just west-southwest of Little Rock, the Lake Nixon Outdoor Center is minutes from the heart of the capital city.
Yet it feels like a world away.
For the first part of the 20th century, Lake Nixon operated as a commercial entertainment and recreation venue featuring a variety of activities and amenities. These included a swimming beach that provided relief from the summer heat.
In the summer of 1966, two young African American women sought admission to Lake Nixon and were denied an opportunity to pay the membership fee. In response, they charged the lake’s ownership with violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The resulting legal case, Daniel v. Paul, eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States. In a landmark 7-1 decision that drew national attention, the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. This set an important precedent in the application of the Civil Rights Act to membership-based establishments.
Before the conclusion of the legal proceedings, Dr. Dale Cowling, pastor of downtown Little Rock’s Second Baptist Church, led his congregation to purchase the lake and surrounding property, with the help of generous giving commitments from ten church leaders and their families. The church envisioned Lake Nixon as a ministry to children and families of all races and backgrounds, offering a summer day camp that served the needs of working families and provided opportunities for young people to encounter God through the outdoors.
Still a ministry of Second Baptist Church, the Lake Nixon Outdoor Center encompasses the Summer Day Camp–celebrating its 50th year in 2019–a unique Outdoor Preschool, recreational facilities for group rental, and more. The LNOP seeks to be a pristine, sacred space where God’s presence may be sensed through worship, education, recreation, and sanctuary.