Contemplating Changes for the Buffalo National River

Rebranding the Buffalo National River

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The Buffalo River in Arkansas underwent a remarkable transformation to become the Buffalo National River, a designation that helped protect its pristine natural beauty and historical significance. The journey began in the mid-20th century when residents and conservationists recognized the need to safeguard this unique and unspoiled river ecosystem from potential damming and commercial development. Their grassroots efforts led to the creation of the Ozark Society in 1962, a pivotal organization that played a significant role in advocating for the preservation of the Buffalo River.

Through years of dedicated activism and support from various stakeholders, including Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, the Buffalo River was officially designated as the first national river in the United States on March 1, 1972. This landmark achievement resulted in the river’s inclusion under the protection of the National Park Service, ensuring that it would forever remain free-flowing and undeveloped for future generations to enjoy. The Buffalo National River now stands as a testament to the power of community action and the importance of preserving America’s natural treasures. It provides a unique opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs to immerse themselves in the rugged landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich cultural heritage that define this pristine waterway.

Recent economic impact numbers from the river are available here.

Redesignation of the first National River

In September, we began hearing talk about changing the Buffalo National River into the Buffalo National Park & Preserve. The Runway Group, the investment arm of Tom and Steuart Walton, funded a survey conducted by Seltzer & Company, a polling organization from Iowa.  The survey was conducted in mid-September and was answered by 412 voters in Baxter, Madison, Marion, Newton, and Searcy counties in Arkansas.

Questions raised on social media, particularly the Facebook page, “Our Buffalo River.” prompted the Runway Group to release the following statement:

“As Runway Group and others across the state continue to promote the outdoor economy in Arkansas, we want to make every effort to explore how adequate funding for critical infrastructure and resources would be available to conserve the Buffalo National River area, while maintaining access to the river, hunting, and fishing for all Arkansans.

As participants in very early conversations around how to support the Buffalo National River, Runway engaged in polling residents of Baxter, Madison, Marion, Newton, and Searcy Counties. Our intent with this survey is to better understand the feelings and beliefs of the Arkansans whose daily lives are connected to the River. At this time, no official proposal has been offered, only preliminary research as reflected in some fact sheets designed to lead meaningful conversations about the future of the Buffalo and the growth of Arkansas’ outdoor economy.

We are engaging in a coalition to explore new ideas centered on preservation, quality of life, and economic vitality. It is our hope to continue these conversations with sincerity and respect.”

After reaching out to the Runway Group, Arkansas Outside was contacted by Krista Cupp, Vice President of Corporate and Community Affairs for the Runway Group. She said that there is “currently no official proposed changes to the Buffalo National River,” and she reiterated, “There is no plan, no legislation, and no map.”

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Cupp said, “The polling was exploratory and the numbers came back fairly positive and were statistically representative of the five counties.”

The idea is not unlike the changing of the New River Gorge area of West Virginia creating a similar National Park & Preserve in 2020. It is probably too early to have relevant economic data from that region to get an idea of what could happen in Arkansas with this kind of change. You can read articles on the subject at The Guardian and West Virginia NSTV.

According to Cupp, a coalition has formed to consider this move made up of principles at Runway Group and others. She could not provide a list of individual participants in the coalition. You can see some of the data from the polling on the Coalition for the Future of the Buffalo National River on their website.

A mid-summer float on the Buffalo National River.
A mid-summer float on the Buffalo National River.

Some of the concerns about the project are the involvement of large landowners from outside the area including Walton, Tyson, and Morris (Bass Pro Shops) business interests. Climbers returning from the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell event at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch near Jasper, Ark last month mentioned to us that the Walton Family had purchased or were purchasing the ranch. (this is currently unconfirmed).

