“There are places along the rivers of the Ozarks where large numbers of cattle have the banks eroded, muddy and bare, and every time the river floods, a load of soil and silt is carried from those places to fill the eddies below,” Larry Dablemont wrote last year. “It goes back a hundred years to a time when there was no other way to water stock, when cattle and pigs roamed and then, as their numbers increased, timber was cut and bulldozed along the streams to make more room for grazing.”
Dablemont, who writes lovingly about the Ozarks, is based out of Bolivar, Mo. According to his website, his grandfather “was an old-time river man who trapped, fished, built johnboats and ran a fishing camp. Following in the footsteps of his father and uncles, Larry began guiding fishermen in his grandfather’s johnboats when he was only 13 years old. He loved the outdoors from his early boyhood and began writing about the world he knew when he was in high school.”
Dablemont’s past includes stints as the outdoors editor of the Arkansas Democrat, as a naturalist for the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism and as a naturalist for the National Park Service along the Buffalo National River.
While living in north Arkansas in 1975, he decided to become a freelance writer and has turned out thousands of pieces since then.
Dablemont wrote about a landowner named Jim Hacker who owns about two miles of river frontage along the Pomme de Terre River in southwest Missouri. He described Hacker as a “cattleman who saw there was a better way.”
Dablemont said that because of the steps Hacker took, his “river bottomland, in trees and grasses, is filled with wildlife, not only deer and turkey, but furbearers and rabbits and quail.”
Hacker said: “I have always loved to fish, and my wife and I float the Pomme de Terre as much as possible. I want to see it saved, and I believe it can be because nature is quick to heal itself. The river can recover from much of what we have done if we let it.”
Dablemont noted that there are “hundreds of us who love the rivers who would talk to landowners about conservation programs, and there are landowners like Jim Hacker who will testify to the wisdom and economics in doing what he has done. There are canoe clubs and fishing groups who would join me, I believe, in talking to landowners along our streams about stopping erosion caused by cattle and improving their land.”
Dablemont was writing about Missouri, but he could have been talking about Arkansas, a state blessed with thousands of miles of streams.
It’s an unseasonably warm late February (a welcome relief after the harsh winter of 2011), and our thoughts turn to an early spring. For many Arkansans that means being on the rivers, creeks, bayous and sloughs of the Natural State.
In thinking about north Arkansas, I think of trips along the Kings River, the Buffalo, the Eleven Point, the Strawberry, the Spring, the South Fork of the Spring, the Current and the Little Black.
And then there are the floatable creeks in the Arkansas Ozarks — the War Eagle, Crooked, Osage, Long, Myatt and more.
Coming out of the Ozarks and headed south into the Arkansas River Valley are the Mulberry River, Big Piney Creek and the Illinois Bayou.
There’s the magnificent White River as it transforms itself from a mountain stream in northwest Arkansas to a wide, slow Delta artery in southeast Arkansas.
In southwest Arkansas, there’s the Caddo, the Ouachita, the Little Missouri, the Cossatot, the Mountain Fork and more.
There’s Cadron Creek in central Arkansas and the Little Red River with its upper forks — the South Fork, the Middle Fork and the Archeys Fork. Big Creek flows into the Little Red.
There’s the Saline River and its upper forks — the North Fork, the Alum Fork and the Middle Fork.
There are the dozens of other streams I know nothing about but would love to experience.
Arkansans have been given so much that it’s incumbent on them to give something back.
One way to do so is through participation in the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission’s Stream Team initiative. The program began in 1996, and there are now more than 500 stream teams across the state.
You should consider joining an existing team or forming your own while adopting part of a favorite river or creek.
According to the Game & Fish Commission: “These teams conduct litter pickups, repair eroding streambanks on willing owners’ land, plant trees to restore degraded riparian areas, work with local leaders to better manage their watersheds and conduct a variety of other activities aimed at conserving one of the most valuable of Arkansas’ natural resources, its water.”
Those interested in participating should email Steve Filipek at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (501) 223-6371.
“Stream Team members can adopt a stream, determine its current situation and plan a project based on the initial survey,” according to the Game & Fish Commission. “This is done with the landowner’s approval and technical assistance from program sponsors. Your imagination is the only limitation.”
Another way to give back is by becoming involved with the Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy has several stream restoration and protection programs across the state.
I had written earlier on the Southern Fried blog about the Nature Conservancy’s purchase of land along the Kings River in March 2010. In April 2011, the Conservancy added a 28.9-acre tract that includes a quarter mile of river frontage with bluffs, a sandy beach and a gravel bar. This tract connects two other parts of the Kings River Nature Preserve, forming an unbroken area along the river.
“The Kings River is a recreational paradise offering excellent floating and fishing with deep pools, overhanging trees, occasional rapids and towering bluffs,” the Conservancy noted in its 2011 year-end report. “Attesting to the stream’s beauty is the fact that in 1971 the General Assembly passed legislation to protect the portion of the river in Madison County, noting that it ‘possesses unique scenic, recreational and other characteristics in a natural, unpolluted and wild state.’
“The Conservancy’s primary purpose in acquiring the preserve, which spans more than seven miles on both sides of the Kings River, is to maintain the health and water quality of this Ozark gem.
“The river fosters a rich aquatic community, including 18 species of fish, crayfish, mussels, turtles and insects found only in the Ozarks, as well as one species of stonefly found only in the Kings watershed. Besides being a recreational treasure, the river is also an important drinking water source as it flows into Table Rock Lake to join the White River.”
Another important part of the Nature Conservancy’s work in Arkansas involves gravel road repairs that are used as demonstration projects.
“You may find it hard to believe that gravel roads are one of the biggest threats to stream health in Arkansas and around the United States, but it’s true,” the year-end report stated. “Unpaved roads, combined with heavy rainfall, can dump huge amounts of sediment into our rivers.”
In one 2011 effort, the Nature Conservancy partnered with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service and the Arkansas Forestry Commission to hold a best management practices workshop at Clinton. The Conservancy has been involved in restoration projects along the Little Red River near Clinton.
The workshop drew more than 60 participants. There were foresters, private contractors, county road department employees, natural gas company employees and representatives of state and federal agencies.
The floods of last spring brought additional challenges. The Nature Conservancy worked in the aftermath of those floods to protect eroding banks and remove downed trees on streams ranging from the South Fork of the Little Red River to the Middle Fork of the Saline River.
As spring begins, enjoy our state’s streams.
But please remember to give back.
According to the Game and Fish Commission: “We’ve lost thousands of miles of free-flowing natural streams to damming, industrial and agricultural pollution and other activities. Recent studies indicate we’ve lost more than 25 percent of the state’s smallmouth bass streams this century.”
And as Larry Dablemont noted, “If we don’t do something soon, it will someday be too late.”