ARKANSAS WILD HOW TO GET KIDS INTO THE WILD
HUNTING GEAR BOXLEY VALLEY ELK THE NEXT GENERATION
SEPTEMBER 2020 ARKANSASWILD.COM
the fishing, the food, and fall are always better at
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Come see the diversity of wildlife and habitat the nation’s largest contiguous tract of blackland prairie has to offer. Hunting on over 3,000 acres. Fishing on two lakes with boat ramps and fishing pier. Excellent birding for grassland species; hiking trails for butterfly and wildflower viewing. By appointment: shotgun range; 3-D archery range. GROUPS: Group lodging available by reservation; East Building sleeps 20; West Building sleeps 14. Educational building with classroom space.” 870-983-2790 • 1685 CR35 North • Columbus, AR 71831 • agsw.org
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Plenty for Families to See and Do Safely in Arkansasâ€™s Outdoors
HITTING THE HIDDEN ROADS
Fayetteville Serves as Base Camp for NWA Scenic Rides
Programs Draw Kids Into the Outdoors
ALMOST TIME: HUNTING SEASON IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER; READ ON FOR GREAT GEAR FOR THE DUCK BLIND AND DEER CAMP.
10 OUTDOOR ESSENTIALS 12 ARKANSAS MADE 16 EXPLORE 38 #ARKANSASWILD COVER PHOTOGRAPHY BY NOVO STUDIO 4 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
T O GE T HE R FOR Better. Arkansans appreciate work and raise families. Care for our Not all community. rainbows areWe in the
neighbors. And come together sky. Check out inourgood Whitetimes and bad. At First Security, that local
excursion on pageour22.home state. There is commitment here. strength is whatRiver we love best about And heart. And hope. Thank you to everyone who is standing together, learning from one another, and making Arkansas a place we all love to call home. Member FDIC Member FDIC
Weâ€™re proud to be your community bank.
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Live Your Adventure
BIKES • KAYAKS • CANOES PADDLEBOARDS • DISC GOLF FISHING & OUTDOOR GEAR ALSO RENTALS, REPAIRS & SHUTTLE SERVICE
PHILIP THOMAS is the owner and
operator of Novo Studio, a photography, video and graphic design company located in Northwest Arkansas.
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show us your fish! the bigger the better DREW HARRIS , a Jonesboro native,
is an angler, writer, photographer and all-around outdoor type. He loves nothing more than being outside and capturing the place he calls home, no matter the season. Find him at drewharrisphotography.com
us with your catch in arkansas! JULIE PENNINGTON is a native of
Arkansas and a 16-year tourism professional. She loves all things hospitality related and wants to help you experience Fayetteville in the fall. Contact her at jpennington@ experiencefayetteville.com.
Tag us on Instagram or Facebook! ARKANSASWILD.COM | 7
FROM THE EDITOR
Well, it had to happen sooner or later, didn’t it? One of these days, you just knew that COVID-19 would tone it down and life would get back to something close to normal. And just in time for autumn, the peak of the year for the outdoors in Arkansas. Whether you gear up for deer, ducks or just want to soak up some fall colors from the campsite, lake or trail, you’re in the right place. We never grow tired of the diversity of Arkansas’s natural environments—mountains, flatlands, wetlands, even swamps. It’s truly a blessing to live in a place like this. No matter where your travels take you this fall, we hope you’ll bring us along for the ride. This issue, we remind families that while the pandemic is still going on, the great outdoors are open for business. We also provide a look at various ways to get the youngsters off the couch and outside; check these out and let’s start building the next generation of nature lovers. In addition, we go on an elk-watching adventure in Ponca and introduce you to a hunting gear manufacturer in Conway. We even get your motor runnin’ with a preview of some great motorcycle rides in Northwest Arkansas. Take in those colors and thank us later, it’s spectacular. Folks, we’ve all been through a crazy year and every single one of us could use some downtime right about now. Don’t miss your chance to take advantage of the many natural splendors to be found in Arkansas. They’re your birthright, after all, and something to be cherished and passed down to the next generation intact and pristine. Thanks for picking up this issue of Arkansas Wild and to the many nice folks who have supported this publication through the years. Drop us a line now and again to tell us what you’re up to; we’ll do the same.
Dwain Hebda Editor, Arkansas Wild
8 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
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STAND & DELIVER
TAKE THESE TREE STANDS ALONG ON YOUR NEXT TRIP TO THE WOODS.