Ellen Kreth of The Madison County Record spoke with Austin Albers, President and Owner of Buffalo Outdoor Outfitters. Mr. Albers is also a member of the Arkansas State Parks and Recreation Commission and The Natural State Initiative under the direction of First Gentleman, Bryan Sanders. Albers said, “The goal of designating federal lands as a national preserve is to gain funding for infrastructure, roads, bathrooms, and parking lots. You’re looking at positive economic impact, prolonging and protecting the national park, the national river, protecting what brings people here, so hunting, fishing, floating, all that. None of that changes. And that’s why it’s a national park preserve and not just a national park,” Albers said. “So if we can transition to a national park and preserve versus a national river, you know, generate more funding that way for the park and get more infrastructure put into place, I think it’s a win for everybody.”

According to Dave Barak, Public Affairs Specialist with National Park Service News Media, when asked about the difference in funding between a National River, like the Buffalo, and and National Park and Preserve, like New River in West Virginia, “…there would be no change to how the park is funded based on designation.” For more on the differences, Mr. Barak referred us to this article on the National Parks Service website. Definitions are below.

Ozark Outdoor Supply
  • “Generally, a national park contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.”
  • “…national preserves [are] established primarily for the protection of certain resources. Activities like hunting and fishing or the extraction of minerals and fuels may be permitted if they do not jeopardize the natural values. National reserves are similar to the preserves. Management may be transferred to local or state authorities.”
  • “National rivers and wild and scenic riverways preserve free-flowing streams and their immediate environment with at least one outstandingly remarkable natural, cultural, or recreational value. They must flow naturally without major alteration of the waterway by dams, diversion, or otherwise alteration. Besides protecting and enhancing rivers, these areas provide opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, and hunting.”
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Buffalo Point along the Buffalo National River.
Buffalo Point along the Buffalo National River.

Darryl Treat, Executive Director, Greater Searcy County Chamber of Commerce sent us the following statement:

“The Greater Searcy County Chamber of Commerce supports the continued status of the Buffalo River as America’s 1st National River! We reject a change in its name and status. The Buffalo River is currently a wild and free-flowing river that is federally protected. There is no place for ethnocentrism and paternalism by outside interests directed toward the local people and land of the Buffalo River Watershed.

Local people, like people everywhere, should have the largest part to play in their own self-determination and future. We have been told that a change to the river’s federal status would bring us an economic benefit, but when we asked to see a plan we were told there was no plan to see. It’s a ludicrous proposition to trust our region’s future to outside interests that have no plan. We are, without question, the tourism experts in Searcy County! We live here and work here day in and day out.

We have young people who are the 10th generation of their family to live in Searcy County! This is not just a beautiful place to vacation, it is our home. We must take a wise and deliberate approach in securing our posterity’s future and protecting our Ozarks way of life.”

Community Meeting

A community meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 26 at 6 p.m. at the Jasper School Cafeteria, 600 School St., Jasper, Ark. The meeting is organized as a Town Hall Meeting by the Remnants Project a group working to preserve the heritage of the Arkansas Ozarks & Buffalo River through stories. They have invited representatives of the Runway Group to answer questions about the project. UPDATE, The Runway Group has declined to attend the meeting.


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52 Responses

    1. Money. The Runway project is for profit also bass pro and others. They are buying thousands of acres in Madison and Newton Counties to make money.

    2. Exactly it’s all about the money and development they can exploit this for! Just look at what the Waltons did to Bentonville after their Dad never wanted it to be that way. Just leave it be as it is! Natural in its current state without it being exploited!

    3. You better make sure someone is not selling or leasing their land to a LLC hidden another LLC and so on, only to get to the bottom line and find out that China is putting a crypto mine in your area. They also are claiming to be leasing or buying the land for solar panels only to put in a crypto mine. The runoff from the condensation will make its way into the Buffalo River and become toxic. It will run off any animals, cause cattle to butt their heads repeatedly to try to get the sound out of their heads and kill any living thing in the water. That is just the beginning of the problems. BEWARE of who you are selling to and get a smart, trustworthy lawyer before you agree to or sign anything!!!

    4. Because they are rich and think that alone gives them the right to know what is best for us. Arkansas is under siege from many other things as well. Never surrender.

  1. The bottom line, in MY opinion….. is that the wealthy, who have plenty of clout with the politicians….will disguise this as a “for the benefit of “THE PEOPLE” project”…..and they make a few hundred million in the process….

