More than 70 contributors to the Buffalo River Foundation’s Roberts Tract Campaign recently gathered at the trailhead on the South Maumee Road to hike two miles of the Buffalo River Trail (BRT).
The hike upriver crossed a tract of land recently purchased by the Buffalo River Foundation. There the group assembled for remarks by Ross Noland, the Foundation’s Director. After recognizing and thanking the many donors (162) to the project, Noland introduced the National River’s recently-appointed Superintendent, Mark Foust, who thanked the Foundation for its accomplishment. After the return hike, many regrouped to the outskirts of Big Flat, Arkansas, for a celebration featuring craft beer by Gravity BrewWorks and music by the Creek Rocks—a perfect way to wrap up a beautiful day.
When Buffalo National River was established by Act of Congress March 1, 1972, a maximum 95,730 acres was authorized to be acquired by donation, purchase or exchange. With the close of the land acquisition era for Buffalo National River, 1972 - 1982, there remained within the boundary 64.13 privately-owned acres in Searcy County, the “Roberts tract,” subject to a scenic easement which barred “the public any right to enter or use the land for any purpose.”
As trail-coordinator Kenneth L. Smith undertook construction of the BRT east of Highway 65 in Searcy County early in the 21st century, it became clear that the Roberts tract was an effective barrier to completion of the BRT. Efforts to acquire a trail easement across it went on for ten years, beginning 2006. In the spring of 2016, Superintendent Kevin Cheri asked the Buffalo River Foundation to pursue acquisition of the Roberts tract. BRF director Ross Noland took up the challenge and has now completed that purchase, clearing the 12-year impasse. In Noland’s words, “Buffalo River Foundation thanks the partner groups that made this project possible. The purchase is a great example of the power of collaborative conservation. The BRF looks forward to working with our new friends and partners in the future to further conserve the Buffalo River watershed.”
The Buffalo River Trail may now be hiked for 28 miles between Highways 65 and 14, as well as the 15 miles between Highway 65 and Richland Valley, much of which is also open to horse-riders. West of Woolum (Richland Valley) the BRT joins the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT), which runs for 165 miles on west to Lake Fort Smith. Together, the OHT/ BRT is a continuous 208 mile-long trail, the second-longest in Arkansas, after the 223 mile-long Ouachita National Recreation Trail. In the future, the OHT may be extended downriver from Dillards Ferry (Highway 14) into the Sylamore District, Ozark National Forest, where the OHT resumes. It is to eventually connect with the Ozark Trail (OT) at the Missouri state line, ultimately making for a long distance bi-state trail of about 800 miles. For now, on the public lands of the Arkansas Ozarks, over 350 miles of hiking trail are described in Tim Ernst’s book, Arkansas Hiking Trails. Kenneth L. Smith’s Buffalo River Handbook (2004) has recently been updated to include a description of the newest 28-mile-long section of the BRT and is now available in various bookstores.