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  • 15 Mar 2023 9:04 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    To listen, go to KUAF Radio 

    Lawsuit Filed to Block Buffalo River Headwaters Forest Management Plan

    By Jacqueline Froelich

    Published March 15, 2023 at 1:40 PM CDT


    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court - Western District of Arkansas seeking an injunction against the U.S. Forest Service to stop an ambitious timber management project scheduled to begin on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. 


    Ozarks At Large Buffalo River Watershed AllianceTimber

    Jacqueline Froelich

    Jacqueline Froelich is an investigative reporter and news producer for "Ozarks at Large."

    See stories by Jacqueline Froelich

  • 11 Mar 2023 11:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    MASTERSON ONLINE: Alliance versus Forest Service

    by Mike Masterson

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is legally challenging the 2021 U.S. Forest Service finding that there would be no significant impact from its decision to approve the enormous Robert's Gap project on its property in the headwaters of our 153-mile-long Buffalo National River.

    Oh my, that was a mouthful!

    In essence, the alliance is saying the Forest Service acted illegally in handling its environmental review responsibilities on the project. As a result, it seeks an injunction to delay or halt the process.

    The controversial project involves about 11,000 acres of logging/thinning, 11,000 aces of prescribed burning, 70 miles of road construction for timber trucks, 20 miles of bulldozed fire breaks and 3,000 acres of herbicide application.

    Gordon Watkins, who heads the alliance, is supported by Little Rock "super attorney" Hank Bates and the Earthrise Law Center.

    Robert's Gap is a 40,000-acre tract of Forest Service property in the Buffalo headwaters immediately upstream from the national river's boundary. In this region adjacent to the upper Buffalo Wilderness Area, the Buffalo, managed by the National Park Service, is designated as a wild and scenic river.

    But far more than the Buffalo River is involved in this extensive project, a news release from Watkins' group says; the White, King's and Mulberry rivers, along with War Eagle Creek, all originate in the Robert's Gap area.

    The alliance, Bates and Earthrise contend this fragile and majestic ecosystem is deserving of enhanced protections the Forest Service fails to adequately address in its plan.

    The alliance says it fully recognizes the Forest Service mandate to improve forest health and reduce natural fuels such as timber that could intensify forest fires.

    However, in this case, there also are serious unaddressed concerns,it says, about this project's potential to degrade water quality, diminish old-growth forest, impair wildlife habitat (and the species within these areas) and harm a significant portion of the robust local Arkansas recreation and tourism economy.

    Watkins provided an example. "After the Forest Service completed its environmental analysis, and before their decision notice was issued, they discovered an endangered bat maternity colony located within the project area, the first of its kind found in the Ozarks.

    "Its significance should have triggered a supplemental environmental analysis. Instead, they simply included a brief addendum to the final decision, as they did with another last-minute decision to collect baseline water samples.

    "Both addendums should have been subject to public input and more extensive analysis, as required by law."

    The complaint further alleges, "implementation of the project will result in the loss of cedar, oak, and pine trees, destruction of old growth forest as 86 percent of the project contains forest stands of 70 years old or more, wildlife habitat, and potential degradation of water quality.

    "The terrestrial features of the area, including the steep slopes with erodible soils atop the highly permeable ground karst structure makes both surface and groundwater susceptible to contamination."

    The alliance says its members are surprised the Forest Service has failed to properly respond to requests for the supplemental environmental analysis, or to conduct a complete and proper environmental impact study of water quality in the affected rivers and streams in conformance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

    No response to such obviously legitimate concerns about taxpayer-owned property? That's also a surprise to me and little wonder this now has led to a courtroom.

    "The alliance took legal action because for the past five years we exhausted all USFS administrative remedies," Watkins told me,"including speaking up at public scoping meetings, submitting public comments and participating in an objection resolution meeting. We finally sent a demand letter to USFS laying out our concerns. It was ignored.

    "As part of our due diligence we submitted a FOIA request to USFS to be sure we weren't overlooking anything. At all stages they dismissed most of our concerns, leaving legal action as our only remaining option."

    So now the USFS will have to publicly explain its decision not to fully explore the potential environmental results of its project, which also will include impacts to the local economy, farmers, hikers, photographers and wildlife areas important to recreation and tourism in Arkansas.

    The object is to hopefully have the Robert's Gap project delayed until all the necessary and prescribed environmental studies are properly completed and the results examined.

    Why wouldn't all this have been accomplished upfront? Why does it take a courtroom action to simply do the right thing?

    If I were taking my dozers, chainsaws and road graders into a tract of a critically sensitive and sacred region potentially affecting multiple streams and rivers, I'd want every "i" dotted and "t" crossed before firing up the engines and tearing into 40,000 acres. Wouldn't you?

    Some sarcastic wag might call that expecting due diligence of the sort one would expect from a state before it, oh, say, wrongheadedly permitted an industrial hog factory to set up shop along a major tributary six miles upstream from the first national river.

    It's also rather important, wouldn't you agree, when we consider that in 2021, 1.5 million visitors spent $74.3 million in local gateway regions to the Buffalo, according to Watkins.

    The alliance news release can be found at

    Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

    Print Headline: Alliance versus Forest Service

  • 06 Mar 2023 9:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas Advocate

    Chicken farms hide in plain sight under Arkansas law

    Recent court decision might engender more accountability

    BY: JORDAN P. HICKEY - MARCH 6, 2023 

    If you drive down the winding country roads west of Ponca, Arkansas, you might come across a stretch of land with three long structures — metal roofs, green siding. Just off the county highway, down a short clip of gravel road, you’d see a sign marking the chicken farm as a Cargill operation. It would give every indication of existing on this material plane — but for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist on paper in Arkansas. At least not according to the public record. 

    That’s because chicken houses — and all such industrial housing associated with the poultry industry — are exempt from the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act under a law passed by the Arkansas Legislature in 2003. This is of particular interest to people like Gordon Watkins, founder of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (BRWA), who are concerned about the effect that waste, or litter, produced by chicken operations is having on the Buffalo River’s watershed.

    Although some public information is available about the litter, it’s mostly on a countywide, not site-specific basis, which makes tracking the flow of potentially damaging nutrients like phosphorus especially problematic. 

    That may be changing thanks to a recently decided federal court case — a decision that also highlights just how damaging industrial runoff can be. 

    On Jan. 18, 2023, U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell handed down a ruling for a case that had concluded nearly 14 years prior. The lawsuit had been brought by the state of Oklahoma against 11 Arkansas poultry producers. The federal judge ruled that the producers had violated Oklahoma trespass and public-nuisance laws by letting their contract growers use chicken and turkey waste as fertilizer within the Illinois River watershed.  

