It’s not too early to start making plans for 2022, is it?
Let’s hope not, because I’ve loaded up a calendar
2020 and much of 2021 were a bust with COVID-19, so I’ve got some some catching up to do.
Among the things on that calendar is an Ozarks outdoor anniversary not to be missed. Buffalo National River turns 50 years old in 2022.
The bill making the Buffalo a national river was signed on March 1, 1972 — 100 years to the day after the bill creating Yellowstone National Park was signed.
I have always said that timing signaled a national realization: Protecting the best surviving wild rivers in the country was no less important than the decision to protect the country’s best wild places as national parks.
And some of the best surviving wild rivers were in the Ozarks, for reasons having to do with our history and geography. Not only does the Ozarks have bragging rights to some of those first (and best) protected rivers in the nation, but this is the area where some of the ways we went about protecting rivers in the country evolved. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, and mistakes were made as the country developed new ways of creating new parks, but had the preservation efforts not happened, many of the Ozarks’ best rivers, I believe, would have been lost to dams, development, pollution and more.
Orval Faubus, the former governor of Arkansas, was one of those instrumental in saving the Buffalo, and he later had this to say: “It was apparent the area was changing, and with each year, the change was more rapid. The Buffalo, in its natural, beautiful state, as some of us were privileged to know it, could not be preserved by leaving it alone, irregardless of the issue of the dams. Those who believe it could be are or were indulging in a vision as unreal as a mirage to a desert traveler.”
Here are few things that were saved 50 years ago:
• The upper Buffalo has some of the most dramatic scenery in the Midwest, including the oft-photographed Hawksbill Crag and Lost Valley, Hemmed-In Hollow, which is the highest waterfall in the Midwest, and many of the highest bluffs along any river in the country, some towering more than 500 feet over the river.
• The lower Buffalo, with two designated wilderness areas covering more than 60 square miles and with more than 30 miles of river accessible via only one primitive forest road, remains one of the largest and last bits of real wild left in the Midwest.
• There are nearly a dozen places along the length of the river on the National Register of Historic Places, including one of the oldest and best preserved cabins and farmsteads in the Ozarks, a ghost town, and much more.
• It is the Ozarks only certified Dark Sky Park, meaning it is one of the best places to see the night sky.
There will be a lot of events at the Buffalo, and we’ll tell you about some of them in just a bit, but if you want to get to know one of the best rivers in the country, there are only a few ways to do it: Float it, backpack the Buffalo River Trail, and take time to explore its pre-settlement and post-settlement histories.
For 2022, both the National Park Service and Ozark Society (see sidebar), stewards of the river, have announced a series of events.
First up: History weekend, Feb. 26-March 1.
On Saturday, Feb. 25, there will be an oral history/StoryCorps event to collect and archive oral histories from those who have stories to tell about their experiences at the river or around the creation of the National River in 1972. The location has not been announced, but these will certainly be worth a listen.
On that Saturday, Feb. 26, there also will be a talk on the geologic history of the area presented at Buffalo Point on the lower river.
On Sunday, Feb. 27, there will be a presentation at St. Joe High School Auditorium in St. Joe discussing current and historical tribal connections to Buffalo National River.
And on March 1, there will be a Science Symposium held at North Arkansas College including an opening ceremony for the anniversary year, with birthday cake. Cake and an Ozark river — I can’t think of a more enticing combination.
Second: There will be an Arts in the Park event June 9-12.
On Thursday, June 9, there will be a student film fest at the Kenda Drive-in in Marshall, Arkansas.
On Friday, June 10, there will be a folk-story night at the Buffalo Point Campground Amphitheater.
Then, on Saturday, June 11, there will be a Music Festival at Tyler Bend featuring artists demonstrating traditional Ozark music traditions and how the river inspires modern creations.
And finally, on Sunday, June 12, Chinelos Morelenses Unidos en Arkansas, a Mexican American Dance group from Springdale, will perform at Steel Creek and speak about the inspiration they gather from nature and visiting the Buffalo River area.
By the way, among the many artists inspired by the Buffalo River was Missouri’s own Thomas Hart Benton, who painted numerous scenes of the upper and middle river.
Third: In October, there will be a series of events tied to the natural resources of the park.
On Saturday, Oct. 8, there will be “Yoga in the Park” events with yoga instructors at the Steel Creek and the Buffalo Point campgrounds.
That night there also will be a Moon Party at the pavilion at the Tyler Bend campground, a program to view the moon with telescopes and discuss the importance of the night sky.
On Sunday, Oct. 9, there will be a naturalization Ceremony held at the Ozark Campground Pavilion, naturalizing 15 new United Stated Citizens. Many of the men and women who first explore and settle this river were first- or second-generation immigrants.
All of these events, like any float trip or backpacking trip, are subject to weather. Visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/buff and calendar of events for the most up-to-date information, and for other events.