Arkansas Backstories: Ozone
You may be a bit wary of this word, but keep reading. This is neither a technical treatise on respiratory hazards nor a scholarly piece on greenhouse gases. Those heavy, academic topics are beyond my expertise, such as it is. No footnotes will be found. No scientific authorities will be quoted. No dire predictions will be made.
I want to introduce you to Ozone, a small Johnson County community smack dab in the middle of the Ozark National Forest, some 15 miles or so north of Interstate 40. It’s one of two or three places in America with that unusual name.
Perched 1,950 feet above sea level, Ozone is bisected by Arkansas Highway 21, also recognized as the Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway because of its twisting, panoramic route through some of Arkansas’ prettiest landscapes. The road is best appreciated by those on a leisurely mission.
According to local legend, the town got its name in 1875 courtesy of Mrs. Delia McCracken, the local postmistress, who was rightly proud of the delightful purity of the unspoiled mountain air. In her era, the word “ozone” generally referred to the fresh and distinctive smell in the atmosphere following a thunderstorm. My guess is that Mrs. McCracken would have no use for the “Ozone Alerts” and “Ozone Action Days” of the 21st century.
There’s not much going on in Ozone these days, and that’s part of its charm. The community still has a post office, a couple of churches and the Ozone Burger Barn, one of the area’s rare retail establishments. It’s a popular stop for travelers, especially motorcyclists who come from far and wide for the chance to sample the ever-changing vistas and sweeping curves of the scenic byway.
Next time you’re heading to Northwest Arkansas, consider a deviation from your usual route, and enjoy an Ozone experience of the positive variety.
Joe David Rice, former tourism director of Arkansas Parks and Tourism, has written Arkansas Backstories, a delightful book of short stories from A through Z that introduces readers to the state’s lesser-known aspects. Rice’s goal is to help readers acknowledge that Arkansas is a unique and fascinating combination of land and people – one to be proud of and one certainly worth sharing.
Each month, AY will share one of the 165 distinctive essays. We hope these stories will give you a new appreciation for this geographically compact but delightfully complex place we call home. These Arkansas Backstories columns appear courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System. The essays have been collected and published by Butler Center Books in a two-volume set, both of which are now available to purchase at Amazon and the University of Arkansas Press.
READ MORE: Arkansas Backstories: Lost Valley