by Mark Carter
Photos courtesy of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
The Buffalo River, America’s first officially designated national river, annually attracts thousands of visitors from across the country for its scenery and opportunities to hike, camp and float. Our publisher, Heather Baker, took her family out to the Buffalo River this past month to soak in a little sun and enjoy some of what the area has to offer.
But the clear, refreshing water isn’t the only thing the Buffalo offers. The Buffalo River area now boasts an elk herd of approximately 600 animals that makes its home in Boxley Valley along the river near Ponca. Elk, specifically eastern elk, are native to Arkansas but disappeared after 1840. Reintroduced to the Buffalo between 1981 and 1985, they’ve become one of Arkansas’ most successful re-establishment programs.
Elk gazing isn’t the only game in town this month. The 15th annual Color Fest, from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Ponca Elk Education Center, welcomes local artists with their works on display complementing the colors of the area’s renowned fall foliage. Food will be available for purchase, and the education center and gift shop will be open. Color Fest will be held Oct. 25-26 from 10 am-4:30 pm and on Oct. 27 from 10 am-2pm.
When you’re not admiring the manmade art, nature’s work should be on full display. Elk, one of the largest subspecies of cervids, can easily be seen in its natural habitat along Highways 43 and 21, especially at dusk and dawn when they gather at the grassy fields along the roads. But be alert — it’s common for them to cross the highways.
Meanwhile, the Ponca Elk Education Center hosts visitors throughout the year. It includes meeting space and exhibits that educate on Arkansas’ elk population (including information on the latest sightings) as well as other native fauna and flora.
An exhibit room open to the public features full-body mounts of elk in natural settings as well as a black bear, a fellow Arkansas native. The center also includes hands-on displays of hides, skulls and other interesting artifacts; a geology display; interactive quizzes, and a birding window to view the numerous native birds who visit the center’s feeders. An interpretive native wildflower garden provides opportunities for viewing butterflies, dragonflies and other “critters” enveloped in the season’s rich colors.
Plus, the center is available and educational materials and supplies provided free of charge for customizable classes.
And don’t forget the popular rustic log rockers and benches overlooking Ponca Creek from which to enjoy the scenery. A hiking trail, picnic tables, a covered pavilion and an open field providing much more room for activities also are available. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed holidays) and is located at #2 Highway 43 in Ponca.
For more information about Color Fest, call 870-861-2432.