1 1. DOUBLE TROUBLE
In the two-hunter stand market, X-Stand’s Jayhawk is dang near perfect. Offering plenty of room and packed with extras like a padded shooting rail, Comfort-FLeX seating, even double drink holders and accessory hooks. A four-point harness comes standard, which is good considering you’re 20 feet in the air. (x-stand.com)
2. SCARY GOOD
Looking for a beefy stand that comes back year after year? The Millenium M150 Monster offers a large platform and thick aluminum frame to chew up whatever the forest throws at it. It’s also got Silent Hunt technology for when they’re in range and a ComfortMAX contoured seat for when they’re not. (millennium-outdoors.com)
3. HUNTING HANG-OUT
If you prefer a hang-on stand, check out the Lone Wolf Assault II. At just 11 pounds, the skeletonized aluminum platform won’t make a sound to scare away your prey. With plenty of room for standing shots and a teardrop design for tight spaces, it’s a great stand for the money. (lonewolfhuntingproducts.com) Get the drop on anything with antlers from atop the 18-foot Guide Gear Ladder Tree Stand. Unlike lesser-made products, Gear Guide’s towering model is built of sturdy materials and steel construction to last season after season. A flip-up shooting rail and footrest add to the package. (sportsmansguide.com)
5. UNDISPUTED CHAMP
5 10 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
Multiple “Best Of” lists can’t be wrong, Summit is the elite tree stand manufacturer on the market. Its Viper SD climbing edition offers everything you could want in a 20-pound package, including full fall protection and adjustable seat height. If you’re serious about your deer, this is your stand. (summitstands.com)
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF VENDORS
4. SKY HIGH
ARKANSASWILD.COM | 11
Harrel & Sons makes products of which your granddaddy would approve.
12 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF HARREL & SONS
THE NEW OLD SCHOOL
HARRELL & SONS BRINGS THROWBACK HUNTING ITEMS TO A NEW GENERATION BY DREW HARRIS
hen you look at the gear and apparel offered by Arkansasbased Harrell & Sons, a few things are notably missing: plastic, nylon and Velcro. With waxed canvas and leather closures, brass snaps and clasps, you might even think you’re seeing something that has been handed down for a generation or two. Chris Harrell, who grew up hunting duck, deer and turkey with his father, grandfather and uncles, always had an affinity for both the look and durability of waxed canvas clothing and gear. Somewhere in the mid-2000s, as synthetics became all the rage, Harrell noticed a gap in the market for any sort of new product geared toward hunting, particularly duck hunting, made in classic leather and waxed canvas. “So, five or six years ago, I just started thinking, if no one else is going to do this, and especially if no one else is going to do this and keep it American-made, I’m going to run it down and bring some of these classic products back to market,” he said. Conway-based Harrell & Sons came from that decision, named after the family farm from the 1950s. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, Harrell enlists production help from family—his two young sons, his father, his younger brother and his daughter. According to Harrell, his products are “begged, borrowed or stolen … designs that have been around a long time,” he said. “They are classic ‘granddaddy designs,’ with some tweaks we made to add functionalities that cater to the guys of the 21st century. Things we wanted to see; something as simple as shell loops or a clasp on the classic gear bag that lets you hang it on a tree limb.” The company’s products are plain and simple. Highly functional. Decidedly not mass-produced. And, at all appearances, you might think you are looking at something that came out of a thrift shop or antique store. It’s intentional. Keeping everything stateside turned out to be the company’s biggest challenge. Components for every piece of gear and apparel are sourced from within the United States, meaning Harrell relies on numerous shops from neighboring states for production.
ARKANSASWILD.COM | 13
Clockwise from top: Company founder Chris Harrell of Conway does some field research during duck season. Old-school construction and hand inspection creates heirloom-worthy products for the outdoors.
14 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
Products are individually crafted and hand-inspected for appearance and quality, while inventory is maintained in and shipped out of Conway. Harrell’s hunting vests are available in three colors and made to wear over hunting garments. The Shell Vest keeps everything a hunter needs close by and accessible. It has 22 shell loops, two interior pockets, one chest pocket and a large pouch on the back. With two large, snap-closure pockets in front and a large game pocket in back, the Strap Vest is seriously sensible and well-suited for hunting upland bird, small game or waterfowl. Two gear bags are offered. The spacious Blind Bag has 22 shell loops, and features one main and one side compartment. The smaller Ditty Bag has one main and two small side compartments and a leather carry handle. Lined with durable Cordura nylon, both bags boast shells of 10-ounce waxed canvas, have a cotton shoulder strap and leather and brass snaps. Accessories are also available. Made of heavy saddle leather, the Game Tote has brass fittings and six drops while the attractive Gun Sling is well-padded with a convenient thumb hole, guaranteed to dress up any rifle or shotgun. Classic “Season of Hate” and “Preserve Wildlife/Use a Trained Dog” patches and stickers are also available. Harrell, who also hosts an entertaining podcast discussing hunting, thinks of the business as “a definite mom and pop” and, like many, is direct to consumer with all business conducted through their website. There are no immediate plans for a brick-and-mortar shop, Harrell said he’s content to let the company grow organically, appealing to the forward-thinking consumer. “When you’re literally putting your name on something, you want a product that people are proud to own and use,” he said. “We’ve gotten great feedback. At the end of the day, I want a classic, American-made product that an outdoorsman is just going to buy one time. I know I’m only going to sell it once, and that’s just fine.”
Rails below Cotter Bridge This photo of “Rails Below Cotter Bridge” was submitted by Carey Woods. Carey says, “The Cotter Bridge has a rich and colorful history… Today, it’s a great swimming hole and a place for family reunions and bass fishing.”
he people who live here. That’s why we created an sit OnlyInArk.com for everything from great bike trails ank is only in Arkansas, youBusy know it’s all about you. Bee This photo of a busy bee on a sunflower was taken last summer by Debbie Moore from the Calico Rock area.