  2. I agree with SF. Money people trying to come in and get their hands on the river. Trying to make themselves more money. I’d say this is directly associated to the Dogpatch redesign, and his buddies are trying to capitalize on the Buffalo for their own benefit.
    It ain’t broke. Don’t “fix it”. Keep your hands off it.

    1. Leave it alone!
      And like many others have stated; these potential buyers/ investors etc… ARE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY!

      Just say NO!

  3. No way. The possibility of management being turned over to a Huckster should scare everybody.
    That “the extraction of minerals and fuels” may be permissible is even more terrifying.
    No. No. No.

    1. Yes! The “extraction of minerals and fuels” being permitted was a big NO to me, too! Commercialization of the Buffalo isn’t a good idea.

  4. My husband and I were not sent a survey. As lifelong residents and landowners of Searcy we definitely oppose any change to our national river. Our farm borders Bear Creek which flows into the Buffalo when the creek has water in it which is no more than 6 months if that much. We do not want outsiders to take over what our land can be used for nor do we want this group to entice the government to grab our farm and force us out.

  5. I live near the Buffalo river and I can tell you, we are discussing this issue and there is zero support from those that live here. We do not want to change the designation. We are not interested in the Walton’s and friends being involved in this area.

  6. It’s a state treasure and the whole buffalo river area should be made a state park private people companies and especially the government have no business controlling what belongs to our state. The whole area should be controlled by the local landowners and the state. Make it a state park make it where everyone can enjoy it and leave it in its natural beautiful state that’s why we all love and enjoy going there in the first place.

    1. If you think putting the Buffalo River in the hands of money grubbing republicans (which are in full control of our state at this time), you are crazy! If they could lay a petroleum pipeline through the middle if it for money, they would do it in a heartbeat.

  7. Would this result in over-use and traffic with power boats, like seen on the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways (Jacks Fork and Current Rivers)?

  8. I agree with Darryl Treat, Executive Director of the Greater Searcy County Chamber of Commerce.
    I wouldn’t trust The Runway Group, with its monied interests, to necessarily have the people’s best interests in mind, and especially the Buffalo’s. I don’t want to see the Buffalo “commercialized”.

  9. It is worth noting that there are too many families that are only one generation removed from having their family property taken by imminent domain when the river achieved the National River status. Those lost heritage feelings run deep and remain in place. I think it’s unlikely that longtime Newton, and Searcy County residents in particular, would support a status change. Additionally, human nature dictates that people in general are reluctant to embrace change. Finally, if you mix Madison and Baxter County survey respondents in with Newton and Searcy respondents you have diluted the result by mixing the geography. The questions likely got asked to someone who’s over in the other holler. None of the National River territory is situated in Madison County, and barely a fraction of the watershed is in Madison County. And similarly, for Baxter County the watershed and National River territory occupy a very small part of Baxter County, and that area is remote and sparsely populated. If a status change is beneficial, the list of benefits would need to be apparent, overwhelming, and to the degree that the prospect would sell itself. Thanks for sharing your research, and exploring this. We love our National River.

  10. Thanks for including all the additional research. New River Gorge is an interesting recent case study.

    These two quotes from The Guardian article seem relevant and concerning:

    “ Locals are worried the area is not ready for the national spotlight. They say there simply aren’t enough amenities in the park or its surrounding communities to support the flood of visitors that will come, and the park does not have the money to fix these problems.”

    “ New River Gorge received no additional funding when it became a national park and park leadership is not sure if any extra money will be provided beyond its existing annual budget …”

    Often, politicians and other interested parties want to reap the public goodwill of such a designation then vanish when it comes time to pay the bill.

    Also, on that note, it is interesting that The Runway Group recently announced it would not attend a public town hall meeting in Jasper to discuss this issue. One would think the Group would understand the optics of such a decision. When locals already fear lack of transparency, reinforcing that lack seems short-sighted.

