Friday, May 18, 2012
Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: America's First National River
As warmer temperatures draw Arkansas natives and visitors outdoors, the Buffalo National River will once again prove one of our most popular attractions. Each year, nearly one million people flock to its pristine waters in Northern Arkansas. This year is a special one for the Buffalo, as it marks its 40th anniversary since being designated America’s first National River. The Buffalo winds its way through steep, rugged and remote wilderness and is one of the few remaining unpolluted, free-flowing rivers in the lower 48 states. It is a source of pride to know that this Arkansas waterway will be protected and preserved for all time.
The Buffalo is known for its turquoise waters, sandstone bluffs, majestic overlooks and abundant wildlife. More than 300 species of fish, insects, freshwater mussels, and aquatic plants can be found within its currents. This is the reason it has been an attraction for the area’s inhabitants all the way back to prehistoric times. Visitors can see historic dwellings in the region ranging from bluff shelters occupied thousands of years ago, to cabins built by early American settlers.
Floating the river became popular in the 1960s, and around the same time, the river’s hydroelectric potential attracted interest. Potential dam sites were identified, drawing the opposition of Arkansas conservation groups and people who enjoyed the river for recreation. A decade of political debate and media attention followed - including a canoe trip by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Then, fortunately, the political momentum swung toward protecting the waters. In 1972, landmark legislation, drafted by U.S. Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt, was signed into law by President Nixon, forever safeguarding and conserving the Buffalo.
In the four decades since the enactment of that law, millions of our citizens have enjoyed the wonders of the Buffalo National River. They’ve explored its caves, photographed wildlife, hiked and camped along the river banks, ridden horses through valleys, and canoed its rapids and pools. In the words of native son and songwriter Jimmy Driftwood, the river is “Arkansas’s gift to the nation, America’s gift to the world.” This unique landmark brings families together to explore, understand, and better appreciate the wonders of nature.
While the Buffalo River is one of Arkansas’s keystone tourism destinations, it also serves as a continual reminder of the importance and impact of conservation. The commitment and perseverance of visionary Arkansans 40 years ago helped to ensure that the Buffalo would remain pristine for us to enjoy today. Our challenge is to continue maintaining our natural treasures for Arkansas families now and in the future. Visitors who continue coming here to float the Buffalo will remember Arkansas fondly for the experience. It’s a natural beauty and a national treasure, a piece of our state’s past to enjoy in the present, and one that we will continue to protect for the future.