On Wednesday, June 9 (2021), the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) will demolish the old Highway 7 bridge at Pruitt in Newton County. This demolition will affect vehicle traffic on Highway 7 and visitor access to this area of Buffalo National River. For the safety of all visitors during the demolition, Buffalo National River will enforce a temporary closure of a safety perimeter around the demolition site. This temporary closure will include the Buffalo River from Ozark to below the Lower Pruitt river access. This closure is a coordinated effort between the National Park Service, ARDOT, the Newton County Sherriff’s Department and the Arkansas State Police.
During the preparation and blasting portions of the demolition on June 9, access to the Buffalo River and the trails and roads within the safety perimeter will be prohibited. Vehicle traffic on Highway 7, County Roads 80 and Pruitt-Yardell will be impacted for approximately one hour during the blasting portion of the demolition. The area will be swept and reviewed for safety concerns after the blast. When cleared, trails, roads and the Lower Pruitt river access will be opened to traffic. After the blast, the Buffalo River within the safety perimeter will be closed up to 24 hours as cleanup procedures are conducted by ARDOT contractors. Bridge debris will be captured on prepared temporary structures above the river.
During the closure, all visitors traveling the upper sections of the river will be required to exit at the Ozark access, to prevent them from entering the demolition area. Access to the river can be reestablished at Hasty or the Lower Pruitt access after the blasting portion of the demolition has occurred. Hikers will be prohibited from entering the safety perimeter. Due to the geography of the area, there will be no staging area from which the public can safely view the demolition. All other recreational opportunities in the park and all other sections of the Buffalo River will remain open.
Construction schedules for a project of this size can fluctuate when they are initiated. These delays and closures may be extended to maintain public safety.
ARDOT and its contractors began preparation work in February 2019 for the replacement of the old Pruitt Bridge. ARDOT determined a new bridge was needed due to the deterioration of the old bridge and its inability to adequately handle existing traffic due to its narrow width. An environmental assessment was completed for the project in 2018. ARDOT consulted with the Arkansas State Historic Preservation Office to properly document the old bridge for the historic record including a mural, historic marker, and brochure. Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler and Crouse Construction Company collaborated to preserve sections of the bridge for public viewing at the Bradley Park in Jasper. Throughout this project, Buffalo National River has worked closely with ARDOT to provide for the safety of park visitors and to protect the environmental integrity of the river.