  11. I suggest a local group to get together and find the money trail. We all know the 3 interested parties would only do this if they were guaranteed a huge financial windfall. Find out if there is a connection with foreign entities. I’m in Carroll County, outsiders want to build 43 industrial wind turbines each 600′ tall on 2,000’ridge….they do this for the government money, the subsidies. Help us fight this! If not, there will be wind turbines ALL over Arkansas. Will there be turbines in Newton Co? Stop Wind Farms AR . org. Is there a connection?

  12. More natural habitats destroyed, to build more trails to entice more mountain bike riders from around the world to descend upon the state for extreme biking experiences. That’s why they need infrastructure like parking lots and roads. They keep mentioning hunting and fishing but you know it has to include bike trails given what happened in the rest of the state.

  13. !!! TRANSPARENCY !!!
    So far there is none. These representative groups promoting the change make claims of benefits, but show no plans, even proposed plans. It smells like sh-t, good chance it is. Many great comments before mine. Darryl’s statement I 100% agree with. Does the area need additional funding – YES. But not to be applied by outside interests, especially our “National” government. Not very happy with Rep Governor Sanders appearing to back this by assigning her husband to a position on the proposing side.
    I live in Searcy County for 6 years now and very close to the river. I have no desires to increase traffic significantly on our roads nor traffic jams at parking areas. Permits and other regulations would follow and outcast the locals if this stuff goes forward.
    Clearly at this time I would say NO. And be careful of the survey – it is only trying to touch on potential perceived positive impacts!

  14. The new commission created by Sarah HuckabeeSanders, chaired by “The Husband”, with board members like Tom Walton, are charged with growing the outdoor economy of Arkansas. So they have focused on the MOST successful outdoor area. The Buffalo Nation River, the Criwn Jewel of Arkansas. A change in the designation from National River to National Park and PRESERVE would be both an economic Boone (for wealthy) and a death sentence to the Buffalo River. A “preserve” allows mining, drilling, commercial and real estate development… or what ever use the State Administration chooses. Because once the designation is changed, control can be transferred to the State.

    In other changes to existing National Parks, promises of additional funding, infrastructure enhancement, and “no eminent domain” takeovers have been empty talking points to soothe a concerned citizenry.

    There are many ways to grow our State. But the rape and pillage of the Buffalo River is not acceptable. I suggest a strong coalition of all protective groups and individuals who oppose designation as a National Park and PRESERVE, or indeed any change, to come together loudly and stop this now before it gathers more steam.

  15. Leave the wild places wild!! The Buffalo is very very special and it needs to stay the way it is. Make no mistake, the parties involved want to use our gem for profit. Nothing good will come from the Walton’s and Johnny morris having their hands on this.

  16. the owner of bass pro has purchased a lot of land around the Buffalo River area including the old dog patch that he has been havig
    alot of renovations done there for close to two years now I would bet it’s all about money and taking the river over for rich men north of Richmond that’s best way I can put it

    1. he also purchased the Cave off 65 near Pindall. the previous owner told us. so can we expect hotels to go up on 65? where would this “park” begin? How far up into Searcy county would this go? Can they take our land? so many questions…I want to go to every meeting.

  17. I took the survey and it was skewed and questionable at best. I could tell right off that it was one of those surveys that tried to steer me in their direction. I told the surveyor that as well. They keep saying that nothing would change and kept asking about changes. I do not trust the motives.

  18. The Waltons have funded the building of two manmade whitewater parks on the Illinois River by Siloam Springs. I sure hope they’re not trying to do the same on the Buffalo National River. With the current designation it wouldn’t be allowed but if it was changed….who knows?! That would be an atrocity.

  19. A key question I feel is not being addressed is “what are the implications for landowners in the watershed system of the Buffalo (I.e, those along waterways like Bear Creek where farms have existed since being homesteader in the late 1800s) should it become a ‘preserve’ simply to gain increased federal funding for parking lots & bathrooms”. Designation as a national river economically doomed Newton & Searcy counties since the seventies; designation as a “preserve” seems it would further that economic depression, leaving only key players with enormous resources to make the rules for everyone to play by.