Too Tempting While we normally share only photos of Arkansas nature or wildlife, we couldn’t hold back on this cutie! Titled “Too Tempting,” this photo belongs to Ursula Peternell who was enjoying the great outdoors in a local park with her family.
Submit your own photos at onlyinark.com/photos
ARKANSASWILD.COM | 15
IN THE SHADOW OF GIANTS ARKANSAS’S BOXLEY VALLEY BY DWAIN HEBDA
Boxley Valley’s star attractions pose for the camera.
16 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
ARKANSAS GAME AND FISH COMMISION
ne of the really great things about Arkansas is its diversity of landscape. Anyone who lives here knows the unique ability we enjoy to eat breakfast in the southern swamps, lunch in the pancake-flat Delta and have supper in the mountains. We’re spoiled, really, to how special The Natural State actually is. One trip to Boxley Valley changes all that. I’d heard tales about the grand valley and its diversity of outdoor beauty for years yet somehow never got the chance to head up there in person. But with fall coming on, bringing with it the prime of elk-watching season, the time had come. I would finally join the long line of pilgrims to this hallowed spot, and pointed the truck to Ponca. Let me tell you something about Ponca, Arkansas. It’s a lot like life in that it hands you many things you don’t expect and getting to the really beautiful stuff often comes only after surviving many trials. So it was as I exited Interstate 40 at Lamar and nosed north on Arkansas Highway 21 at nearby Clarksville. I was little more than 50 miles from my destination, but much was packed into that slice of the breathtaking Ozark National Forest in hairpin turns, piney switchbacks and alpine slalom, none of it tolerating more than about 25-30 miles per hour. To make things even more interesting, the day I chose dawned muggy and gray with an intermittent rain that turned steady in the mountains. In some stretches, a thick veil of fog appeared out of nowhere, reducing visibility to mere yards, disappearing just as quickly. To top it all off, my first stretch of unimpeded straightaway somewhere near Ozone was crowned with a lightning strike that cracked the clouds overhead, lighting them up like a tin ceiling. God knew I was coming and he was laughing his holy head off. Upon arrival, Lauren Cannon suppressed a smile as I relayed my wild ride to her. She grew up around here and never tires of watching first-timers try to regain their land legs after an hour of skating on the mountainside. Many of them, about 12,000 per year in fact, make their way to the modest Elk Education Center, one of a small handful of commercial buildings comprising Ponca’s main drag. Officially, Cannon is facility manager here; unofficially she’s the Elk Lady, one of the state’s leading experts on the valley’s most famous residents. She speaks of the shaggy beasts almost like describing members of a commune or cult or a wintering pack of circus performers, part of the community yet entirely on and of their own. “They can jump those fences just like a deer does,” she said, nodding to the standardissue barbed wire local landowners put up to contain their pasturing cattle herds. “They just hop right over them and they can go anywhere they want. If they want to go up into the mountains or down to the river to get a drink, they go wherever.” Contrary to popular belief, you can view elk in any season here, even in the dead heat of summertime, but such viewing is limited to dawn and dusk when they come to the valley to graze before riding out the heat of the day in shade near the river. For the best, most active viewing, wait until the temperature drops and the leaves set the valley ablaze with color, late September to early October. That’s the rut, breeding season, when the mist-covered valley echoes with eerie bugling, as adult males serenade their harem. Herds number from 20 animals up to 50 and include younger males, each looking to establish himself as the big boy of the valley. Their efforts to steal cows from the larger bull is met with sparring—locking antlers and butting heads to establish dominance. “These antlers can weigh 40 pounds per set” Cannon said, holding up a specimen from the elk center’s collection. It’s the size and diameter of a tree branch. “Can you imagine being strong enough to haul that much weight around all the time?” “They can injure each other, but typically the smaller bull will be like, ‘All right, I get the message, I’m done.’” Timed right, a visit to Boxley Valley yields such easy view of elk, it’s hard to imagine that the scene was empty not that long ago. Eastern elk used to call Arkansas home before ARKANSASWILD.COM | 17
BOXLEY VALLEY 36.0190° N, 93.3574° W Plan your arrival well in advance; with the twisting mountain roads, there’s no quick way to get to Boxley Valley. Don’t take chances on things like gas, either; services are few and far between out here. Elk viewing is best right around dawn and dusk. Fall and winter, the beasts may linger a bit in the valley versus the summertime. Under normal conditions, their appearance is as regular as clockwork. Viewing areas are set along Highways 43 and 21. Look for the extra strip of pavement along the roadway as the best places to pull over. Take extreme precautions against distracted driving; it’s nearly unfathomable that someone would text and drive up here, but the scenery is equally attention-grabbing. The elk pastures are not public land; the land residing either in private hands or leased to the landowner by the National Park Service. Therefore, respect property rights by not blocking gates or hopping the fence. Before or after your elk experience, you’ll find plenty of natural attractions nearby, including the Buffalo River, zip lines and miles of trails. There’s also a special place in hell for those who litter up here, so leave no trace.
18 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS, HERITAGE AND TOURISM
The elk aren’t the only things of beauty up here; Ponca is breathtaking from any angle.
