Just float

Snorke­l­ing re­veals un­der­wa­ter world of Beaver Lake.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - LAURINDA JOENKS

“There’s no swim­ming re­quired. You can just float.”

Re­bekah Penny, park in­ter­preter for Hobbs State Park — Con­ser­va­tion Area, de­scribed snorke­l­ing as that easy. A se­ri­ous snorke­l­ing hob­by­ist, she leads a se­ries of classes on snorke­l­ing in Beaver Lake.

“[Snorke­l­ing] is just a new way for peo­ple to ex­plore the lake,” Penny con­tin­ued. “You get to ex­plore the hid­den di­ver­sity and take a peek at the ge­ol­ogy un­der water.

“You get to see the lake as few peo­ple have,” she said. “You get to dis­cover the beauty un­der water — and there’s beauty above water, too, so keep your eyes open.”

Al­li­son By­ford and her sons Will, 11, and Walker, 9, met Penny and Dwayne Cul­mer on the af­ter­noon of July 10 at the Rocky Branch Ma­rina. Cul­mer’s sis­ter Deb Cul­mer, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., but with a home in Ben­tonville, joined the snorkel­ers.

Af­ter a short ride in the park’s pon­toon boat cap­tained by Dwayne Cul­mer, the group ar­rived at a pop­u­lar area of the lake known as “Party Cove.”

“It has great rock bluffs,” Penny said. “It’s a nice deep cove, with a flat shore­line. You might see sun­fish and perch. You can see the rock lay­ers un­der­wa­ter. It’s a great time to re­lax.”

Each par­tic­i­pant was pro­vided with a life jacket, a snorkel (which he got to take home) and gog­gles. “It can be disori­ent­ing and chal­leng­ing breath­ing through your mouth (via the snorkel),” Penny pointed out, so par­tic­i­pants tried out their equip­ment dur­ing the boat ride across the lake.

“I want ev­ery­one to be com­fort­able breath­ing through their mask and in their life vest,” she said.

Thus ended the tech­ni­cal in­struc­tion. With boat stopped and tied to a tree, Penny sent the fledg­ling snorkel­ers out.

“Be your own guide,” she said. “We won’t see the same things. Ev­ery­one can have their own ad­ven­ture.”

Penny en­cour­aged snorkel­ers

to fol­low the shore­line, where the water was more shal­low and vis­i­bil­ity bet­ter. The shore­line also of­fered a close look at the lay­ers of lime­stone that build the bluffs of the Ozarks and sev­eral bluff over­hangs for ex­plor­ing. Large holes in the bluffs might in­di­cate the home of a crea­ture, per­haps a mink, Penny spec­u­lated.

With the snorkeler sim­ply float­ing, stay­ing still, var­i­ous types of fish ap­proached. Al­li­son By­ford, who spent the af­ter­noon with her face in the water, re­ported sev­eral schools of fish swim­ming by, which might have been one of many types of bass, buf­falo or shiner. Her sons de­scribed a light green sun­fish with red stripes.

Penny pro­vided lam­i­nated pic­tures of fish found in Beaver Lake and helped with the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the longear sun­fish, a type of bream.

Al­li­son By­ford re­ported this was her first snorke­l­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and that she will do it again. Pre­vi­ously, her fam­ily had par­tic­i­pated in a kayak­ing class of­fered by the park, and now they own craft of their own.

“I love be­ing out­side,” By­ford said. “It was my first time look­ing un­der­wa­ter — any­where.”

She noted the bluffs that con­tin­ued from the shore of the lake un­der­wa­ter. “I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand the ter­rain be­fore. There were some re­ally deep drop-offs.”

By­ford also ad­mit­ted she is not a great swim­mer, so the ac­tiv­ity level of the class was per­fect. Her

sons, on the other hand, had the skills of young­sters who have spent many sum­mer days in the water. They viewed the un­der­wa­ter world for awhile, then just en­joyed the time play­ing in the water.

By­ford said that even if her sons didn’t know how to swim, she would feel com­fort­able with them par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram.

“Safety is al­ways of ut­most im­por­tance,” Penny said. “It is key to a good time! That is why we prac­tice with the snorkel and mask be­fore ven­tur­ing off.”

Penny wore a bright, neon-yel­low T-shirt un­der her life pre­server, “to be vis­i­ble if any­one needs me or if a

boat is headed our way,” she said. “We also chose a quiet cove, so there will be less boat traf­fic.”

As the group swam

across the cove to view for­ma­tions, Penny po­si­tioned her­self be­tween the snorkel­ers and the rest of the lake in case a boat ar­rived. One did, with no dan­ger to the snorkel­ers.

“We also limit the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants to en­sure that we ‘can keep an eye on ev­ery­one,’” Penny said. She kept close watch of all par­tic­i­pants, and as the By­ford boys played, she was al­ways near.

Deb Cul­mer, who has snorkeled in many places around the world, couldn’t see much in Beaver Lake with­out her pre­scrip­tion gog­gles. She took the park’s off, but stayed in the water with the others.

She said she wasn’t dis­ap­pointed. “I just love be­ing in the water and be­ing in the lake.”

NWA DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF

Al­li­son By­ford of Spring­dale (from left) and her sons Walker By­ford, 9, and Will By­ford, 11, lis­ten as Re­bekah Penny, in­ter­preter at Hobbs State Park — Con­ser­va­tion Area, ex­plains how to use a snorkel July 10, as a snorke­l­ing class of­fered by the park heads out onto Beaver Lake from Rocky Branch Ma­rina.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF

Will By­ford searches for life un­der the water of Beaver Lake. The lime­stone bluffs of the Ozark shore­line con­tinue un­der­wa­ter, in many places pro­vid­ing over­hang­ing shel­ters for ex­plor­ing.

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