    One of the key findings of the 219-page ruling is this: In the years ahead, the major poultry integrators — like Cargill and Tyson — may be responsible for the waste coming out of the chicken houses.

    “For decades, the poultry integrators [Tyson, Cargill, George’s, et al.] have said, ‘We don’t have any responsibility for the waste — that’s on the farmer. We provide the chickens and we provide the feed and then the farmer gets the shit. How they handle that is up to them to do it. So we’re not liable for any of that,’ ” the BRWA’s Watkins said. “Well, this lawsuit said no, that’s not the case. You’re ‘vicariously liable.’ That’s the language that the judge used. So now, if that stands, the integrators are responsible for that waste.”

    ‘Summary information’ only

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance formed in 2013 after members realized a large-scale hog operation, C&H Hog Farms, had been approved near one of the Buffalo River’s major tributaries. Concerned that runoff might contaminate and irrevocably damage the river — the first National River in the U.S. and a tourism boon that drew $66.3 million to communities near the park in 2020 — the BRWA spent years petitioning the Arkansas government to close C&H, (the state eventually bought it out in June 2019). 

    In 2016, while still in the thick of things with C&H, Watkins and members of the BRWA began turning their attention to the footprint of industrial-scale animal farming on the Buffalo River.

    When they started asking questions about the poultry industry, however, they hit a wall.

    “So we wanted to get a big-picture view of what’s going on in the watershed because we couldn’t find that information,” Watkins said. “And so we went to the [Arkansas Natural Resources Commission], and we said, ‘Can you provide us information about chicken operations and watersheds?’ And they said, ‘Oh, no, there’s a statute that prohibits us from releasing any personal identifying information on poultry operations.’” 

    The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC) told the Buffalo River group that it could provide annual countywide counts of how much poultry was being produced, how many chicken houses there were, and how much waste was being produced. But there wasn’t any public information available about where those chicken houses were located.

    The reason: In 2003, the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 1059, which said, in part, that public records surrounding the poultry industry were off limits. The law, sponsored by Rep. Preston Scroggin and co-sponsored by Sen. Gilbert Baker, doesn’t mention the state FOIA, but one line of text buried on the fifth page reads:

    “Any records collected by the commission in furtherance of this subchapter that contain information about a specific nutrient management plan or specific nutrient application shall not be made public record.”

    Owing to an amendment made in the 2005 legislative session, the law didn’t take effect until Jan. 2, 2007. Where before there had been ample data provided to the public, now that data was secret. Some of that information, supplied by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, is still available on the state’s GIS page — but new data has not been added since August 2006.

    When asked about this, ANRC Director Chris Colclasure confirmed that while the ANRC requires operations with more 2,500 confined birds to register with the commission — providing their location, how many birds, how much litter is produced, and whether that’s applied or transferred out — that information isn’t public. 

    “We provide summary information, but we do not provide information on individual farms,” Colclasure said. “So we summarize by county, but we do not indicate individual farms. And the law’s actually specific to that.

    ‘Trying to get a handle’

    Where others might have taken that for a loss, chalking it up to a casualty of an overzealous legislature and turning their attention elsewhere, Watkins and the BRWA opted to conduct some research of their own. Using a grant from the Patagonia Foundation, the BRWA hired GIS researchers to help them spot chicken operations in the Buffalo River watershed using satellite imagery.

    “You can also tell from aerial views which [operations] are active and which are inactive with pretty high certainty,” Watkins said. “Roofs will be gone or there’ll be junk piled around the place or something like that, and you can pretty easily tell if they’re active or inactive.” 

    The result was a far better picture than the state was able to provide. By analyzing that satellite imagery, the Alliance was able to determine there were 79 chicken houses in the Buffalo River’s watershed. Another 65 were within two miles. Based on the amount of active estimated roof area of 1.64 million square feet, the group estimates there are roughly 11.8 million chickens and turkeys produced per year, creating 37,594,000 pounds of solid waste.

    Some room for error needs to be accounted for with this picture. As Watkins notes, there’s a chance that some imagery might not be completely up to date, that some chicken houses that appear active might be inactive or vice versa, and so on. The group hoped to conduct some drive-bys to verify that information. But they’ve currently suspended the project owing to the fact that farmers are in the midst of an avian influenza outbreak. 

    “Poultry farms are walking on eggshells, so to speak … and we didn’t want to inflame that by them thinking that we’re snooping around, trying to contaminate their operations or something like that,” Watkins said.

    Still, Watkins emphasizes that this isn’t so much a matter of pointing fingers as trying to understand the broader picture of the challenges the Buffalo River faces. 

    “We’re just trying to get a handle on the extent of the problem — or the extent of the industry, I guess you’d say — in the watershed,” he said. “And because it lacks so much transparency, this was the best way we can figure out how to do that.”

    The BRWA took inspiration for its map from one in nearby Missouri: In 2019, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment published an interactive map showing not only protected watersheds, impaired waterways, and manure application rates, but also the locations of more than 500 poultry, hog, beef, and egg operations around the state. To make that map, the authors noted that they used data provided by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 

    ‘Connect the dots’

    One of the major hurdles Watkins and the BRWA came up against in their search for information came down to a question of whether the waste in question is “wet” versus “dry.” As it turns out, the difference is far from just semantic. 

    Hog waste is considered “liquid waste” and is therefore monitored by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. As such, any hog farmer in the state is required to submit nutrient management plans. This means that they need to submit soil tests, declare how much waste is being applied to a given piece of land, and so forth. This information is also considered public.

    Poultry litter, however — which is considered “dry waste” and is monitored by a different governing body, the ANRC — occupies far different territory. Chicken operations also have to submit similar information to the ANRC, but none of that information is public. What’s more, the state does not require these operators to submit a “Nutrient Management Plan” even if they apply litter, sewage sludge, or commercial fertilizer. Unless, that is, it’s within the “Nutrient Surplus Area.” 

    The shaded area on the map is designated a "nutrient surplus area," meaning that existing levels of one or more nutrients (from fertilizer, manure or other waste) are high enough to warrant regulation and monitoring to protect soil and waterways from pollution. (Source: Arkansas GIS) The shaded area on the map is designated a “nutrient surplus area,” meaning soil and water pollution from organic sources such as fertilizer or animal waste must be monitored and regulated. (Source: Arkansas GIS)

    Act 1059 of 2003 established the parameters for the current “Nutrient Surplus Area,” a C-shaped area that cups much of the northwest corner of the state and extends as far as Polk County. This area, as defined by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, is characterized by “such high concentrations of one or more nutrients that continued unrestricted application of the nutrient could negatively impact soil fertility and waters of the state.” 