ARKANSAS GAME AND FISH COMMISION
A prize Boxley Valley bull.
overhunting wiped them out of the state and by the 1840s, the species disappeared into extinction altogether. Efforts to repopulate this ancestral home resulted in 112 Rocky Mountain elk being relocated from Nebraska and Colorado between 1981 and 1985 to great success. Today, Boxley Valley elk number nearly 600 head. The elk have no natural predators here, save the stray calf getting picked off by some coyotes every now and then. Public elk hunting is strictly controlled by a lottery drawing every year with other guidelines for private landowners on their own property. Thus, the 600- to 800-pound adults and their young aren’t exactly timid about the throngs of people who come here annually. This gives tourists close-up vantages in designated viewing areas along the highway, views that also come with a warning. “They’re used to [tourists]. They don’t care,” Cannon said. “They’re very used to the traffic noise and the people standing there taking pictures of them. One could cross the road right in front of your vehicle. “I always tell people, don’t get too brave because during rut, you never know what a large bull’s going to do.” If there’s one thing that upstages the regal beasts, it’s the setting itself. Simply put, there is no place like it in all of North America, let alone the lower 48 states. Here, tree-studded bluffs soar to the sky and pastoral farmland, speckled with 150-year-old farmhouses and wizened barns, carpet the valley in this, Arkansas’s grandest natural site. It’s the secret garden of giants, a mystical opera house of granite and timber, swaddled in clouds. It’s more than the mind can hold at once, which is why a part of me is still up there, jaw slack, awestruck, beckoning my return.
Lauren Cannon shows off an antler at the Elk Center in Ponca.
AGFC CENTERS BACK OPEN FOR BUSINESS
The Elk Education Center is one of many nature and education centers back open to visitors after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. These attractions are an excellent way for families to learn about the outdoors, be it on a weekend trip or as a home school field trip. “We have changed our hours of operation a little bit,” said Eric Maynard, Education Division assistant chief for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which operates the centers. “We’re open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You do have to wear a mask. In some of the centers you may see less of the little touchy-feely, smaller things that kids play with. They’re harder to clean, so for their safety we’ve taken that out.” Maynard said scaled-back versions of some of the interpreter programs are back on as well. And some centers will also check out canoes and fishing tackle to let guests enjoy nearby water. These amenities vary by location so check the individual center’s website for latest information before you go. “In Pine Bluff, it’s open back up after over a year of being closed because of the flood. So, the aquarium is back up and full of water and has fish in it and we moved the eagle exhibit and the other birds,” Maynard said. “A lot of people don’t realize the number of live animals that we keep at a lot of the nature centers. If you’re out in other parts of the state not close to the zoo and you want to go experience a little bitty zoo, we have a number of native animals. And, we do public feedings so, depending on what day and time, you might get to go see an alligator getting fed or snakes getting fed, that kind of stuff.” Learn more about the AGFC centers around the state at www.agfc.com/en/explore-outdoors/natureand-education-centers. ARKANSASWILD.COM | 19
HOW CAN HUNTERS HELP MANAGE CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE? Make Sure You Test
Since the detection of CWD in 2016, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has been working to determine the prevalence of the disease across the state. Hunters are the crucial component to implementing our detection and management strategies. Hunters can aid AGFC’s CWD management most by testing their harvested animals, avoiding hunting techniques that congregate deer such as baiting, and following the recommended guidelines for carcass movement and disposal.
To find a FREE AGFC CWD testing site or for more information on best practices for CWD,
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is bringing the Nature Center to your fingertips with their new virtual nature center. Explore wildlife, recipes, crafts and more at the click of a button! agfcnaturecenter.com
HITTING THE HIDDEN ROADS FAYETTEVILLE SERVES AS BASE CAMP FOR NWA SCENIC RIDES
In a state full of great rides, Northwest Arkansas is the undisputed king for motorcycle enthusiasts.
22 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
ff the beaten path, on the roads less traveled, is where one finds nature in The Natural State. It’s one of the great reasons to live here, and why so many people visit Arkansas: the abundance of outdoor beauty. And, while it’s certainly found all over the state, the views around Fayetteville are some of the most intoxicating in the country. Getting out into nature is always preferred, but it’s also nice to cruise around by motorcycle, allowing yourself to see more and take in as much as possible. And because of all the fun things to do there, Fayetteville is a great place to use as a base camp for a weekend getaway to experience one of the region’s many runs, taking in all its hidden gem attractions along the way. Thanks to the Boston Mountains and Springfield Plateau, physiographic subregions of the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and southwest Missouri, state highways and county roads coming in and out of Fayetteville are chock-full of scenic overviews and valleys that make for unforgettable rides. Brilliant skyline hues during the early morning and at sunset can create seemingly otherworldly scenery, especially when paired with rolling fog common in the Ozarks during the “magic hours.” Idyllic farm pastures, creek and river bottoms and wafts of county aromas, like honeysuckle or freshly baled hay, are part of the experience of riding in this beautiful part of the state. Northwest Arkansas is truly a destination spot for the motorcycle enthusiast. There are many routes in the region for riders of all skill levels and for different bike types. Fall is always a popular time thanks to the changing
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS, HERITAGE AND TOURISM
BY JULIE PENNINGTON
during both the early morning and sunset, especially when paired with rolling fog common in the the
can create seemingly otherworldly scenery.
