Preserving the Ouachitas
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.