    In layman’s terms, that means it’s been loaded so heavily with nutrients — read waste — that it requires careful scrutiny to avoid further damage to the environment.

    Even though the use of a Nutrient Management Plan is strictly voluntary if an operator is outside the Nutrient Surplus Area, the ANRC says more than 700 such plans are written outside of the nutrient surplus area annually. They cannot, however, say how many of those plans are written for poultry operations.

    Although a spokesperson with Tyson said they’re “still reviewing the [Illinois River] decision and have no comment at this time,” the judge noted that, for a time, Tyson had “required their contract growers to submit litter usage reports and maintained that information on a nutrient management spreadsheet. The practice was discontinued because ‘it was an overwhelming task for the live production managers.’”

    When Nutrient Management Plans are used, it’s possible to get a better sense of where chicken litter is being carried.  This is key because of the environmental ripple effects that chicken litter poses. 

    In the Illinois River case, the judge noted that, “as late as the 1960s, [the Illinois River’s] waters were crystal clear. But that is no longer the case. The river is polluted with phosphorus, with adverse consequences that include low dissolved oxygen; abundant filamentous green algae; blue-green algae in Lake Tenkiller near the river’s terminus; greatly decreased transparency; and significant detrimental impacts on the numbers and species of fish.” 

    He went on to note that “a significant cause of the excess phosphorus in the waters of the IRW is the land application of litter from defendants’ poultry.”

    Although Watkins applauds the court’s judgment, he notes that individuals in the Buffalo River watershed, which is not directly affected by the findings, are still concerned about that area’s lack of regulation and transparency — primarily when it comes to where the waste from the nutrient surplus zone will go after it’s removed from the area

    “If there was a big algae bloom on some section of the river that was filled by a spring,” Watkins said, “and you notice that that spring is downstream from a large poultry installation and you’re getting big hits of phosphorus out of that spring or nitrogen — it’s an alert that somebody needs to connect the dots and see what’s going on there.”

  • 24 Feb 2023 1:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Mitchell Williams environmental law blog

    Ozark-St. Francis National Forest/Prescribed Burn/Logging/National Environmental Policy Act: Buffalo River Watershed Alliance Files Action Against United States Forest Service

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (“BRWA”) filed a February 21st Complaint for Vacatur of Illegal Agency Decision, Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (“Complaint”) against the United States Forest Service (“Forest Service”) alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). See Case No. 3:23-cv-03012-TLB.

    The Complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas addressing what is denominated the Robert’s Gap Project (“Project”) which is stated to consist of:

    . . . a prescribed burn, logging, and chemical herbicide treatment in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests within the Headwater Buffalo River watershed (USGS hydrologic unit code 1101000502).

    The cited federal statute (NEPA) requires federal agencies to include environmental values and issues in their decision-making processes. This federal mandate is accomplished by agency consideration of the environmental impacts of proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.

    NEPA requires federal agencies in certain instances to prepare a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”). However, the requirement to produce this document or a supplemental version (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement [SEIS]) is only triggered in the event of a major federal action or an additional action that will significantly affect the environment.

    NEPA differs from action enforcing environmental statutory programs such as the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act. It does not impose substantive mandates. Instead, it is limited to requiring federal agencies to meet procedural requirements such as preparation of an EIS of SEIS in certain defined instances. As a result, NEPA does not require a certain alternative or to meet a particular standard. Nevertheless, in the event NEPA’s procedural requirements are not met, actions of a federal agency can be enjoined.

    The Complaint alleges that a Forest Service decision approves the prescribed burning, logging, and woodland herbicide treatment of approximately 40,000 for forest within the headwaters of Buffalo River Watershed. This is alleged to include the known habitat of the Indiana bat, an endangered species.

    Implementation of the project will (as alleged) cause:

    . . . loss of Cedar, Oak, and Pine trees, destruction of old growth forest as eighty six percent of the Project contains forest stands 70 years old or more, wildlife habitat, and potential degradation of water quality.

    Based on these alleged facts BRWA requests that the United States District Court order enter and Order:

    1. Declaring that the Forest Service’s DN/FONSI for the Robert’s Gap Project violates NEPA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., and declaring that the Service’s failure to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Assessment (“SEA”) or Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“SEIS”); to account for significant new circumstances or information also violates NEPA, and are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and/or not in accordance with law under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) and are a continuing failure to act under § 706(1);
    2. Declaring that the Forest Service must conduct either a SEA or SEIS;
    3. Vacating and setting aside the Forest Service’s illegal DN/FONSI as an illegal agency action under the APA;
    4. Permanently enjoining the Forest Service from implementing the Robert’s Gap Project until the agency complies with NEPA;
    5. Enter preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to ensure that the Forest Service complies with NEPA, and specifically to ensure that the Forest Service and its agents take no further actions toward proceeding with the challenged Robert’s Gap Project until they have complied with NEPA;
    6. Awarding Plaintiff its reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412; and
    7. Grant such further relief as the Court deems just and equitable.

    A copy of the Complaint can be downloaded here.

  • 10 Aug 2022 3:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Newton County Times

    Buffalo River Watershed Enhancement Project encouraging landowners to develop ponds

    By the U of A System Division of Agriculture

    Fast Facts:

    Buffalo River Watershed Enhancement Project working to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality
    Buffalo River Watershed encourages installing ponds, alternative watering systems to protect water quality

    LITTLE ROCK — Farmers and ranchers living in the Buffalo River Watershed should consider pond construction as insurance against drought and to ensure a high-quality water supply for livestock and crops.

    “The current flash drought in Arkansas brings one of the most important reasons to focus,” said John Pennington, extension water quality educator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Water is the most critical need for crops, livestock and wildlife most of the time. Livestock and crops, especially, have little ability to adapt to water restrictions, and optimal growth and production can be interrupted as a result of only short periods without water.”

    Pennington said landowners within the Buffalo National River Watershed are especially encouraged to establish ponds on their property as part of an alternative watering system for livestock that could also involve use of a spring, or piping water to different fields.
    “Ponds are important for many reasons,” Pennington said. “They’re a simple way to help meet water demand and quality for your crops, livestock and wildlife, maybe to build a pond and fence it to exclude livestock.”

