Notes from a weekend spent in a remote part of the Arkansas Ozarks:
1. The hamburgers at C.J.’s Butcher Boy Burgers on Arkansas Highway 7 in Russellville are as good as advertised. Feltner’s Whatta-Burger still has tradition on its side and is convenient for Arkansas Tech football games. But C.J.’s deserves all of the praise it has received. It was good to see Van and Ginnie Tyson having dinner there on Friday night. Van and Ginnie publish The Atkins Chronicle, which has been around since 1894, and The Dover Times. They represent the kind of good people who run weekly papers across this still largely rural state.
2. Heading up Highway 7, you wonder why some entrepreneur has not tried to resurrect the Booger Hollow Trading Post. It seems the Arkansas Ozarks needs a Booger Hollow. And it would be much cheaper to resurrect than Dogpatch USA and Marble Falls. How could you have thought that a snow skiing resort would make money in Arkansas?
3. On my list of favorite downtowns in Arkansas — Jasper. There’s a nice crowd downtown on this Friday night, eating the specials at the Ozark Cafe and the free-range elk, buffalo and beef at the Boardwalk Cafe. In need of renovation — the Buffalo Theater. How neat would it be to be able to watch a movie again after dinner in downtown Jasper?
4. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has done a first-class job with both the Ponca Elk Education Center on Arkansas Highway 43 in Ponca and the Hilary Jones Wildlife Museum and Elk Information Center on Highway 7 in Jasper. These are examples of how Amendment 75 of 1996 — the one-eighth of a cent sales tax — is being used as a tool to preserve and promote this state. Forty-five percent of the proceeds of that tax go to the Game and Fish Commission. Another 45 percent of the money raised goes to the state Department of Parks and Tourism for capital improvements to Arkansas’ 52 state parks. In 13 years, we’ve gone from a system in which parks were falling apart to one of the five best state parks systems in the country. Nine percent of the proceeds go to the Arkansas Department of Heritage which, among other things, operates the Delta Cultural Center at Helena-West Helena, the Old State House at Little Rock, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at Little Rock and the Historic Arkansas Museum at Little Rock. One percent of the proceeds go to the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission.
5. Also on my list of favorite downtowns — Kingston. The old Bank of Kingston building is a jewel. And the cafe next door has doughnuts to die for and the prettiest waitress in the Ozarks.
6. On my list of favorite buildings — the old Stamps General Store building at Osage in Carroll County. Built in 1901, the building is now home to the Osage Clayworks, which offers fine handmade pottery. On a rainy Saturday morning with mist covering the tops of the mountains, this building looked like something out of a movie. It’s an Arkansas treasure.
7. Our ramblings on Saturday led to us crossing several fine smallmouth bass streams — the Buffalo River, the Little Buffalo River, the Kings River, Osage Creek. Crappie is my favorite Arkansas fish to eat. But I think I’m ready to declare that my favorite kind of fishing is for stream smallmouths on light tackle out of a canoe or while wading. It’s takes a lot more effort than roaring across one of the state’s massive U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundments in a bass boat, but the rewards are immense.
8. Yet another favorite building — the rock structure that houses the general store at Parthenon on Arkansas Highway 327 in Newton County. As the only customer on a Saturday afternoon, I felt obligated to buy something. And I did — $13 worth of Ozarks honey. Long may this store remain in business.
9. There are few things better to eat in summer than vegetables fresh from an Arkansas garden. We stopped late Saturday afternoon by the home of L.C. Matlock on Mount Sherman in Newton County. L.C. was busy tying up a dog that had tangled with a skunk, especially since Mrs. Matlock was complaining about the smell the dog had left on the porch. This wetter-than-normal summer has left L.C. with a bumper crop in his garden. We buy tomatoes, cucumbers and okra. The Saturday night meal, with pork tenderloin as the main course, is cooked by that noted North Little Rock cook, Bubba Lloyd. The pork, tomatoes and cucumbers are rounded out with squash and green beans from another local garden. It’s a meal to remember.
10. Rather than returning on Highway 7, we cut over and return on U.S. Highway 65 just so we can stop at my favorite bakery, Serenity Farm Bread at Leslie in Searcy County. With loaves of bread in hand, the weekend is complete.