In bloom

Wild­flow­ers highlight sum­mer­time trek at Bench Rock Trail.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FLIP PUTTHOFF

It only takes a few steps to guess how one of the pret­ti­est hik­ing trails at Beaver Lake got its name.

Bench Rock Trail dips and curves while fol­low­ing a level stretch of for­est and meadow tucked into a hill­side — a bench in Ozark-speak. Hik­ers tread a path at the edge of a bluff with boul­ders scat­tered hither and yon. They put the rock in Bench Rock.

The trail is an easy 1.1-mile hike at In­dian Creek park on the north side of Beaver Lake not far from the dam. Bench Rock Trail is a fa­vorite of Ge­orge Rig­gin, who led a bevy of Hill ‘N Dale Hik­ing Club mem­bers around the loop on June 8.

It’s more like an oval, a tight oval. The hike starts at a trail­head that is easy to find near the en­trance to In­dian Creek Park, east of Gate­way in north­east Ben­ton County. To reach the park, fol­low U.S. 62 east from Gate­way. Turn south on In­dian Creek Road and go about seven miles to the park.

“This is one of those trails you can do at dif­fer­ent times of year and it looks dif­fer­ent ev­ery time,” Rig­gin said.

The trail sports lush green­ery dur­ing sum­mer. Views of Beaver Lake open up in win­ter dur­ing leaf off.

Bench Rock Trail proved ideal for a warm weather hike. It’s al­most en­tirely in the for­est so it’s shady. The path makes an easy climb at first, then levels off along a bench on top of the bluff. It’s easy walk­ing, but de­mands at­ten­tion. The path hugs the lip of the bluff just steps away from some steep drops.

Fleet­ing views of the lake ap­peared. The rocky realm was scenic. Wild­flow­ers, dozens and dozens of va­ri­eties, made the hike mem­o­rable for much of the group. Some mar­veled they had never seen so many cone­flow­ers on such a short hike.

But­ter­fly weed, in bloom and bright red, daz­zled hik­ers trekking sin­gle file down the trail. But­ter­fly weed is one of the showiest species of milk­weed and of tremen­dous value to a monarch but­ter­fly pop­u­la­tion that is in de­cline, said Alan Bland, park ranger at Beaver Lake with the Army Corps of En­gi­neers.

Bench Rock Trail is pop­u­lar with fans of fly­ing in­sects.

“You see but­ter­flies on it all the time in the spring and sum­mer,” Bland said.

Hik­ers have ad­mired for­est, lake and but­ter­flies here since the 1970s. That’s when

a troop of Boy Scouts carved Bench Rock Trail above and be­low the bluffs at In­dian Creek park, Bland said. Since then, other Scouts have re­fur­bished it so it’s in good shape for hik­ing even af­ter 40 years of feet.

“Scouts do a lot of main­te­nance on our trails,” Bland added. “They keep them clear and re-mark blazes if it’s needed. They re­place signs, or re­fur­bish signs on the trails.”

Help­ful scout troops hail from all ar­eas of North­west Arkansas, he said.

The first one-half mile fol­lows the high road along the bluff. Then the path takes a hard left, heads down­hill and goes back to the trail­head along the bot­tom of the bluff. There’s a bluff shel­ter near the end of the hike that’s worth ex­plor­ing.

From this lower route, it’s not a dif­fi­cult walk down to the wa­ter.

“You could even go down and take a swim.” Bland said.

The nearby lake is one at­trac­tion that makes the corps’ trails at Beaver Lake pop­u­lar for sum­mer hikes. Lost Bridge Trail, the long­est at six miles, is close to a pretty beach a few miles into the walk. Dog­wood Over­look near Beaver Dam is an­other good sum­mer­time trail. So are trails at Rocky Branch and Prairie Creek parks.

“You want to stick to the ones that get some traf­fic,” Bland said. “Some of the lesser used ones might be over­grown.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Hik­ers ex­plore a bluff shel­ter June 8 along the Bench Rock Trail near Beaver Lake at In­dian Creek park. The 1.1-mile ob­long loop me­an­ders through for­est and along bluffs.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Ge­orge Rig­gin (right) leads a group of Hill ‘N Dale Hik­ing Club mem­bers around the trail.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Wild­flow­ers, dozens and dozens of va­ri­eties, bloom through­out sum­mer along the Bench Rock trail. Cone­flow­ers (be­low) are com­mon.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

The trail is al­most en­tirely in the for­est so it’s shady and ideal for a warm weather hike.

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