    Slowing nutrient movement
    While these practices will help meet water demand, aspects associated with these practices will also protect help protect water quality of the water source and water quality downstream by preventing erosion and nutrient loss from fields and receiving streams, he said.
    “The benefits of ponds extend beyond the property where they are located,” Pennington said. “Ponds have been shown to reduce peak flows of streams during rain events by decreasing runoff, capture potential pollutants to waterways such as nutrients and sediment and reduce streambank erosion.”
    While nutrients are important for crops and pastures, too much can cause illness or feed buildup of cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, which feed on nitrogen and phosphorus.
    Bacteria can contribute to health issues for livestock, recreation enthusiasts and anyone who consumes irrigated crop food products if it is present at high enough levels.
    The Cooperative Extension Service is working with multiple agencies and organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and others to form the Buffalo River Watershed Enhancement Project, which seeks to help reduce the forces of soil erosion. There is $359,851 Natural Resource Conservation Funding obligated for agricultural conservation as part of the Buffalo River Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
    The partnership makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding available to landowners participating in the project each year. To learn more, visit

  • 25 Jul 2022 7:55 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Algae blooming on Buffalo River, but ecologists say it’s just a nuisance for now

    Natural occurrences common, harmless, but could worsen, they say 

    by Bill Bowden | Today at 7:14 a.m.

    With Arkansas' July heat wave, algae has been blooming on the Buffalo National River.

    Lucas Driver of Little Rock, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Lower Mississippi Gulf Water Science Center, said the filamentous algae blooms are naturally occurring in just about all fresh waters, but they can reach nuisance levels under certain conditions.

    "If these blooms get worse, then you might start seeing negative impacts on visitors to the state's crown jewel of the Buffalo River," he said.

    The national park attracts about a million visitors a year. Most of them don't go there for the algae.

    "Bloom" refers to colonies of algae growing out of control.

    What most people see on the Buffalo River is non-toxic algae of the genus Spirogyra, Driver said. "Lime green, slimy, hairlike filaments that can grow to be several feet long under certain conditions," he said.

    Sometimes they grow from the riverbed to the surface, where they are called mats.

    "That's when people start getting upset," Driver said. "It can be a real deterrent to people who are out there trying to swim or fish."

    After a storm, the algae can become detached from rocks, pebbles or bedrock and float downstream like "little river tumbleweeds," Driver said.

    Buffalo River algal blooms have been documented in field notebooks over the past several decades as well as in earlier historical reports.

    According to a 1978 report on the Buffalo River, "Copious blooms of Spirogyra are associated with deep pools with large rocks and a sand-silt base. ... Cattle access at Tyler Bend appears to be directly related to localized and extremely heavy Spirogyra bloom."

    According to a 2018 news release from the national park, "Some algae is important to a healthy ecosystem and most species are harmless, although a nuisance to paddlers, swimmers and fishers."

    "Most of our blooms are just nuisance algae," said Shawn Hodges, an ecologist with the Buffalo National River. "It's unsightly. It's not aesthetically pleasing, but it's there. ... I'm not surprised to hear reports of algal blooms this time of year, especially when we're having 100-degree days."

    "Especially in the height of the summer, you're going to find algae at some places, and a little bit of algae is not a big deal," Driver said. "Algae blooms to some extent are not a big deal. It's a naturally occurring thing. It's unpleasant for people to be around. It can turn into an ecological stressor as we call it under certain conditions."

    If the algae blooms on the river continue to grow, they could rob fish, frogs and invertebrates of oxygen. Driver said algae could displace organisms or disrupt their ability to access required habitats for feeding, reproduction or refuge from predators.

    "We see blooms that can flare up in the late summer and fall," Driver said. "Typically, when it gets cooler, those blooms start to die off in the late fall and winter."

    Hodges said he has worked at the national park since 2004. He saw algae blooms that year and the next, but says they're more extensive now. Hodges said he's never seen an algae bloom on the Buffalo that killed fish.


    After anecdotal reports of large algae blooms on the river in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the Geological Survey -- working with the National Park Service -- began monitoring river water at regular intervals and checking for algae. Volunteers from state agencies also assist.

    As part of the study, water quality is checked for nutrients every four to eight weeks at two dozen sites along a 70-mile stretch of the river from the Hasty bridge to Rush, Driver said. A visual assessment for algae is made for about 500 meters of the river at 12 of those testing sites. A detailed survey is done in areas when filamentous algae is present.

    "It's not a perfect snapshot," Driver said. "It gives us a representation of the spatial extent of the algae. This is just kind of one snapshot, one avenue, one piece of the puzzle. There's lots of work to be done."

    He said suspected causes of algae blooms include heat, excessive sunlight, low-flow hydrology and nutrients in the water. Nutrients include elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

    "The watershed in general has lots of different nutrient sources, from agriculture, humans -- there's septics, there's chicken houses, there's pasture, there's hayfields that get fertilized," Driver said.

    He said the area's karst terrain could allow nutrients to enter the river from underground sources such as sinkholes, caves and springs.

    Hodges said algae provides food for fish.

    "We have fish that just feed on algae," he said. "There's always algae present all year long. It's always there, but sometimes conditions are perfect for a bloom to occur. At this point, we're still trying to figure out what the main cause is."

    In general, the Buffalo River is considered a very low-nutrient watershed, Driver said.

    "The Buffalo is pristine," he said. "That's one of the reasons it's a national park. Water quality historically has been very, very good. It's still considered a very low-nutrient system."

    Driver said there's no real rule for what constitutes too much algae, and algae is more common in lakes than rivers.

    After a public survey in 2012, West Virginia ecologists decided that 40% filamentous algae coverage of a streambed -- regardless of the bloom length -- is the point at which algae is interfering with the recreational use of the stream.

    "We currently don't have that definition in place," Driver said of Arkansas.

    Last week, during a survey of the Buffalo River, ecologists found less than 10% algae coverage at some of the 12 testing sites, Driver said. At other sites, algae covered more of the riverbed, but specific estimates of coverage hadn't been analyzed as of Friday.

    "What we're seeing right now I wouldn't consider out of the ordinary, but the summer isn't over yet," Driver said.

    He said the algae was generally more dense on the lower Buffalo River, where it's wider and more shallow, with some deep pools.

    "Based on our experience, algae is typically more prevalent in the lower part of the river, downstream of Tyler Bend," he said.

    Driver said he saw some filamentous algae that had grown to the extent that it was forming mats on top of the water.

    "I didn't see any huge mats," he said. "I saw a couple of places along the edge of the river where the algae was starting to accumulate on the surface."

    Driver said the current phase of the nutrient water-quality study is winding down, and they are exploring ways to continue the research.

    While the water study has been underway for 4.5 years, Driver said more time is needed to gather data and explore relative trends.

