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Buffalo National River
Preserves Scenic Treasure

By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

With a history as wild and colorful as the scenic wonders found along its 135-mile course, the Buffalo National River flows freely through the heart of the Ozarks. Visitors often extol it as one of the nation's greatest natural treasures.

While the Buffalo River has been observed and appreciated for centuries, it was only four decades ago that concerned people banded together in hopes of preserving the river valley for future generations. Their efforts touched off one of the hottest political battles ever staged in the Ozarks.


As early as the 1890s, government studies were conducted on the feasibility of building dams along the Buffalo. By the 1930s, Congress authorized a plan for flood control that included a dam on the lower Buffalo.

Many landowners in the valley region supported the flood control projects, in hopes it would protect their property and bring needed prosperity to the area. However, World War II intervened and the so-called Lone Rock Dam was dropped, but not forgotten.

During the 1950s, power and flood control dams were under construction across the nation and new plans were drafted for two reservoirs on the Buffalo. President Eisenhower vetoed two bills that included the projects because he believed they needed more planning and public comment.

Meanwhile, articles depicting the natural beauty and grandeur of the Buffalo River Valley began to appear in state and national publications. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas brought additional attention to the river during a canoe trip in April, 1962. "The Buffalo River is a national treasure worth fighting to the death to preserve," he commented.

A few months earlier, the Ozark Society and the Arkansas Nature Conservancy had been established to lead the preservation efforts. And, U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas endorsed a plan to make the river part of the National Park system. In 1965, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus announced that he was opposed to any dams and also favored the park plan. The tide was turning.

Following additional studies and many hearings, Congress approved Public Law 92-237 and on March 1, 1972, President Nixon approved the creation of the Buffalo National River, the first federal river park in the nation. It was placed under the auspices of the National Park Service.

Since its debut as a park, the Buffalo has been one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the mid-South (796,279 visitors in 1999). The river offers both swift-running and placid stretches, inviting sand/gravel bars, towering limestone bluffs, hardwood forests, protected wilderness areas and excellent nature watching opportunities. Elk, once native to the Ozarks, were re-introduced along the river several years ago and have become a popular nature attraction along the upper sections.

The best way to experience the 95,000-acre river park is by canoe. Some 15 outfitters are permitted by the park service, or persons may bring their own canoes. The upper sections of the stream are considered the most challenging, especially during rainy seasons. The lower half is less demanding and is recommended for novice canoeists. The park remains open throughout the year. Peak visitation on the upper section usually occurs during the spring months. The middle and lower sections remain popular throughout the year, peaking in June and July. An automated telephone system at park headquarters provides daily river reports around the clock. These are available by calling (870) 741-5443.

Hiking and backpacking are also popular ways of exploring the rugged beauty along the free-flowing steam. Over 100 miles of trails have been blazed and are maintained for public use. Favorite trails include Lost Valley (2.1-mile loop) with waterfalls, towering bluffs, a natural bridge and a cave. Others include the Buffalo River Trail (37 miles), Mill Creek (1.3-mile loop), Overlook at Tyler Bend (1.2 miles) and Indian Rockhouse (3.5 miles) at Buffalo Point. The river park is also the eastern terminus for the Ozark Highlands Trail, a 168-mile route that starts at Lake Fort Smith State Park.

Designated trails for horseback riding are located in all districts of the national river. Two camping areas have been set aside for visitors with horses and color-coded signs denote areas where horses are allowed. There are no commercial horse outfitters in the park, so visitors may bring their own mounts. Also, some resorts and guest ranches offer horseback riding on private lands in the area.

Persons are urged to check park regulations and secure guide maps before venturing into the park's wilderness areas. Bookstores are located at the park's headquarters and at visitor centers.

The park offers 14 designated campgrounds with varying degrees of development. Buffalo Point and Tyler Bend offer the most facilities for campers, and fees are charged. In addition, Buffalo Point has rustic and modern cabins available from April through November. Reservations should be made by calling (870) 449-6206. Commercial cabin rentals and lodges are also located in the region.

Ranger stations/visitor centers are located at Tyler Bend, Buffalo Point and Pruitt. The handsome Tyler Bend Visitor Center, just off U.S. 65, north of Marshall, provides opportunities to sample the natural and historic legacy of this unique park.

Opened in 1991, the center offers a small museum, exhibit hall, bookstore, theater and knowledgeable staff. The center is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Off-season operations vary at this and other park stations. There is no admission to enter and enjoy the park. Interpretive programs, directed by park rangers, provide a greater understanding and appreciation of the Buffalo River valley. Programs, posted at the center and stations, may include guided hikes, tours, children's programs and demonstrations.

For more information about the park, contact: Buffalo National River, 402 N. Walnut, Suite 136, Harrison, AR 72601; telephone (870) 741-5443; or visit the park's website at www.nps.gov/buff/.


 
Links & Resources
  Recommended Float levels
  USGS Water Levels
  Geologic Mapping Studies USGS
  http://www.ozarkmtns.com/buffalo/bfg.html
 

   
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