OPINION | BRENDA BLAGG: Outdoors lovers celebrate five decades of national reverence, relevance for Buffalo RiverNature lovers mark Buffalo’s 50 years as national river by Brenda Blagg | Today at 1:00 a.m.
To view the National Park Service’s information on the Buffalo National River’s 50th anniversary, visit https://www.nps.gov/buff/getinvolved/50th-anniversary.htm
It has been 50 years now since some determined Arkansas people, led by conservationists and outdoors enthusiasts, saved the Buffalo River for the rest of us.
In the 1960s, plans emerged to build two hydroelectric dams on the Buffalo. People who populated the valley and others who traveled there from near and far to enjoy its scenic beauty and recreational opportunities closed ranks against those who argued the dams were needed for economic growth, flood control and power generation.
It was a long fight but, on March 1, 1972, the free-flowing river with its towering limestone bluffs won designation as the United States' first "national river." The protected status stopped the dams and preserved the river for future generations.
It remains one of the few undammed rivers in the lower 48 states and has been a unit of the national park system for all these years.
A yearlong celebration began over the last weekend, marking the designation that was intended to preserve the river and conserve and interpret the features of this treasured waterway that cuts through the Ozark Mountain wilderness.
It ought to be celebrated and the people who fought for the designation -- and to stop the dams -- should be remembered.
They range from descendants of those who lived their lives in the Ozark wilderness to generations of outdoor enthusiasts who explored the river's path as well as politicians from the state and elsewhere who heard their pleas to save the Buffalo.
Dr. Neil Compton, a Bentonville physician, spearheaded much of the effort, attracting support even from a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice of the time, William O. Douglas, who saw a photograph of the bluffs above the river and came to float the river with Compton.
"You cannot let this river die," Douglas said then, calling the river a "national treasure worth fighting to the death to preserve."
Among those celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo National River are its most recent defenders, who waged a second fight to save the Buffalo in recent years.
This time, the war was with a hog farm permitted in 2013 during former Gov. Mike Beebe's administration.
Regulators then granted a permit for a large-scale concentrated swine feeding operation at Mount Judea in Newton County.
Beebe later said he regretted the state approved the permit that allowed the farm to have 2,500 sows and up to 4,000 piglets at the site, which was adjacent to Big Creek. The creek flows into the Buffalo just 6.6 miles away.
Additionally, the permit, its opponents contended, was issued without adequate public notice. It was a done deal before they got to raise their objections. Not even the National Park Service got the chance to weigh in before the state regulators approved the permit.
What followed was a period of intense scrutiny of the hog farm operation, its impact on Big Creek and the Buffalo River watershed and strong opposition to any extension of the hog farm permit.
Eventually, after years of litigation, the state of Arkansas, with some private financial assistance, moved to buy out the farm.
Credit Gov. Asa Hutchinson for striking the $6.2 million deal that left the farmers whole but also provided a way out of the controversy.
"The state should never have granted that permit for a large-scale hog farm operation in the Buffalo River watershed," Hutchinson said then.
What began in the Beebe administration and was settled by Hutchinson's was an expensive lesson for this state and its regulators.
It was also further evidence of just how much the Buffalo National River and its watershed really are treasured by the generations in Arkansas and elsewhere.