For decades, Arkansans who enjoy the outdoors have gone on hikes, long or short. They have a wide variety of places to do this, and with options to fit all abilities.
Add water to this picture.
Coming on strong and growing in popularity are water trails of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. There are a half-dozen of them in use now, and more are in the planning stage, according to Kirsten Bartlow, the Watchable Wildlife coordinator for the agency.
"Most of our trails are for people using canoes and kayaks and who want flat water, not the rough water of some Arkansas streams," Bartlow said.
Currently, the commission has Arkansas Post Water Trail, Bayou DeView Water Trail, Crooked Creek Water Trail, Robe Bayou Water Trail, Wattensaw Bayou Water Trail and Cut-Off Creek Water Trail. Coming soon is the Maumelle River Water Trail.
Just like the hiking trails on land, these water trails are do-it-yourself for paddlers. Informative signs and put-in and take-out points are helpful. After these, the canoeist or kayaker is on his or her own.
"We want to make these trails easy for people. They should be comfortable taking kids along, and they should not have to be experts with paddles to use and enjoy the trails," Bartlow said. "Most of our trails are on flat water so people can go one way then paddle back to their starting point. They don’t have to shuttle with vehicles like on the Buffalo River and other fast water streams."
Let’s take a capsule look at one of the water trails.
Robe Bayou Water Trail is a close neighbor of the Bayou DeView Water Trail. It is in the Sheffield Nelson Dagmar Wildlife Management Area near Brinkley. To reach the trail, take U.S. 70 west from Brinkley or east from DeValls Bluff. Watch for a WMA sign at Dagmar Road. Turn north and travel under Interstate 40 for a little over two miles. Bear left at one intersection then bear left at another. Signs help at these junctions.
Just driving in will give a visitor a flavor of this country – swamp land. Cypress trees dominate Robe Bayou, which flows south to join Bayou DeView. On the road and at places on the water, the big and ancient trees form canopies.
Wildlife is abundant. Birds are numerous and varied. Those tiny flashes of blue are indigo buntings, and the Robe Bayou country has many of them. Take along fishing gear and you can go for bream, catfish, crappie and bass.
If water trail users want to camp, there are many designated sites along the trail and road. These have signs, and all are primitive camping. Small signs say "undeveloped campsite." This means the sites have no electricity and no drinking water supply. They have no trash receptacles and no toilets. No staff is on hand to answer questions or to give directions.
Expect mosquitoes if you camp along Robe Bayou.
The Robe Bayou Water Trail is 4 1/2 miles long. Its southern or downstream end is practically under Interstate 40.
Except immediately after a heavy rain, the water in Robe Bayou is placid, meaning easy paddling.
There are no fees involved, no signing in, no time keeping required in using any of the water trails. Make a checklist at home of what to take. Go with a friend, a relative, a youngster and enjoy a bit of the Arkansas back country at your own pace.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock.