Early August rains gave us enough water to float the upper and middle Buffalo, a rare occurrence.

Buffalo National River to Begin Phased Access to the Park

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Hot on the heels of Governor Hutchinson announcing that recreational travel is back open for out-of-state visitors, the Buffalo National River has released its reopening plan.

Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Public Health Service, and the Arkansas Department of Health, Buffalo National River is beginning to resume visitor access for recreational day use of trails and the Buffalo River.  The National Park Service (NPS) is working service-wide with federal, state, and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and is using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis.

Beginning May 15th, 2020 Buffalo National River will resume Day Use Only access for:  

  • Private and commercial floating on the Buffalo River, including all river access points
  • All trails within park boundaries, except for the Lost Valley Trail
  • Limited restroom facilities
Park employees will be staffing trailheads and river access points to ensure traffic control and social distancing guidance. Staff will be available to direct visitors to other areas of the park should locations become too congested to comply with health guidelines.

With public health in mind, the following facilities remain closed at this time:

  • The Lost Valley Trail
  • Buffalo National River Headquarters building in Harrison, Arkansas
  • All established campgrounds in the park
  • Gravel bar and backcountry camping within park boundaries
  • Tyler Bend Visitor Center, Steel Creek Visitor Contact Station, and the Buffalo Point Visitor Contact Station

Mark Foust, superintendent of Buffalo National River, shares “The National Park Service is a public service agency of the Federal Government, our mission is to protect the natural and cultural resources of the park while providing for the enjoyment of the park by the public. We hold this mission dear to our hearts. We also understand that the park supports the health and well-being of the Nation and can help Americans during this emergency by giving them outdoor spaces to enjoy while following the Health Department and CDC guidance. The park was closed at the request of communities and state and local leaders concerned about overcrowding and the potential spread of the virus in our communities. It is important to note that because Buffalo National River is a unit of the National Park System when it is open, it is open to all, regardless of their place of residence. We have been working closely with the State of Arkansas on our phased resumption of access and we will continue to do so. As long as the staff is able to safely do the work of the park with required personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and safe distancing, it is our great pleasure to resume visitor access to the park. We ask our visitors to work with us to ensure the park remains open and accessible to all. Crowd sizes and visitors’ ability to enjoy the park with appropriate social distancing will be key to our progress to eventually provide complete access to all.” 

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The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, partners, and communities continue to be paramount. At Buffalo National River, our operational approach will be to examine each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance and will be regularly monitored. We continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public and workspaces are safe and clean for visitors, employees, partners, and volunteers.

While these areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and visitor services will be limited. When recreating, the public should follow local area health orders regarding the wearing of masks, practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid crowding, and avoid high-risk outdoor activities.   

Many recreational locations at Buffalo National River, such as trailheads and river access points, can become very crowded and make social distancing difficult.  To maintain the Arkansas Health Department and CDC social distancing guidelines in the park, it is important to disperse visitor use to a variety of locations and times. Visitors should talk with park rangers to help plan a trip visiting less congested areas of the park, where social distancing is easier.  If after recreational activities resume, social distancing guidelines are not able to be met at Buffalo National River, some recreational activities may again be temporarily closed until health guidelines can be met. 

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The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. We will continue to monitor all park functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19, and take any additional steps necessary to protect public health.    

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For those who are still homeschooling or not traveling at this time, check out www.nps.gov/buff and take advantage of the many digital tools available to explore Buffalo National River.   

Details and updates on park operations will continue to be posted on our website www.nps.gov/buff and social media channels. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

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