Buffalo River Trail Completion Now Somewhere In Sight
By Ken Smith
“Somewhere in sight”? What does that mean? It means a 28-mile stretch of the Buffalo River Trail that volunteers have been building here in Searcy County during the past seven years could get completed in 2013. Like, sometime next year.
We don’t know exactly when. Or where, or how, that can happen. Next year the volunteers will be joined by the National Park Service’s (NPS) trail crew. Volunteers will continue building trail through isolated country north of Morning Star, moving upriver. The NPS crew will start at U.S. 65 and build trail downriver—toward the volunteers.
So sometime next year we hope, NPS crew and volunteers will meet up. The guys (gals, too) can drive the Golden Spike. The trail will be complete.
The entire trail is located within the Buffalo National River’s park boundary and is called the Buffalo River Trail. Officially it’s the Buffalo River Hiking Trail (though part of it will be open for horseback travel). Also it’s an eastward extension for a long trail—the Ozark Highlands Trail—that from U.S. 65 goes 180 miles farther west. When the new segment in Searcy County is completed, a hiker will be able to hike from Lake Fort Smith State Park all the way to the Highway 14 Bridge in Marion County.
The 28-mile trail segment currently being built will go down the south side of the BuffaloRiver from Highway 65 to Highway 14. There will be public access to the trail at the two highways and along the trail segment where it crosses the Zack Ridge, Red Bluff, South Maumee, and Spring Creek Roads.
Thus the trail is in five parts or segments, from one of these roads to the next. No segment is longer than about six miles. At each road a public trailhead will have parking space and direction signs. Almost everywhere else the trail is located past private property that surrounds the park, with no public access.
The trail is like a little highway, 24 inches wide, very often going across steep hill sides. But the trail itself is designed to avoid any grades steeper than 10%. (That means no more than ten feet up in a hundred feet of trail). Thus it’s designed to make it easier for us old folks. And it’s easier to get to many nice back-country places along the Buffalo.
For those who want big scenery, there are 24 overlook areas where the trail goes across the tops of high bluffs, providing wide views of the river and surrounding hills. There are good side trips. River gravel bars (fish, swim, camp). Historic sites (the old M&NA railroad), and Red Bluff (not red, but impressive).
There are natural curiosities such as Rattlesnake Rock and The Dog’s Head. Nature’s interest is everywhere—in the trees, rock formations, wildflowers, wild animals, and much more. The new trail will be easy to find and use. It can appeal to many kinds of folks—trail-strollers, trail-hikers, trail-runners, and backpackers. Enjoying the trail should be young folks, retirees, and those in between, as well as nature lovers, ladies bird watching, kids curious about everything, and locals hiking to new hunting and fishing spots.
Almost the entire new 28-mile trail segment lies within Searcy County. The last quarter mile of the trail to the highway 14 bridge is in MarionCounty. It’s one more thing that can make SearcyCounty attractive to visitors and provide a positive economic impact locally.
The trail, combined with the county’s other attractions—including historic Gilbert, historic Leslie, floating the Buffalo River, exploring Richland, enjoying scenery everywhere—can help put Searcy County on the “to do” list for people who come and rent cabins, buy fishing tackle, and eat in restaurants. These visitors, then, would not be quickie pass-through tourists. They would be people seeking escape from city noise and clutter. Visitors from Dallas, Memphis, and St. Louis. Yes, SearcyCounty can be well positioned to offer escape.
If visitors find that escape, peace and quiet here, they’ll want to come back and stay longer. Having the trail here can give them one more reason.
Ken Smith, Coordinator of volunteer work on the trail
See more pictures of the Trail work and beautiful sights along the trail below.