leaves. But because it’s usually 5-10 degrees cooler in Fayetteville compared to the central part of the state, a trip during even the hottest summer months will be refreshing. If you’re ready for switchbacks, scenic overlooks and unfettered stretches of country roads, here are some tips for a few of our favorite rides on a weekend trip to Fayetteville. Whether you’re alone, with a loved one or the family, it’s sure to be a ride to remember. WHERE TO STAY
Before, between and after rides, you’ll probably want to stretch your legs, and a great place to do that is in Fayetteville’s bustling downtown area. The Graduate Fayetteville is a stylish hotel located right off the Historic Downtown Square, putting so many of the great things to do in Fayetteville within walking distance. Find locally owned restaurants and coffee shops, art, shopping and nightlife. Then again, a nice aspect of Fayetteville is that it isn’t a big city, so you can get anywhere in town from any hotel rather quickly. If you’re wanting to stay on the south, west or north sides of town, based on what rides you’ll be doing, just know all Fayetteville hotels are used to accommodating bikers. Also nearby are more rustic stays such as Devil’s Den State Park and Lake Wedington Recreation Area. Located just a short ride from town, these spots speak to your wild wide and really allow you to soak up the stars at night. WHAT TO DO BETWEEN RIDES
Of course, COVID-19 has changed things temporarily, but Fayetteville still offers plenty to do. The city was the first in the state to enforce a mask law, and with restaurants and businesses adhering to the state mandates and best practices of social distancing, you can feel at ease while away from home. Places with great patios for food include Penguin Ed’s and Sassy’s Red House for barbecue; Powerhouse for seafood; and Farrell’s Lounge for a gastropub. For drinks, try the rooftop at Feed and Folly, toast the road at Crisis Brewing Co. or relax at The Amendment. And here’s something new: The downtown and Dickson Street area now comprise an official entertainment district known as the Outdoor Refreshment Area. This means you can enjoy a drink in hand as you stroll through downtown, taking in all the public art.
OK, down to brass tacks. Here are some great routes in Northwest Arkansas: Pig Trail to Scenic Highway 71 (132 miles) — This is a must-ride for all motorcycle enthusiasts visiting Northwest Arkansas, a legendary route from Fayetteville southeast to Ozark and back. The rugged and forested Boston Mountains region of the Ozarks provides the setting for the Pig Trail Scenic Byway, which often runs through a tunnel of foliage during spring, summer and fall. Officially, the Pig Trail is only a 19-mile stretch, but it’s the most famous ride in Arkansas delivering hairpin switchbacks and breathtaking overlooks. Since the opening of I-49, U.S. 71 has become a renowned route for both bikers and cyclists, since it’s well-kept but low traffic. Directions: From Fayetteville, head east on Arkansas Highway 16 (MLK Blvd.) At Brashears, head south on Arkansas 23 At Ozark, take U.S. 64 west Take U.S. 71 to Fayetteville Fun stops: Turner Bend Store, Artist Point Jasper and Buffalo River (175 miles) — Also taking you through the Ozark National Forest, the ride east from Fayetteville to Jasper takes you through the heart of the Boston Mountains and some of the greatest elevation changes in the state. From Jasper, you will pass through the Upper Buffalo National River near Ponca. This ride also puts you near the iconic Whitaker Point Trail and Hawksbill Crag, the most photographed overlook in the state. Directions: From Fayetteville, head east on Arkansas Highway 16 past Deer Head north on Arkansas 7 to Jasper Head west on Arkansas 74 to Huntsville Take U.S. 412, then Arkansas 45 South to Fayetteville Fun stops: Boxley Valley Historic District, Saddlebock Brewery Devil’s Den to Rudy to Natural Dam (135 miles) — This ride takes you south/southwest from Fayetteville through Devil’s Den State Park, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Arkansas Highway 59 passes through rural Crawford and Washington counties, at times straddling the Oklahoma border and passing over several creeks and rivers. Directions: From Fayetteville, head south on Arkansas Highway 265 (Razorback Road) At Hogeye, head east on Arkansas 156 Before I-49, head south on Arkansas 170 Through the park, take Arkansas 74 east into Winslow Head south on U.S. 71 Take Arkansas 283 west to Rudy, Arkansas 60 north then Arkansas 348 west Take Arkansas 59 north to Dutch Mills Head east on Washington County Road 45 to U.S. 62 east of Lincoln Head east to Fayetteville Fun stops: Ozark Folkways, Natural Dam Falls ARKANSASWILD.COM | 23
24 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
Youngsters tackle a climbing tower at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center outside Little Rock.
BY DWAIN HEBDA
PROGRAMS DRAW KIDS INTO THE OUTDOORS, SPARK LIFELONG PASSION.
