Buffalo National River Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Buffalo National River Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism marks milestone with new web section.<br>
The Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas is celebrating its 40th anniversary today.

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism is marking the occasion with a new interactive section on its website that's dedicated to the river and its visitors.

The new section (click here) features an interactive map that shows the river and all of its landings, along with GPS coordinates and nearest towns. It also features blogs from the state's travel writers, who will share adventures along the river throughout the coming year.

You can become involved by adding your comments via Facebook, sharing your experiences with other readers. There are also lots of photos of the Buffalo, and a place to share your photos.

The website also includes information on floating the river; where to rent a canoe, kayak or raft; a list of guides and outfitters and handy reference points on finding places to eat and stay.

The National Park Service (NPS) is also recognizing the establishment of the Buffalo National River on March 1, 1972 that ended years of debate, struggle, and uncertainty about the future of this part of the Ozarks. The "Battle for the Buffalo River" as it was called, saw two federal entities in conflict about whether the place would house deep lakes with resort and boating opportunities, or would retain something of its existing nature as a free-flowing river with farms in the bottoms along its 135-mile length. In the end, the latter won out. Dams were not built and the Buffalo continues to flow freely from its source all the way to the White River.

The recognition of the Buffalo as a unique regional and national resource did not, however, mean that the place was frozen in time: families in a three-county area lost their lands and have watched as ancestral farms gave over to cedars, buildings collapsed, and roads closed. The NPS says it recognizes the difficult sacrifice made by these families as a consequence of bringing the Buffalo into the national park system, knowing that their feelings are shared by thousands of other families in numerous other parks throughout the nation. And the NPS also acknowledges the immense responsibility it has towards the best possible stewardship of the lands these families lost to the national interest. That's why the NPS is using the 40th anniversary milestone to reach out to all groups with an interest in the Buffalo to look back and, more importantly, to look ahead.

The park, like the river, does not hold still. Things are always happening, and many of these are invisible to our visitors. There are the elk, channel catfish, smallmouth bass, hunting and fishing regulations, the protection and preservation of historic and archeological resources (such as the Civilian Conservation Corps cabins at Buffalo Point and the Parker-Hickman farm), keeping campgrounds clean, cave protection, stream bank erosion, prescribed and wildfire, feral hogs, water quality, visitor safety, public information and education, working with park neighbors, and forming partnerships to assist the park in meeting their shared goals, to name a few, and not including response to catastrophic events such as ice storms and floods. It is likely that most visitors see a "snapshot" of the park and its operations during their visit, and naturally form an opinion based on that, without any real impression of how hard we work behind the scenes. Local visitors will have a different perception of the park based on years, decades, and perhaps generations of experience.  Neither group, however, is likely to have a deep understanding or appreciation of the management challenges that are behind the scenes of park operations, or the sensitivity that is behind our management decisions.

The NPS says from today's perspective of diminishing budgets, the future could be characterized as "mighty grim." Statistics you may have heard before have staffing cuts between 50% and 60% in all operational areas. The NPS' ability to do "simple things" like clean restrooms and haul trash become more complicated, especially in the face of visitation numbers reaching upwards of 1.5 million per year. But on the positive side of the ledger is the NPS' growing number of partnerships. Partnerships are the means by which private, state, and national entities join with the park to address specific needs of shared interest. The Buffalo National River has more than 40 partnerships that address diverse subjects from wildlife and fisheries management, fire suppression, search and rescue, to education. Even with this assistance, difficult decisions must be made as to where the dollars are spent to keep the Buffalo flowing as it has for centuries.

A new NPS report shows that 1,545,599 visitors in 2010 spent $47,169,000 at Buffalo National River and in communities near the park. That spending supported 671 jobs in the local area.

"The people and the business owners in communities near national parks have always known their economic value," park superintendent Kevin Cheri said. "Buffalo National River is clean, green fuel for the engine that drives our local economy."

Most of the spending/jobs are related to lodging, food, and beverage service (52-percent) followed by other retail (29-percent), entertainment/amusements (10-percent), gas and local transportation (7-percent) and groceries (2-percent).
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