  20. The designation change would greatly expand federal land depending on how the law was written changing the designation – Preserves can be given to the state government for management too, and any permits can be given out for mineral extraction, hunting, etc. It would make economic sense for all of the very large landowners in the Buffalo area to be supportive of that change – it would make their land triple in value at least as the views “into the National Park” are marketed like an eco tourism country club-like set of communities, with all of the recreational trails and facilities to the new landowners provided by federal dollars. No wonder so much land is being bought up by the same people who are pushing the designation. Ask for the map of the proposed area that would be taken by the re-designation, ask for the permitting authority, ask for recent landowner maps from your county courthouses, and call your federal representatives – the state doesn’t control any of this until a) a law is passed in Congress and b) Congress or the current Department of the Interior pass management of the are to the state government.

  21. My husband and I live 4 miles from the Buffalo River in the middle of Searcy County. This county does not want or need a change to our river. We believe Searcy County was not properly represented in their survey. if they had surveyed Searcy County residents they would have known this from the beginning.

  22. We live in Trigger Gap Arkansas. Recently, a “Backcountry” air strip was opened up out here on land owned by The Nature Conservancy. The land is leased by TNC to the Recreational Aviation Foundation who is associated with The Tailwind Foundation and The Runway Group. These “non profits” are 501c3 charitys! Charitys for wealthy people to to come in and take over and turn the place into a playground for themselves and make a bunch of profit to boot!!
    We now have a bunch of noisy planes flying around a few hundred feet off the ground.
    Make no mistake about it, these groups have long term plans for this area. They are backed by large investment groups and they have politicians and so called “conservation” groups working with them.
    And they will probably get their way.

  23. Different rules apply if it is changed to a National Park and reserve. Then they could extract Minerals and fuels. Leave it as is, a beautiful River.

  24. Way to go everyone. The Walton brothers have walked out on the deal. The Walton brothers have done a great job helping develop Arkansas into a better state. They are not looking to better themselves; they are billionaires, multiple times over and they don’t need the money. They have put so much money into Arkansas, it is unbelievable. Arkansas has become a Meca for mountain biking due to the Walton brothers. The Buffalo will not get any money thanks to neanderthal groups that just don’t get it. That money will go somewhere else and those people with be appreciative.
    Here is an excerpt from the Albers Buffalo Outdoor Outfitter, “The goal of designating federal lands as a national preserve is to gain funding for infrastructure, roads, bathrooms, and parking lots. You’re looking at positive economic impact, prolonging and protecting the national park, the national river, protecting what brings people here, so hunting, fishing, floating, all that. None of that changes. And that’s why it’s a national park preserve and not just a national park,” Albers said. “So if we can transition to a national park and preserve versus a national river, you know, generate more funding that way for the park and get more infrastructure put into place, I think it’s a win for everybody.”

  25. Leave this unique beautiful river as it is today. We began floating the Buffalo about 1973! There’s a area similar to
    The Grand Canyon and Grey rock is a total challenge. ❤️🤪 Clean Clear free flowing water with natural habitats unbounded.
    1. ABSOLUTE no big names — Walton/ Tyson — foreign investors—No Runaway individuals or subsidies need to
    Purchase our River.
    2. It is a free flowing river which those Upper mention people Would dammed and add their Trademark merchandising Schemes to make them wealthier!! Owners of the land and the employees of mega businesses receive relatively nothing compared to the greedy Runaway investors/ Hunters. They want to fenced, control by
    $$$$ the habitat, the animals, water and Local residents.

    DOES Anyone Ask The Land, Water, or the Living Animals or Plants —- How would Vote? REMAIN FREE!

    ABSOLUTELY Totally AGainst SELLING the Buffalo RIver Minerals or Rights.
    Buffalo River remains Free Natural Flowing without mercantilism
    The Hog Farms already TOO MUCH CONTROL and they claim they are Environmentally Good. 👎🏻👎🏻👎🏻

  26. I live in Fayetteville and i would prefer for the Buffalo to stay very similar to how it is now. I’ve always appreciated how it still feels family run and NOT like I’m going to a “Bass Pro resort”.