COURTESY ARKANSAS COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE
ids today are spending more time in front of their screens than any generation in history, and if that sounds merely like convenient scapegoating of video games and technology, think again. According to information presented by Child Mind Institute, the average American youngster spends 4-7 minutes per day in unstructured play outdoors compared to more than 7 daily hours of screen time. The Mayo Clinic reports excessive screen time contributes to obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems and impaired social skills. Conversely, the outdoors teaches creativity, confidence and lowers stress. Technology isn’t the only impediment to kids discovering nature, however. Overloaded schedules, parental fear over letting kids roam outside and the changing family dynamic of many households have all taken their bite out of outdoor activities. Lack of knowledge about how to do certain activities, perceived lack of access to nature and cost also present barriers to the wild. What many parents don’t realize is how readily available structured activities are that can introduce youngsters to outdoor activities for little or no cost. Arkansas Wild went looking for some of these activities that are turning kids on to the outdoors and spoke to the young people who discovered a passion for the wild many didn’t know they had.
Savannah Watkins, an 18-year-old freshman at ASU-Beebe, gets emotional talking about next year and aging out of 4-H. “It’s basically been my life,” she said. “I’m pretty sure a couple tears will be shed.” Many people equate 4-H solely with raising calves and canning preserves. But what a lot of people don’t realize are the many wildlife and conservation activities the iconic youth club offers. That was what attracted Watkins, then 8, luring her out into the wild. “It was very unusual of me because I was very indoorsy. I did not want to go outside,” she said. “I just didn’t know what to do, basically. I didn’t know how to get started.” After discovering 4-H’s Wildlife Habitat Education Program (WHEP), that all changed. “They talked about how to track a deer, or figure out which animal was there by their scat. That basically opened my eyes and I was like, ‘Wow, I really like doing this.’” 4-H is the youth development program of the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. 4-H programs are available in every county in Arkansas, free of charge. Among many other wildlife programs are managing feed plots and a new pollinator program that’s just getting started. Lauren Baugh, 14, is an ambassador for the pollinator program and has been active in 4-H for three years. She said even in small-town Arkansas, there’s a need for such programs to get kids outdoors. “We live in the middle of nowhere in Wilson [Arkansas] and a lot of kids, just because they think there’s not much to do outside, stay inside,” she said, noting even as someone who’s been outdoorsy her whole life, 4-H has taught her new ways to blend the wild with her other interests. “I think anyone can find something they enjoy to do outside,” she said. “I’m an artist, so I like to go outside every once in a while and draw from nature. There’s so much you can learn outside; I think if kids were to find or apply their talents to the outdoors, they would probably go out more.”
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Conservation groups are a great way to expose young people to the outdoors and every one of them has a place for youth to participate. That’s what happened to Rebecca Morse, who as a sophomore at Cabot High School discovered the Arkansas Game and Fish Commision’s Stream Team, available statewide. “We did water testing every year on a local creek,” she said. “We had a lot of guest speakers from Game and Fish and I helped raise money for hydration stations, the refillable water stations throughout the high school. We made recycling bins available in every classroom.” Now a freshman at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Morse said groups like Stream Team help kids overcome the fear of the outdoors. “A lot of people are too busy on their phones or playing video games that they think they don’t need to go outside,” she said. “Another thing is, helicopter parents inject fear into their kids so they don’t really want to go outside. They’re too scared to go out on their own adventure.” Michael Schraeder Jr., also studying at Arkansas Tech, found multiple opportunities to participate with conservation groups growing up, including Trout Unlimited, AGFC Stream Team and Ducks Unlimited. He said getting involved in conservation is an important part of enjoying outdoor activities. “It’s important that conservation practices are shown, especially for young people that are going out and fishing on the river,” he said. “As much of an outdoor area as [my hometown] Mountain Home is, you’d think there would be more education on stuff like that, but there’s really not.” The 20-year-old also said the barriers to the outdoors for young adults mirror that of children and youth. “One thing that really excites people the most [about an activity] is actually getting to go out and do it,” he said. “Some of the guys I live with don’t really know a whole lot about fly-fishing but I’ve The trail isto marked the way them for visitors. talked them with overblue timesigns andpointing it has excited enough that now they’re interested in it.”
COURTESY MICAHEL SCHRAEDER JR./COURTESY LYON COLLEGE
Michael Schraeder Jr., a junior at Arkansas Tech, honed his love for the outdoors through conservation groups Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited.
Members of Lyon College’s LEAP program learn new outdoor activities from rock climbing to paddle boards and kayaks.
COLLEGE ADVENTURE CLUBS
Sarah Darnell arrived on campus last year expecting new experiences. Paddle boarding wasn’t, however, foremost in her mind. “I didn’t really do a whole lot outdoors as a kid,” said the North Little Rock native. “I went camping a few times when I was really little, but I don’t remember it. My family does fishing and hunting, but I never really did that.” Arriving at Lyon College in Batesville, she saw posters advertising outdoor excursions by the Lyon Education and Adventure Program (LEAP) and decided to sign up. “The first one, we went to Heber Springs for a lake day,” she said. “I didn’t know how to stand up on a paddle board, I think I fell three or four times before I was even able to get my feet under me. Then I tried to start moving and that was also a mess. But it was really fun.” LEAP is one of a number of programs at Arkansas colleges giving students the opportunity to experience outdoor activities and making equipment available at little or no rental cost for students to enjoy their newfound pastime. Darnell said it’s just the ticket for turning young people on to the wild. “It’s not that we don’t want to, we just don’t have the confidence to try things,” she said. “Where I’m from, it’s a fairly big city and ... if you don’t know how to do these other things, there’s nobody to guide you to go outside and try it.” By the end of that first day, Darnell had a working aptitude for paddle boarding and has since taken on other outdoor adventures from snowboarding to kayaking. She’d like to see outreach programs like LEAP offered through Arkansas high schools. “[In high school,] there were no adults that had this experience and would teach you how to do it,” she said. “Someone to help you figure this stuff out without judgment. That would have helped me a lot in high school. I definitely would have taken advantage of that, and I know a lot of other people who would have as well.”
