Let land return to natural state
Irecently attended the “Rollin’ on the River Festival” at Clarendon. Much of the visit was spent at the Clarendon Welcome Center viewing the historic Dayton Bowers photographic exhibit and visiting with several members of the town very knowledgeable in the local history. I found we have much in common in our desire to preserve the things we value.
Many things have changed during our lifetimes around Clarendon. Clarendon Beach was once a boon to the local economy. During the summer, hundreds of people visited daily. The sands of this beach were sugar white, the water of the river was clean, greenish-blue and warm. Huge alligator gar, fierce-looking but harmless, were often seen. They are rarely seen now because they cannot tolerate the colder water temperatures caused by dams built on the upper White River.
Much of Clarendon’s economy depended on the river. Hunting, commercial fishing, mussels, button production, and logging were major contributors to the economy. Timber companies owned much of the surrounding bottomlands and logging was a major source of income and jobs. Through the years, as crop prices rose, demand for farm ground increased, and land once covered with beautiful hardwood trees was cleared and converted to farm ground. Much of this land was in low-lying flood plain areas.
I remember seeing bulldozers and excavators piling uprooted stumps of cut timber and seeing the smoke from these piles burning in the bottoms. While this cleared land produced profits at times, frequent flooding from the rivers made farming risky and crops were often lost to the rising waters of the Cache and White rivers. The effect of timber clearing and crops planted right up to the river banks contributed greatly to increased erosion and silt runoff, and the waters of the river changed from nearly clear to muddy brown. To help reduce flooding, channelization of the Cache River began in the early 1970s, and so the degradation of what nature took eons to create continued.
As the world changed around us, we began to realize the importance of restoring the natural habitats that remained and the significance of protecting it for future generations. The Cache River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1986 for the purpose of protecting these valuable lands and waters and their wildlife. The mission of “Friends of Cache River National Wildlife Refuge” is to support this conservation effort and to promote the benefits the refuge provides to
On the refuge, the battle to return the land to its natural state continues. In the years since the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge’s formation, over 20,000 acres of flood-prone cropland on this one refuge alone have been reforested.
We have an opportunity at this time to continue restoration of these lands by removing the old, unnatural structures that are disrupting the ecosystem and restoring the floodplain forest to its previous condition. This land, once restored, will benefit Clarendon for generations to come at no cost or financial risk to the city for its care and maintenance, and will be open for all who wish to make use of it.
Along with being advocates for the refuge, we are also advocates for the growth and prosperity of Clarendon. Where we differ with other organizations is their belief that the old bridge and miles of dirt berm and concrete structures on refuge land will be more beneficial to Clarendon than restoring the land to its previous condition. There is every possibility that should these structures remain, they will become more of a financial and legal liability to Clarendon than a future benefit.
Anyone who wants to visit Cache River National Wildlife Refuge can come and enjoy the beauty of restored forest land, thrill to the sounds of migratory birds, catch fish in an oxbow lake, hunt waterfowl as they return to their wintering grounds, paddle on the streams, set trotlines in the river or hunt for that trophy buck. It is our hope that the legacy for Clarendon will be the title of “Gateway City” to the Cache River and White River National Wildlife Refuges rather than the “city with the old bridge.”