The Mulberry River, a federally recognized Wild and Scenic River since 1992, may not be as popular with tourists as the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas but that is what a lot of people like about it.
New canoe access points created by the Mulberry River Society at High Bank and Indian Creek could help change some of that, though, as more people find the deep blue-green waters and picturesque mountain setting easier to get to for a tranquil getaway.
“I come down here because it’s not as busy as the Buffalo,” Perry Hayes, a member of the Mulberry River Society, said Friday at High Bank during an Earth Day event that coincided as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. “Sometimes the Buffalo is like going to town.”
The official dedication for the new canoe access points at High Bank and Indian Creek was offered by Gov. Asa Hutchinson with Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin joining U.S. Sen. John Boozman, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, and about 100 others with the Mulberry River Society, Arkansas Canoe Club, U.S. Forest Service, and several other state and county agencies.
The family of Tom Perry, the man who is credited for having envisioned and led the rock work for the canoe access points, was also present Friday. Perry passed away March 26 at the age of 60. He was named volunteer of the year by the Mulberry River Society as part of the Earth Day event.
“He was an artist with stone, and in life,” Danny Stillwell said of Tom Perry. “He was an exceptional man. They don’t make human beings like him anymore.”
Cheryl Perry said she felt that her late husband was there with the rest of them at High Bank on Friday for the event. The canoe access projects were nominated for a National Enduring Volunteer Service Award by the Forest Service.
Hugh Ernest, president of the Mulberry River Society, and Cheryl Perry both said they looked forward to working with the U.S. Forest Service on future projects along the river. Jason Engle, Pleasant Hill district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said a bathroom and expanded parking lot are needed at High Bank. Engle told the story of how the Mulberry River Society approached the Forest Service about three years ago to create the new canoe access points.
Ernest noted that studies are being conducted by University of Arkansas hydrologists on why the Mulberry River’s acidity level has increased to pH 6. Drinking water has a level of pH 7 and wildlife starts to be affected by a pH 5 level, according to officials. Ernest pointed to the possibility of water wells leaking into the river for the high acidity.
Hutchinson thanked the volunteers for the new canoe access points and noted Ernest’s remarks on the acidification of the river as a reason to “continue to ensure our streams are protected.”
“Your hours you’ve put in for this incredible Arkansas asset, the Mulberry River, is something that all of the state of Arkansas is grateful for,” Hutchinson said. “This is a hidden secret we have here with the Mulberry River. Not everybody in Arkansas even knows the beauty of this and now you’ve increased the access in which more people can enjoy it. More people can work to protect it and preserve it for the next generation.”
The Mulberry River Society’s Earth Day Celebration continued Friday at Byrd’s Adventure Center with students from Fayetteville’s “School of Rock” and recording artist Lance Carpenter. Former Arkansas Gov. and U.S. Sen. David Pryor was also recognized Friday by the Mulberry River Society with a Lifetime Achievement Award.