“Where I’m from, it’s a fairly big city and ... if you don’t know how to do these other things, there’s nobody to guide you to go outside and try it.”
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Hot Springs Lakeside School District’s fishing club pairs more experienced members with youngsters, beginners and children with special needs to spark a lifelong love of fishing.
28 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
Kanon Goss had been taken fishing by his father and grandfather from an early age. And thanks to the fishing club in the Lakeside School District in Hot Springs, of which he is president, he’s had the chance to share his love of fishing with kids as young as kindergarteners. That, in turn, is developing an entire generation of anglers who otherwise might not have discovered the activity at all. “A lot of new kids that come into the club, some of them have never touched a fishing pole and some of them have been slightly introduced,” said the 15-year-old. “We get kids on all different skill levels and that’s what the club does. We take all kids and try to really enhance their ability to learn all about fishing and try to help them in all ways possible.” The club meets monthly to include a speaker and a skills presentation. The group boasts a roster of nearly 60 kids and in the pre-COVID-19 era, included community service, club tournaments and other events, which paired more experienced anglers with beginners. Those looking for competition have the option of joining the school’s fishing team. Christy Culbreath, Lakeside teacher and club sponsor, said while the program isn’t funded by the school, it has a low entry barrier thanks to generous sponsors and supportive parents. “We do ask for a $10 donation but it’s not required,” she said. “A few of our parents will pick up other kids and bring them to the meetings. If they don’t have a rod and reel, we’ll get them one. We’ve had one of our sponsors donate a bunch of rods, so we have those things that we can provide for our kids.” One unique element for the club is Fishing with Friends, which pairs club members with special needs kids. “We take them out to a stocked Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fishing pond,” Goss said. “Game and Fish provides rods and reels and bait. We bring snacks and water and beverages. The pond’s great and it’s stocked really well. They catch a bunch of fish. It’s super fun and they love it and we love it.” Goss said if more schools offered this type of activity it would go a long way toward turning kids on to the outdoors. “Go to the school board and try to convince them,” he said. “It really is such a great program. It’s a getaway for kids that are really having a tough time in school. There have been kids that just, kind of, came in and were not really that into it. And now they’re just eatin’ it up. They can’t get enough of it.”
COURTESY OF CHRISTY CULBREATH
SCHOOL-BASED FISHING CLUBS
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For safe, wholesome family fun, you still can’t beat Arkansas’s great outdoors.
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Hiking lets families slow down and rediscover the simpler things in life.
32 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
ore than virtually any other year in memory, 2020 will go down as the one that closed America. Your neighborhood movie theater, your favorite restaurant, even your school or your place of worship, nothing was beyond the grasp of the frightening and mysterious coronavirus that landed in Arkansas in March. And as spring turned to summer and summer to fall, we learned to dance with this new devil wearing masks, practicing the finer points of social distancing and hanging on until something approaching normalcy appeared. That normalcy has been slow in coming. From drive-through graduations and parking-lot church services to Zoom offices, many creative workarounds have been developed. But few of them fool us into thinking they’re the real thing. Nerves were rattled with the news that we entered September having topped 60,000 cases, further proof that the heat of summer, once touted as the break we were looking for, did nothing to slow the virus after all. Families settled into another school year, but again, unlike any on record as a good chunk of kids stayed home to learn online. And the usual diversions— sports, movies and the like—sputtered at best if they happened at all. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s how to simplify and reconnect. All the things that used to dominate our schedules— that we elevated to such lofty importance—are suddenly gone, canceled or postponed, replaced by things much more foundational to family life. Sure, we’ve leaned on technology, but also on the dinner table, as we made connections of a different sort, the analog conversation, reminiscent of a simpler time. Throughout, the great outdoors remained steadfast. Our state and national parks maybe took a brief hiatus, taking with them our wonderful Nature Centers, but the wilds don’t ever close, not really. The rivers keep rolling, the fish keep biting and the trails still beckon. Even amid COVID-19, the sun broke over majestic Mts. Petit Jean, Pinnacle and Magazine, creeks gurgled, pines stood tall. Now, as we find ourselves in one of the most brilliant times of the year, families are looking out their back doors for a way to connect and recreate together, safely. Below we offer some tried-and-true suggestions for a fall weekend. The usual rules apply to pretty much all of them, so we’ll say it once: Wear a mask, wash your hands, keep six feet between yourself and others, limit how far you travel and if you don’t feel well, don’t go.
