The morning we left Hot Springs National Park, we made a quick decision to take the long way to Bentonville and drive past the Buffalo National River. The drive through the backroads was beautiful, and we were rewarded with an empty campground at Tyler Bend. We were startled to discover that we had great Verizon, and started asking ourselves how long we could manage to stay.
After the fairly crowded campground at Hot Springs, we really appreciated the space we had to enjoy. We found our way to the river and explored a small section our first evening there.
The kids worked on a Junior Ranger Badge the next morning, and we found a short hike to enjoy as well. With time in Texas still on our mind, we were blown away by the beauty of the hills and the river. We very quickly began to wonder if there was a reasonable way to get ourselves onto the river.
While Junior Rangering, Jess discovered a service project had been organized for the very next day with the intent of cleaning up a 7 mile section of the Buffalo River’s 150 miles. Despite an expired reservation date, we called and were accepted into the project.
We left that evening after only one night in our empty campground and headed upriver to the Ozark Campground. Our project started at Pruitt Landing (just a few road miles away) and we wanted to be situated close for convenience. The ranger assured us that we would have no trouble pulling a 28ft Airstream down the gravel road into Ozark.
The ranger didn’t happen to mention that the highway to the campground was under serious construction, and that the steep gravel entrance road would present a 4 wheel drive worthy challenge. After cresting the summit we briefly re-evaluated our lives, and somehow decided to continue down the hill to the campground. We encountered similarly steep grades as we crept down the road and miraculously didn’t meet any cars on the narrow road.
We really should have taken pictures of our entertaining experience, but we were focused on remaining alive. We did make it into the campground fine (and back out two nights later), but I would not recommend this campground with a similar rig unless you REALLY wanted to stay right there and have sufficient intestinal fortitude.
Anyway, back to the project…
We left the Airstream at the Ozark campground and arrived at Pruitt Launch with suitable clothes, sandals, and water, snacks, and lunch. A local canoe outfitter was generous enough to supply canoes, vests, and paddles for volunteers, and we spread ourselves between two of them. After some short instruction, the group headed off down the river.
We were immediately struck with the incredible beauty of this river. As we slowly scanned the riverbanks for garbage, we had plenty of time to appreciate the views.
About halfway down our planned section, we made a stop for lunch at the convergence of the Little Buffalo. Happy to be out of the boats, the kids stacked some rocks, swam a bit, and ate our packed lunch.
We spent some lunchtime getting to know some of the other volunteers. Nearly all of them lived in the immediate area and frequented the river. The group was mostly older couples, and they welcomed our young family with three kids.
We also dropped off some of the larger trash items we had collected. At this point, that consisted of a collection of car tires, a smashed steel drum, and an old metal kitchen stove. One of the locals planned to come in by land with an ATV to haul that out. Emptying our canoes turned out to be a good idea, as the second half of our trip filled our canoes back up with newly removed garbage.
Rachel and I gained the honor of paddling this huge semi-truck tire out. Spotted by Cara, this tire was embedded in the rocks and gravel on the riverbank, and even had some roots growing through it. We dug it out, and wrestled it onto the canoe. It was filled with rocks and gravel, but I managed to empty most of that out during a portage just downstream.
Along with the big stuff, we picked up plenty of smaller trash. Most of this was picked off the riverbanks, stuck in bushes and trees. We were appalled at how much garbage there was, and asked the locals about it.
A little of the trash was from river travelers, but the bulk of the larger garbage was the result of local flooding that washed things out of yards and down river. In spite of all the garbage we picked up, don’t get the idea that the river was a garbage heap. It was beautiful, and finding trash really took a sharp eye.
By the time we reached our takeout at Hasty, we were only half done with the job. We had to carry all the tires and garbage up the steep bank to the parking lot. The picture below on the right was our garbage haul (with our one huge truck tire), and the picture on the left is a picture of just SOME of the tires from our group. By the time we had it all hauled up and loaded onto the truck, the pile was shockingly huge.
The service project done, we shuttled cars and then made our way to the Ozark Cafe in Jasper for some well earned burgers and milkshakes.
Service opportunities are difficult to find while traveling full time, so we like to take advantage of them while we can This experience turned the Buffalo River into one of our all time favorite places, and we are already scheming how we can go back and paddle more of it!