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AGFC to join Governor Hutchinson for St. Francis Sunken Lands Water Trail dedication

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TRUMANN — Officials from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Trumann Chamber of Commerce and delegates from northeast Arkansas will join Gov. Asa Hutchinson at 10 a.m. May 5 to dedicate the recently completed St. Francis Sunken Lands Water Trail in Poinsett County. The dedication will take place at the Oak Donnick Access adjacent to 11676 Oak Donick Lane in Trumann.

Although the water trail officially opened last fall amid the pandemic, officials are excited to promote the new attraction with a post-pandemic dedication and “first float.”

Kirsten Bartlow, watchable wildlife program coordinator for the AGFC, said the dedication is planned to celebrate the partnership that made the project a reality and to let people know about paddling opportunities beyond famous Arkansas destinations such as the Buffalo River and Kings River.

“We want to remind Arkansans about this great resource that is available to them in Poinsett County,” Bartlow said. “We had a surge of first-time kayak and canoe purchases last year and are still seeing a lot of interest in paddling. Trails like this offer people a chance to get out in their own backyard and enjoy the outdoors with some information and guidance to make the experience even more rewarding.”

St. Francis Sunken Lands Water Trail in Poinsett County takes advantage of the effects of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12 and offers canoe and kayak enthusiasts a rare view of the creatures that call these bottomland hardwoods home. The Sunken Lands were formed when the earthquakes rocked the Mid-South. The seismic activity caused ground along the St. Francis River to drop 6 to 8 feet over an area of about 30 miles. Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee was formed during the same event.

Bartlow credits the St. Francis Lake Association working with Jeremy Brown and Jessica Homan, former St. Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area biologists for the AGFC for making the trail a reality.

“They were the real cheerleaders on this and Jeremy and Jessica did a lot of on-the-ground legwork to make it happen,” Bartlow said. “They’ve wanted to bring more people and attention to their area and have been a big part of its creation.”

The new water trail snakes its way through 10 miles of this area, and three access points offer entry to the trail and have informational signs at the boat launch. The water is relatively calm, with little current unless there has been a recent rain. Paddling is possible both upstream and downstream in the wider portions of the Sunken Lands.

“I would suggest someone visiting for the first time put in at Oak Donnick and paddle upstream, exploring all the cypress swamps and wildlife in the area locals call “the wide water,” then paddle back,” Bartlow said. “There’s a nice little loop they can make where they will see new ground for the entire float.”

Bartlow warns that trail markers are not used once you make it to the St. Francis River, and paddlers should download a special georeferenced map, available at www.agfc.com/en/explore-outdoors/wildlife-viewing/water-trails/st-francis-sunken-lands-water-trail/.

“Download the app ‘Avenza’ and add the St. Francis Sunken Lands, then you can follow the trail using your phone’s location services feature,” Bartlow said. “We have a few water trails and watchable wildlife sites that use this technology, so it’s an app many paddlers will find helpful. The free version of the app allows you to download three maps at time.”

“It’s really an enjoyable float, even in summer,” Bartlow said. “The backwater areas have plenty of shade to stay comfortable, and you’re likely to see a variety of songbirds and wildlife. Prothonotary warblers, yellow-billed cuckoos, and painted buntings are some of the colorful birds that call the area home, not to mention beavers, mink and all sorts of reptiles. Then in winter, the area comes to life with migrating waterfowl. Just be sure to know when waterfowl hunting season is open and be mindful that the area is used by many people for different pursuits.”

Angling is very popular throughout the St. Francis River and is an ideal complement to the float. Bartlow encourages paddlers to get their fishing license and bring along a lightweight rod-and-reel combo and a handful of crappie jigs and small spinnerbaits to take advantage of a little extra fun on their float. Bass, crappie, bream and catfish all make excellent targets in backwater portions of the river

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