  27. I just heard about this atrocity today! I own land in Madison and Newton County- life-long resident. This isn’t going to go over at all once the landowners like myself find out about it. Do “you” remember what happened to Bud Light & Anheuser-Bush, Target and CMT. If not, you might want to do some research…and then “Try That In A Small Town”!!

  28. I have seen firsthand in Kansas City what new Bass Pro shops and Walmarts do and how little the owners of those billion dollar corporations, Hell, trillion dollar corporations, care about their decisions, and the impact of those decisions on the local residents in the areas they are “improving.“ rather than improvements, it becomes an area where the people who live there can no longer afford to live there, or jobs at lower wages, and can’t afford to shop doors that are being built in their area either. Essentially, they are being run out of their homes. My family has been here in Newton County AR for many generations, all the way back to some of the first settlers in the area who mixed with the indigenous tribes that were already here. My family members lost land in the 70s due to the transition of the Buffalo River area. They had to start all over, rebuilding their homesteads and farms. My husband and I moved here with our two children and built our own home with our own bare hands on a plot of land not half a mile from the river in Marble Falls, Newton County, Dogpatch area of Arkansas. We enjoy the river and its natural beauty and glory every day. We do our part to keep it clean and natural. I have noticed in the last year, but most especially in the last six months, a huge influx of people over here in the Erbie area of Marble Falls. Large chunks of land being bought and cleared, specific roads being improved, while the rest of the roads in the area are left absolutely horrendous. When we first bought this land and built our home here, there was very little traffic. In fact I knew everyone who drove passed our house every day as we only have about a dozen neighbors past our home, and each short road along this route dead ends at the border of the National Park. There are no through roads beyond my house. Now, dozens of dump trucks drive past my house every few minutes all day every day, further damaging the roads that they are not repairing, going Lord knows where and being hired by Lord knows who. Heavy equipment is constantly being trailered back here, semi trucks are coming back here. Something is going on and it’s major. It has been a slow takeover of the area by wealthy and corporate outside influences and billionaire players. Disgusting sums of money are being given for small odd plots of land randomly throughout the Erbie area, which will eventually drive up the costs of housing and taxes in the area for those of us who live here and work here every day. It will get to the point that those of us who have lived here for years and even generations back, will no longer be able to afford to live in the land in which we were born and raised. There is some shady stuff going on in my opinion with Morris, the Waltons, and the government in our Buffalo River area. We, as neighbors, families, and friends, and even strangers, need to band together and say “NO MORE. No more will you run over us and implement your own agendas that only benefit the wealthy and shady, greedy government players. No more will you take generational land away from our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and beyond to line your pockets with more wealth. No more will you rape and destroy our natural resources and land while we struggle just to get by. No longer will you get rich off the backs of the poor or hard-working.” It’s time to stand together and tell them to get the hell out of here. #PROTECTTHEBUFFALO!

  29. Just to be clear, simply putting a comment on this or any other site is not “taking action.” I would strongly encourage everyone to send a letter to every member of the house and senate (in Arkansas) and the Governor and anyone else required to stop this. The Sam Walton’s grandkids already believe the change will happen or they wouldn’t have bought the land. They believe they know what is needed for the counties circumjacent to the Buffalo National River and will put out the stops in a effort to do that, including adding commercial establishments, bicycle shops, lodging, beer joints etc. The river is already close to turning in to a party place for the party crowds that have ruined other rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri etc. (No, I’m not opposed to drinking, but having beer cans, glass, tents, diapers and the like is horrible, especially for a natural, unrestricted river meant and maintained for its pristine beauty. Take an interactive part in helping stop it and don’t assume someone else will help. The Runway Group has the resources to select individuals meeting certain criteria and most likely to vote yes to their proposals. It will get worse before it gets better. But its up to each of us and I will be sending as many letters as needed in the coming weeks and will again after the first of the year. Will you?

  30. The river needs to be left the hell alone, we didn’t want the government in it in the first place.stealing our land at a bare minimum price, flooding the are with ungrateful and otherwise trashy tourists. We don’t need your money. There are close to two million people coming through the buffalo river yearly, we’re tapped out. Leave us alone.

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