    Spirogyra is mostly a nuisance, but other algae is classified as harmful.

    "Ranging from microscopic, single-celled organisms to large seaweeds, algae are simple plants that form the base of food webs," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Sometimes, however, their roles are more sinister. Under the right conditions, algae may grow out of control -- and a few of these 'blooms' produce toxins that can kill fish, mammals and birds and may cause human illness or even death in extreme cases. Other algae are nontoxic, but eat up all of the oxygen in the water as they decay, clog the gills of fish and invertebrates or smother corals and submerged aquatic vegetation. Still others discolor water, form huge, smelly piles on beaches or contaminate drinking water. Collectively, these events are called harmful algal blooms, or HABs."

    While NOAA is talking mostly about the ocean there, some harmful algae can be found in freshwater streams.

    Cyanobacteria, often called "blue-green algae," is naturally occurring in most freshwater streams, including the Buffalo River. It can produce toxins and is considered a harmful algae, and it caused problems on the Buffalo in 2018.

    "... A species of blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) has been identified within the river," according to a July 27, 2018, news release citing Hodges. "This species has the potential to produce cyanotoxins, which can be harmful to humans and pets. Unfortunately, you cannot tell if the algae would produce cyanotoxins just by looking at it. A few visitors have reported illnesses after swimming in areas with algae this month."


    Environmentalists thought a large hog farm, which closed in January 2020, might be to blame for a spike in nutrients in the Buffalo River.

    In 2012, the state permitted C&H Hog Farm to operate a farm near Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo River. The farm was allowed to house up to 6,503 hogs, although it normally operated with about 3,000.

    After years of controversy, in 2018 the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality denied C&H a permit to continue operating the farm.

    The next year, Arkansas paid C&H $6.2 million for the farm land, which is being used as a conservation easement to protect the river.

    From 2016-18, Driver participated in a study of Big Creek and the Buffalo River.

    The study looked at monthly nutrient concentrations and the response of periphyton in the Buffalo River both upstream and downstream from its confluence with Big Creek. Periphyton refers to aquatic organisms including plants, algae and bacteria that live attached to underwater surfaces such as rocks on a riverbed.

    "Basically, we went out and scraped algae off of rocks," Driver said. "It was standardized. There were a certain number of rocks we'd pick up from the streambed."

    Some of what they found was to be expected.

    "Nutrients in Big Creek were higher than in the main stem, but that is not surprising and that is not unusual for tributaries of the Buffalo River," Driver said.

    And in the Buffalo River?

    "There was no significant difference in nutrient concentrations upstream and downstream, but there appeared to be a slight difference in the periphyton communities downstream, which could indicate a response to even subtle changes in nutrient concentrations," Driver said.

    Cassie Branstetter, a spokeswoman for the Buffalo National River, said she's received no complaints this year regarding algal blooms.

    Branstetter said the park hasn't tried to remove any algae.

    "Algae could be removed with algaecides, but in a natural environment that would be very detrimental to the ecosystem," she said. "These are typically used in fountains and other man-made water features to keep them looking pretty."

  • 07 Jul 2022 3:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Smithsonian Magazine for photos and graphics


    What Makes the Buffalo River the Jewel of the Ozarks

    An unabashed tribute to the wild Arkansas waterway that became the nation’s first national river 50 years ago

    Photographs by Rory Doyle

    Text by Bruce Upholt

    If smoothed out flat, the rough mountainous terrain of Newton County, Arkansas, would prove “bigger’n the whole state of Texas,” a local resident once proclaimed to a folklorist. That may be an exaggeration, but the wrinkles of the topography have certainly kept this corner of the Ozarks quiet. Fewer than 8,000 people live scattered across Newton County’s 820 square miles. The place is mostly known for a waterway. Near the county’s western border, a trickling stream grows into the Buffalo River—the first national river in the United States, a distinction it earned 50 years ago.

    For a long time Arkansans couldn’t agree on what the river should be used for, and some even fought over it. In the 1940s, with the local timber felled and the zinc and lead operations floundering, state tourism officials started promoting Newton County as a wilderness destination. The county was home to nearly half of the Buffalo River watershed, and outdoors enthusiasts considered the mountain stream one of the finest in the region, if not the country; it was a rare, free-flowing waterway, perfect for rafting or canoeing. Some local leaders wanted to turn the watershed into a national park. Others wanted to dam the river, which could provide hydroelectric power and form the kind of placid lake that had spurred the development of lodges, restaurants and retirement homes elsewhere in the Ozarks.

    For their part, many people who lived alongside the river opposed both the dam and the national park. They didn’t want their farms drowned, and they weren’t eager to give up their property for what one of them derisively called a “130-mile-long zoo.” In 1965, when supporters of a national park idea organized a canoe race, they arrived to find that someone had blocked the Buffalo with downed trees and barbed wire.

    In a 1966 speech, Gov. Orval Faubus (a Democrat who had become infamous for his opposition to school desegregation) voiced his strong support for the formation of a national park. He fondly looked back on his own encounters with the river as a younger man: “Like a suitor courting a lovely maiden who becomes more enamored with her charms each visit, so was I with the Buffalo River Valley.” Faubus’ campaign to protect the Buffalo was joined by other prominent Arkansas politicians, including John Paul Hammerschmidt, a Republican who began serving in the U.S. Congress in 1967. Hammerschmidt sponsored a bill to make the Buffalo a national river.

    At the time, politicians of both political parties were taking steps to protect the environment. President Richard Nixon inaugurated the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970. The Clean Air Act passed a few weeks later with unanimous support in the Senate and only one opposing vote in the House of Representatives.

    The Buffalo River bill also passed easily, and on March 1, 1972, Nixon signed it into law. The Buffalo and 135 miles of its banks were now part of a portfolio of landscapes that were considered America’s natural crown jewels, including Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. (The river’s westernmost 18 miles were under separate protection as part of the Ozark National Forest.) In 1978, the New River Gorge in West Virginia was also designated a national river, but the area was recently converted to a national park and preserve. Other rivers today have National Park Service protection under different names, such as national river and recreation area, and national scenic waterway. The national wild and scenic rivers system, inaugurated in the late 1960s, includes other bodies of water but does not guarantee NPS involvement. When it comes to the simple title of “national river,” the Buffalo stands alone.

    I first visited the Buffalo a decade ago, on an April trip with friends. It was float season, that time in spring and early summer when the upper river is deep enough for canoes. The water, cold and clear, tumbled over gravel bars and curled past craggy cliffs. It had carved a passageway through an otherwise forbidding landscape of shale and sandstone and limestone. It was a perfectly contained little wildland.

