Pre­serv­ing the Oua­chi­tas

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story and Pho­tos by CORBET DEARY

H

ere in Arkansas, we are blessed with mil­lions of acres of beau­ti­ful forest­lands and pris­tine wa­ters. The Ozarks sport jagged sub­strate pro­duc­ing blufflines and crys­tal clear streams. The Arkansas flows through the River Val­ley sec­tion of the state, pro­vid­ing out­door en­thu­si­asts with an en­vi­ron­ment to­tally dif­fer­ent from that of the moun­tain­ous re­gion to the north. The Delta is sit­u­ated in the flat­lands, where the soil is fer­tile and swamp-like con­di­tions pre­vail. And here in the Oua­chi­tas, we have the cream of the crop - in­cred­i­ble scenery, moun­tain-fed streams and rivers and some of the most im­pres­sive reser­voirs through­out the en­tire state.

It’s easy to take what we have for granted when one can lit­er­ally step out their back door into such a boun­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, the out­doors are no dif­fer­ent from any­thing else in the sense that if we don’t care for it, it will suf­fer.

I can re­call re­cently hik­ing into a wa­ter­fall lo­cated in the Flat­side Wilder­ness Area of the Oua­chi­tas. I was ap­palled at what I found. Beer cans were strewn along the shore­line, dirty di­a­pers lie in the creek just above the large pool of wa­ter and a par­tially burned bread wrap­per had melted to the rocks in a fire-ring that had been built within a few feet of the shore­line.

The con­di­tion this pris­tine spot had been left in was atro­cious, and in­ex­cus­able. It made no sense. Who­ever had left the falls in sham­bles ob­vi­ously had the gump­tion to carry in what they con­sid­ered as ne­ces­si­ties, but they weren’t re­spon­si­ble enough to carry it out.

I can say with con­fi­dence that most people who sa­vor their time in the out­doors aren’t apt to leave their des­ti­na­tions clut­tered. But with a grow­ing num­ber of people uti­liz­ing the out­doors, in­ci­dents like the one I re­cently hap­pened upon are likely to in­crease. Al­though it might be un­in­ten­tional and hope­fully not to this mag­ni­tude, the po­ten­tial is there.

For­tu­nately, there are a lot of steps we can take to en­sure our forests and wa­ter­ways re­main healthy and boun­ti­ful. It is es­sen­tial that we fol­low these guide­lines each and ev­ery time we step out­doors.

First and fore­most, if we pack it in, we need to pack it out. Even if we aren’t car­ry­ing any­thing with the po­ten­tial of be­com­ing trash, it’s a good idea to keep a small plas­tic bag in our pocket at all times. I’ll likely be the first in a crowd to grow dis­grun­tled about pick­ing up af­ter an ir­re­spon­si­ble per­son, but it’s ac­tu­ally some­what re­ward­ing to leave the out­doors cleaner than one found it.

Many pre­fer re­turn­ing home af­ter an

out­ing, but those of us who em­bark upon ex­tended stays are even more prone to dam­age the for­est. It is only nat­u­ral to choose a camp­site within close prox­im­ity of the wa­ter. How­ever, it is also es­sen­tial to un­der­stand that our creeks and rivers pro­duce a very in­tri­cate and frag­ile ecosys­tem.

Many of the plants and an­i­mals liv­ing within feet of our wa­ter­ways are de­pen­dent upon a very spe­cific habi­tat. Even though not as con­ve­nient as be­ing a few feet from the wa­ter, we should strive to pitch our tents at least a few hun­dred feet from our wa­ter­ways.

Even those of us who are not pitch­ing a tent for the night should be aware of the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing the for­est floor. There are sec­tions of the for­est, al­though not in close vicin­ity to ri­par­ian ar­eas, also pro­duc­ing a del­i­cate en­vi­ron­ment.

There are many hardy plants through­out the state, ap­par­ently ca­pa­ble of grow­ing just about any­where. But there are also species that are de­pen­dent upon dis­crete ter­rain and con­di­tions. There are ac­tu­ally species that are ex­tremely rare and can only be found in a few coun­ties. And the known colonies of these plants are some­times sparse.

We should al­ways be mind­ful of where we step. Plants are not the only thing that could po­ten­tially be ad­versely af­fected by heavy foot traf­fic. Those who spend much time on des­ig­nated trails, es­pe­cially routes sport­ing switch­backs, have likely seen the re­sults of cut­ting cor­ners and head­ing steeply down the hill to a sec­tion of the beaten path be­low. If enough people choose to save a few steps and take the same de­tour, it re­sults in ero­sion.

Al­though a ma­jor­ity of our trails me­an­der through lands owned and main­tained by the United States govern­ment or other agencies, that is no in­di­ca­tion they are solely re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing them. Here in Arkansas, we have been blessed with in­cred­i­ble scenery and a plethora of out­door op­por­tu­ni­ties. And we should strive to pro­vide re­spon­si­ble stew­ard­ship to our state’s great­est nat­u­ral re­source, if for no other rea­son, to en­sure our chil­dren and their chil­dren can ex­pe­ri­ence spend­ing time amongst Mother Na­ture as well.

Some plants and an­i­mals through­out Arkansas are de­pen­dent upon a very spe­cific and frag­ile en­vi­ron­ment.

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