There’s never been a better time to discover the joys of family camping than right now. Popular camping website The Dyrt reports web traffic up 400 percent from 2019 and Kampgrounds of America (KOA) says 20 percent of its visitors are first-timers. Arkansas, being blessed with an embarrassment of camping riches, falls nicely into this niche. As of press time, all Arkansas state park campsites are open (www. arkansasstateparks.com); in fact, most other amenities at the state parks are too, although some might require reservations or are operating at reduced capacity. Established campgrounds in national parks (www.nps. gov), such as the Ozark-St. Francis and Ouachita forests have yet to be reopened. Of course, things can change quickly, so it’s always a good idea to check the status of a site before you go. Some tips for those wanting to get in on this activity for the first time include seeking camping sites closer to home and planning for off-peak times. As for equipment, many things come in handy on a camping trip, but there’s also a fine line between equipped and cluttered. Use the handy checklist by gearjunkie.com as a guide (gearjunkie.com/campingchecklist-essentials). Remember, you need to stay safe in ways beyond COVID-19. Maintain caution with campfires, observe all burn bans or restrictions and doubleARKANSASWILD.COM | 33
Make short work of campsite chores by assigning age-appropriate tasks. Chopping wood, tending the campfire and cooking dinner are ways everyone can contribute.
douse your campfire with water, mixing in dirt or sand with a stick between pours until the firesite is cool to the touch. Let people know where you’ll be on your adventure and when you plan to get back. And always cut wildlife a wide berth, enjoying them from a distance.
You can combine your camping trip with other experiences such as hiking, paddling and rock climbing—in fact, that’s kind of the point. Our state parks have miles of great hiking trails that allow families to experience nature, get some exercise and connect. It’s also generally easy to maintain social distancing, particularly if you’re out other than on weekends. And, of course, you can hike without camping out for a nice afternoon’s activity. Some great hikes are: Pinnacle Mountain, Roland (Pulaski County): Multiple trails from paved forest loops to summit hikes are available to accommodate any age and fitness level here, in Little Rock’s backyard. The view from the top is genuinely breathtaking. Whitaker Point, Kingston (Madison County): One of the most beautiful trails in Arkansas, this well-maintained route includes the iconic Hawksbill Crag that overlooks the Buffalo River valley. Use discretion when bringing very young family members. Yellow Rock, West Fork (Washington County): Take in the splendor of Devil’s Den with this 3-mile loop that affords plenty of scenery and fresh air. Ascending 300 feet in elevation will give you a good night’s sleep, too. Rim Trail at Mount Nebo, Dardanelle (Yell County): Encircling the mountaintop, the Rim Trail connects to all of the park’s 14 miles of trail. Dating back to the 1890s, the route was fully developed in the 1930s, and offers spectacular views over 100 miles of the Arkansas River Valley. 34 | Arkansas Wild SEPTEMBER 2020
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CANOE, COOK, CHILL
Unplugged activities like reading, card play and the lost art of conversation make memories in the woods.
A family outing in the wild can be as active or as lazy as you want. Paddling is fun, provides good exercise and built-in social distancing. Kayaks and canoes are the rage right now and donâ€™t take a lot of expertise to handle on most slow-moving rivers or lakes. Just be sure everyone in the boat is wearing a personal flotation device (PFD, or life jacket). Visit the Arkansas Canoe Club at arkansascanoeclub.com for more advice for beginners or to find out about classes in your area. Campfire cooking is another unique experience to be enjoyed in the wild. It can be as primitive as hot dogs or sâ€™mores on a stick or as fancy as your imagination and expertise allows. Find kid-friendly recipes at 50campfires.com. And what would a trip to the Arkansas woods in the fall be without some hammock time? New designs are more comfortable and easier to set up than ever, but there are safety rules every parent should follow to make sure kids are using the hammock properly. Visit hammockuniverse.com for the lowdown on these guidelines, then grab a book and get ready to relax.
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THE PLACE TO STAY & PLAY THIS FALL...
If you are looking for a rustic retreat near the Buffalo National River at Tyler Bend, look no further than Bear Creek Log Cabins. There are five cabins scattered over hundreds of acres, all with access to the fishing holes of Bear Creek—a tributary to the Buffalo—right on the property. The ranch is about five minutes south of Middle Buffalo access areas and the Ozark Highland Trail, but you will also find plenty of trails right on the Bear Creek property for hiking, biking or ATV use. It is a photographer’s paradise, with sweeping views of the buttresses that line the creek and wildlife on every adventure. The nearby private Lake House property, with a 22acre stocked lake with dock and fishing boat right out the back door, is also a favorite location for all ages. The spacious cabins feature native rock fireplaces, outdoor fire pits, charcoal grills, full kitchens, linens, flat screen tvs with satellite reception (including SEC and ESPN channels), wi-fi and heat/air that will accommodate up to 48 guests. Bear Creek is open year-around, offers hunting in season, and is pet-friendly. Special winter discount rates are available in January and February. Bear Creek Log Cabins will quickly become your go-to getaway destination.
BEAR CREEK LOG CABINS
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Fall Family Fun How to get kids into the wild PLUS! HUNTING GEAR Boxley Valley Elk The Next Generation