    Or so it seemed. Shortly afterward, in 2012, Arkansas granted a permit for a new hog farm, which soon opened along one of the Buffalo River’s tributaries. The hog waste was stored in large lagoons. If the clay liners gave way or the lagoons weren’t properly pumped down, manure could seep into the tributaries. Even if the lagoons held, the manure would eventually be converted to fertilizer and sprayed on nearby fields, which some local residents worried would overload the river with phosphorus. Gordon Watkins, an organic blueberry farmer in Newton County, co-founded the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, one of a handful of nonprofits that worked together to fight the farm. “The river is nothing but the sum of its tributaries,” Watkins says. “Whatever happens in those tributaries is going to impact the Buffalo.” The state received a record volume of complaints about the permit, and while there were never any confirmed leaks, inspections indicated that lagoon liners had cracked and eroded, leaving the state’s water supply vulnerable.

    In 2019, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, moved to shut down the hog farm, directing $6.2 million in state funds to compensate the farmers. (The Nature Conservancy also made significant contributions.) Like Faubus, Hutchinson was a self-declared outdoorsman who had enjoyed his own jaunts on the Buffalo River. “I was in law school when I discovered the Buffalo River,” he said in a speech, “and like so many Arkansans, I value the Buffalo as a particularly beautiful part of God’s creation.” Hutchinson formed the Buffalo River Conservation Committee, which brings together state agencies and others to monitor and improve the 855,000-acre watershed linked to the river.

    Threats remain, of course. Heavy rains carry dirt off unpaved roads and into the river. The U.S. Forest Service has plans to thin and burn portions of the forests near the river’s headwaters, which some worry could affect water quality in the river. Summer algae blooms on the river have been more prolific in recent years; the cause likely involves excess nutrient input from agricultural fertilizer and soil washing into the river. “All these things that are going on outside the river have direct impact inside the river,” says Mark Foust, superintendent of the Buffalo National River.

    After Foust assumed his post, in 2018, he set out to explore every stretch of the river within the park. He finished his quest last year, hiking into a canyon and launching in an inflatable raft—the only way to access the stretch nearest the source. Foust says he expected to find, at some point, a stretch of water that was less than scenic. He never did. Nor have I, in many return visits.

    On my latest trip, I hiked to one of the sites touted by state officials in the 1940s, Lost Valley, where a trail follows a creek up a rock-strewn canyon to its source. After a strenuous climb, past a series of waterfalls, we arrived at a tidy cascade pouring from the mouth of a cave. The end of the trail—or so we thought.

    Then two hikers wearing headlamps emerged from the cave’s dark maw. They urged us to go in. So we crawled on our hands and knees through a narrow crevice, lighting our way with cellphones, and reached a 25-foot waterfall, hidden within a pitch-black chamber. Thus we found ourselves inside the mountains themselves, washed in the crash of the cold, dark water where it all began.

    Rory Doyle | READ MORE

    Photographer Rory Doyle is committed to sharing stories of the Delta, from his base in Cleveland, Mississippi.

    Bruce Upholt | READ MORE

    New Orleans-based writer Boyce Upholt is currently working on a travelogue about the Mississippi River.

  • 16 May 2022 12:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Newton County Times

    Conservationists host legislators at BNR celebration

    The Ozark Society receives the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award.

    The Ozark Society receives the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award.



    Posted Monday, May 16, 2022 10:15 am

    By JEFF DEZORT Newton County Times

    HARRISON — The Buffalo River Coalition, which includes the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association (NCPA) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo National River in Harrison Tuesday, May 9, by honoring state legislators, the Buffalo National River/National Park Service and recognizing the three conservation organizations whose work continues to protect the nation's first designated national river.
    The Joint Legislative Committee of Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development was invited to the evening event at the Durand Center to emphasize to its members the economic importance of the Buffalo National River to this area and the state. The joint committee, co-chaired by Senator Ron Caldwell and Rep. DeAnn Vaught held a brief meeting at 4 p.m. at the center.
    Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward presented a report on his department's activities. Of most interest in this area is the ongoing program to control of feral hogs, many of which are found to be in the Buffalo National River corridor with a concentration of them in Searcy County.
    Searcy County School District Superintendent Alan Yarbrough gave a report on the school district working with North Arkansas College and Forge Institute entering a memorandum of understanding to expand information technology and cybersecurity training in Searcy County. He said North Arkansas College students can now enjoy a seamless pathway to earn cybersecurity training at the North Central Career Center in Leslie.
    Yarbrough said there are 17 students currently enrolled in the program's initial seven-week-long class. Under the agreement, the two institutions are working together to develop credit opportunities for Forge Institute Academy graduates at North Arkansas College. The college will provide the foundational cybersecurity training to high school students in the Searcy County and Clinton school districts, preparing them for Forge Institute or other higher education coursework.
    Yarbrough said this is a model that can be replicated and work throughout the state. Under the model the program can accommodate up to 22 students.
    Graduates of the program are needed to fill cybersecurity jobs that reportedly pay salaries on average of about $50,000 annually.
    The meeting adjourned for social gatherings, a buffet dinner and speakers.
    Presenting the keynote address was Mark Foust, superintendent of the Buffalo National River, whose remarks centered on this being the 50th anniversary of the river's "national" designation.
    Emily Jones, NPCA Southeast Regional Director and Iliff McMahan, NPCA Southeast Regional Counsel ended the evenings events by presenting the NPCA's Marjory Stonemason Douglas Award to three organizations.
    This annual award is named for the American journalist, author, women's suffrage advocate, and conservationist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development.
    The award was created in 1985 to recognize outstanding efforts by an individual that resulted in the protection of a unit or proposed unit of the National Park System.
    Recipients of the awards were the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and the Ozark Society. All are members forming the Buffalo River Coalition which worked together in opposing a commercial hog production facility within the Buffalo National River Watershed in Newton County.
    Gov. Asa Hutchinson stepped in and ended the six-year controversy by having the state buy out the production facility and establishing a conservation easement permanently banning any federally classified medium or large hog farms in the watershed. The Buffalo River Conservation Committee was formed by executive order under the Department of Agriculture to implement projects in the watershed to protect the quality and enhance the value of the Buffalo National River in partnership with local stakeholders. Secretary Ward is the chairman of that committee. To date the committee has released almost $2 million in grants for economic development and conservation projects in the watershed.

