Photo above: Ozark Depression Era mountaineer, 1935, Ben Shahn, U.S. Resettlement Administration. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo right: Buffalo River scene from above. Courtesy National Park Service.
Buffalo National River
It winds its way for one hundred and thirty-five miles through what, since 1972, is known as the first national river. Yes, it flows for more miles than that outside the park borders, but the Buffalo National River and that designation, cemented the idea that the Buffalo River in northwest Arkansas would became one of the few undammed waterways in the lower forty-eight states. It now provides recreation of the wet and hike kind amidst the natural flow of the water and history of the various periods of man residence from the prehistoric through the depression and today.
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Buffalo National River Then
The history of the river includes prehistoric, Indian heritage, and European settlement history. Prehistoric artifacts have been found, indicating human settlement as far back as 10,000 BC. Once European settlement found its way into the heartland of the America's, they bypassed the Buffalo River region for centuries, focusing their attention on the Mississippi River and Arkansas River intead. Records of settlement did not begin, at least in earnest, until after the Osage were removed from the area in 1818. After the Osage were removed, there were periods of settlement from both Europeans, the Cherokee, and the Shawnee.
White settlement started to take root in the late 1820's, first in the bottomlands where the land was fertile. After the Civil War, new settlers claimed land using the Homestead Act along the river valleys and mountains.
Although we don't think of the Ozarks as a bedrock for Civil War conflict, with the exception of major conflict just north of the Buffalo River at Wilson's Creek, Missouri, a variety of conflicts in the guerilla part of the War Between the States took root in the Ozarks and Buffalo River Valley. They included Union Raids and two battles along Richland Creek in 1864.
Civilian Conservation Corps - By May of 1938, Buffalo Point State Park had a CCC camp. Over the next seven years, the Corps built roads, lodges, cabins, and pavilions. These were later rented by the Arkansas State Park system until the National River was designated a national park unit in 1972.
Photo above: Ozarks Homestead, 1935, Ben Shahn, U.S. Resettlement Administration. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Indian Rockhouse and bluff shelter at Buffalo Point. Courtesy National Park Service.
Buffalo National River Now
The Buffalo National River was established as a federal entity, the first national river, on March 1, 1972, ending plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build dams on the river.
Today, you can raft along the river and hike up the mountain sides all along the one hundred and thirty-five mile length of the Buffalo National River. There are campgrounds and Visitor Centers to stay at and get oriented from, plus Ranger Programs where you can get wet, or participate in a hike, or learn about the stars. There's also summer concerts held here, too, and while you're walking around, Buffalo National River is home to Arkansas' only elk herd. Look for some of them roaming nearby. Look, don't attempt to touch.
Buffalo National River
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take a float. Whether that's by yourself in your own canoe or kayak, or if you rent one, or if you take a guided tour from a local concessionaire, one of the best ways to see a National River is, of no surprise, to spend time on the river.
2. Take a hike. For those who like to use their feet on terra firma, there are over one hundred miles of hiking trails in the three sections of the park; the Upper, Middle, and Lower Districts. The Lost Valley Trail (2.4 miles roundtrip) in the Upper District takes you into the Ozark Mountains, past an eight foot waterfall, and is near the Boxley Valley Historic District. In the Middle District is the Buffalo River Trail. It's a long one, 11.4 miles one way. In the Lower District, consider taking the Indian Rockhouse Trail. It's 3.5 miles roundtrip and takes you to a cave shelter that's been used for 7,000 years.
3. If you've got the time and the money, stay in one of the Civilian Conservation Corp cabins. It'll not only take you back in time, but be a unique way to spend the night in the woods and near the river.
Photo above: Hiking along the Lost Valley Trail at Buffalo National River. Courtesy National Park Service/T. Fondriest.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Buffalo National River and other National Park T-Shirts and Gifts from the official souvenirs of America's Best History. Great for nature, national park, and heritage history fans.