  • 12 Apr 2022 4:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas Times

    Save the Buffalo River again and again


     Lindsey Millar  

    ON April 12, 2022

    Is there any part of Arkansas more widely beloved than the Buffalo River? The case for “The Natural State” being a fitting motto for Arkansas begins (and could almost end) with the crystal clear river, meandering through towering bluffs of the Boston Mountains in what feels like near pristine wilderness. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that an annual pilgrimage to the river is a minimum requirement for Arkansas citizenship. 

    For those of us who weren’t around in the 1960s and 1970s, when environmental activist Neil Compton and other conservationists faced down powerful forces who wanted to see the river dammed for hydroelectric power, there aren’t any hints of that terrible counterfactual on the river: For long stretches of the Buffalo, it feels as if what it is always was.

    March 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Buffalo River as the United States’ first National River, and throughout the year Buffalo River National Park Service and the Ozark Society, formed 60 years ago by Compton and others to preserve the Buffalo, and other groups will hold events to celebrate the milestone year. June 9-12, the park service will celebrate the artistic inspiration the river provides with a student film festival at the Kenda Drive-In in Marshall, a folk storytelling event at the Buffalo Point Campground Amphitheater and a free music festival at Tyler Bend. Oct. 8-9 the park will host a photo geocaching scavenger hunt, a “yoga in the park” event at Steel Creek and Buffalo Point and a “moon party” at Tyler Bend with telescopes to enjoy stargazing in the park, one of the rare spots formally designated as a Dark Sky Place by the International Dark-Sky Association. In other words, because the Buffalo River is largely free from light pollution, it’s an ideal spot for stargazing. 

    Other celebrations will look back on the herculean effort involved in the establishment of the National River, something David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society, doesn’t believe would be possible today. “It was a sort of miracle built on dogged persistence and grassroots people,” he said. 

    But the work of conservation never ends. For those intimately acquainted with the Buffalo — or anyone who follows the news — that motto should be top of mind after the hog farm debacle. The story has many twists and turns, but here’s the short version: In 2012, the state foolishly awarded a permit to a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, for an industrial hog farm in Newton County, located near Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo. The permit allowed for up to 6,500 hogs; the C&H Hog Farm normally operated with a little less than half that. Still, that number of swine produced mountains of fecal waste, which had to spread across fields. Groups like the Buffalo Watershed Alliance raised the alarm, warning that the pig poop was likely to seep through the porous karst topography of the area into the watershed. In 2018, there were some 70 miles of algae blooms along the river. Algae forms naturally, but it’s stimulated by phosphorus, which excreta is full of. Though they were never able to make a direct link, the Buffalo Watershed Alliance and others suspected the CAFO as the culprit. 

    After long legal battles and years of activism, the state stepped in to correct its error, buying out the hog farm for $6.2 million and temporarily banning similar operations, but an effort to make the moratorium permanent was derailed by the Arkansas legislature, despite endorsement from Governor Hutchinson.

    Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo Watershed Alliance and a Newton County resident, believes that even without the ironclad protection a permanent ban would’ve provided, the likelihood of a similar operation returning to the watershed in the near to midterm is low. But the relatively small footprint of the park in the watershed requires constant vigilance.

    “Buffalo River National Park is a thin blue ribbon that only takes in 11% of the watershed,” Watkins said. “The other 89% is outside of the park’s control and sphere of influence. All of those tributaries, what’s done in them, has a direct impact on the Buffalo. It’s important to encourage private landowners to adopt practices that will help preserve the Buffalo so it’s clean and pristine. That’s what attracts visitors.” And money. A 2020 study from the park service found that visitors to the park spent an estimated $66 million in the region.

     Thankfully, state government and lawmakers are more engaged than ever, according to Watkins. The Buffalo River Conservation Committee, formed by Hutchinson a few months after the announcement of the hog farm buyout and seeded with $2 million for conservation and water quality grants, includes representatives from the state Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy and Environment, the Department of Health and the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. It’s helping with crucial but boring work: providing money to pave dirt roads that spill sediment into the watershed, to upgrade outdated area wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks, and to help ranchers keep cattle out of streams.

    Perhaps the most pernicious threat to the river today is a tricky one — it’s me and you and thousands of others who love the river. According to official park service records, 1.5 million people visited the park in 2021, just shy of the record 1.78 million in 2016. But those numbers, based on traffic counters throughout the 95,000-acre park, which includes 100 miles of road and 135 miles of waterway, likely represent an underestimate. “Crowdedness is a real problem,” the Ozark Society’s Peterson said. “There are too many people on the river.” Peterson hopes the National Park Service will address the issue through a permit system, though with so many access points and visitors who bring their own boats to float, that could prove logistically difficult. 

    The park service is in the beginning stages of a comprehensive river use and management plan, according to Cassie Branstetter, public information officer for Buffalo National River Park. It will update a plan that’s 40 years old and, it’s hoped, guide the park for the next 50 years. Branstetter said the process is in the early stages and will likely take several years, and include ample time for public comment, before completion. So don’t look for any official discussion of use restrictions anytime soon. 

    Ross Noland, a Little Rock lawyer and the executive director of the Buffalo River Foundation, grew up floating the river. His dad, retired engineer Stewart Noland, was one of the founding members of the Arkansas Canoe Club and among the group that made the first descent of the Hailstone, the wild, rapid-filled upper stretch of the Buffalo, from Dixon Ford to Boxley. Ross was on the river as young as 2 or 3, and he’s made regular pilgrimages with his elementary school-age children for years.

    His favorite stretch of the park is floating from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing. “But so is everyone else’s,” he said. “That’s because it’s the most beautiful stretch of the river.” But he won’t do it on a Saturday in June because of the crowds. He, Peterson and Watkins all encourage visitors to consider spreading out and trying less trafficked stretches. Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, with its spectacular 200-foot waterfall — the tallest between the Appalachians and the Rockies — is deservingly the most popular hiking destination in the park. Less heralded is the Railroad Trail in Gilbert, a moderate hike on an old railbed that follows the river, Branstetter offered. The 37-mile Buffalo River Trail is one of Arkansas’s premier backpacking paths, but often when you take it in small bites, you won’t see another soul for miles, Branstetter said.  

    Noland and the Buffalo River Foundation work to help prevent the outside world from creeping into the park. As a nonprofit land trust, the foundation primarily works with landowners to create conservation easements, interests in land that govern use and development, and very occasionally purchase property near the river. The foundation is a cooperative conservation organization. “We can’t make anyone do anything,” Noland said. “There’s a history of distrust stemming from the way the park was formed. We’re careful not to contribute to that. We want to work with people who want to work with us.”

    One of the Buffalo River Foundation’s primary objectives is to conserve what Noland calls “the scenic integrity” of the river. “Fifty years ago, there were hardly any structures visible from the river aside from visible sites like Buffalo Point or Tyler Bend. In recent years, people who probably love the river have found places along the river to build. You see it at Rush. You see it at Love-Hensley near Snowball.” The foundation aims to establish easements on as much property near the river to prevent development that undercuts the sense of wilderness the Buffalo River is known for.   

    To get involved in efforts to conserve the Buffalo, donate to the Buffalo River Foundation ( or the Buffalo Watershed Alliance ( and join the Ozark Society, which has seven local chapters, and sponsors regular hikes and float trips (, and publishes essential outdoors books, including Ken Smith’s “The Buffalo River Country” and “Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Arkansas.”  

  • 07 Mar 2022 4:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    AY Magazine

    Arkansas Backstories: Lost Valley

    By Joe David Rice

    Newton County can claim more than its fair share of Arkansas’ iconic natural features — places such as Hemmed-In Hollow, Big Bluff, Indian Creek, Richland Falls, Whitaker Point and, of course, the Buffalo National River. To that impressive list can be added Lost Valley, a rough-and-tumble canyon southwest of Ponca formed over the eons by the erosive actions of Clark Creek, a minor tributary of the Buffalo. Named after Abraham Clark, one of the original pioneers who settled in the area during the 1830s or 1840s, this intermittent stream plunges some 1,200 feet in the 3-mile stretch from its source to its confluence with the river.


    It was one of Clark’s descendants who guided a trio of government surveyors up the creek in 1898 to an enormous rock shelter. Deep in its dry interior, they noticed bushel upon bushel of tiny corn cobs left centuries earlier by Native Americans. Dubbed Cob Cave, the picturesque landform became known among the locals and provided an attractive setting for occasional Sunday afternoon picnics.


    In 1931, a University of Arkansas expedition led by archeologist Samuel C. Dellinger bushwhacked to the cave, seeking Indian artifacts. Spending roughly three weeks digging through the dust, leaves and gravel in the deepest section of the shelter, Dellinger and his team uncovered, in addition to the ubiquitous cobs, an assortment of gourds, sunflower seeds and woven baskets — all of which had been preserved due to the site’s extremely dry conditions — but they failed to find the expected burials. Dellinger’s collections, made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, are still used today by researchers examining food and fiber practices of Native Americans.


    Things remained fairly quiet along Clark Creek until the spring of 1945 when a resourceful state publicist by the name of Avantus Green brought Willard Culver, a staff photographer from National Geographic magazine, to Newton County. Green, who’d been given the task of presenting Culver with interesting subject material, had heard rumors of the cave and decided he’d take his guest to the remote location. Not only did they come upon Cob Cave after an arduous hike, they found a series of waterfalls beyond the rock shelter and also another cavern with an underground cascade. While the magazine opted not to use any of Culver’s photographs taken that day, Green was smitten with its spectacular beauty, naming it The Lost Valley.


    Green’s releases about the isolated gorge caught the attention of Margaret Maunder, a feature writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Flying to Little Rock in April 1946, she was met by Green and Harold Foxhall, the Arkansas state geologist, who drove her to Harrison and then to the valley of Clark Creek the next morning. In its Sunday, June 2, 1946, edition, the newspaper ran a full-page article (with six photographs) describing Maunder’s adventure, beginning: 


    Oddly enough, in a country combed by the wandering footpaths of 140,000,000 people there still exist spots of rugged yet ethereal beauty, virtually unknown to present-day Americans.


    One of these is the newly-discovered Lost Valley in the verdant, rocky wilderness of northwestern Arkansas, scarcely more than 325miles from the heart of St. Louis. Here, as recently as one year ago, mighty waterfalls cascaded over cliff-like palisades as tall as 40-storybuildings and pounded on ancient slabs of pure marble many feet below all without their thundering roar touching the eardrums or their sun-glistening beauty catching the eye of modern man.


    Although Ms. Maunder’s piece took a few liberties with the truth, stating that Lost Valley had been unknown until the previous year and that mummies had been found in Cob Cave, it certainly generated additional interest in the narrow canyon. Meanwhile, Avantus Green continued to extol the beauties of The Lost Valley — a name which over time was shortened to Lost Valley.


    Then, in the early 1950s, students from the University of Arkansas began making the 67-mile trek from Fayetteville to explore this special place they kept hearing about. One of them was Kenneth L. Smith, who in the summer of 1958 wrote two lengthy pieces on Lost Valley for the Sunday Magazine published by the Arkansas Gazette. Smith devoted much of his adult life to conservation of the Buffalo River watershed, to include writing The Buffalo River Country, a classic first published by the Ozark Society in 1967.


    A 1960 timber sale yielded a bulldozed logging road and a stand of hardwood stumps within sight of Cob Cave, galvanizing public support for protection of the property. In late 1966, just weeks before he left office, Gov. Orval Faubus announced a 200-acre purchase establishing Lost Valley State Park. Imagine the public’s surprise when a front-page story in the Arkansas Gazette the following July revealed that Cob Cave, the waterfalls, and the towering bluffs weren’t included in the original acquisition, but instead were within an adjacent 80-acre tract owned by the former governor. Faubus, who’d quietly bought the land 60 days after leaving office, sold the property to Mr. and Mrs. Albert Heyden of Little Rock for $6,500 (allegedly only $100 more than he paid for it) — and they, in turn, generously donated it to the state. In 1973, this park, along with Buffalo River State Park far downstream were given to the National Park Service for inclusion in the Buffalo National River.


    Today, Lost Valley remains a popular destination with an easy-to-moderate trail leading to Cob Cave and the nearby falls. The round-trip hike of a little over 2 miles is jam-packed with fascinating photo ops: caves, springs, waterfalls, bluffs, a rock shelter and a natural bridge. When Ms. Maunder described Lost Valley as being “one of the most scenically beautiful spots between the two oceans,” she wasn’t exaggerating.  


    Joe David Rice, former tourism director of Arkansas Parks and Tourism, has written Arkansas Backstories, a delightful book of short stories from A through Z that introduces readers to the state’s lesser-known aspects. Rice’s goal is to help readers acknowledge that Arkansas is a unique and fascinating combination of land and people – one to be proud of and one certainly worth sharing. 


    Each month, AY will share one of the 165 distinctive essays. We hope these stories will give you a new appreciation for this geographically compact but delightfully complex place we call home. These Arkansas Backstories columns appear courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System. The essays have been collected and published by Butler Center Books in a two-volume set, both of which are now available to purchase at Amazon and the University of Arkansas Press.


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