[dropcap]The[/dropcap] summer sun was hot on our backs as we began our Heber Springs adventure, walking out to see Mark Herrington, organic gardener and owner of The Abbé House Inn bed and breakfast. He reached up and plucked a perfectly ripe mulberry from a small tree near his garden.
“This is Heaven, and to me this is therapy,” Herrington said about his move from California to Heber Springs, Arkansas. “People are hypnotized when they get [to Heber Springs] and don’t want to leave.”
He placed the juicy red berry in my hand for me to taste its sweetness. “We use these to make cheesecakes or put them on pancakes,” he said with a smile.
Herrington, who is also a seasoned chef, built the five-star, 14-room bed and breakfast on eight acres in 1999 to give Heber Springs’ visitors an elegant Southern experience. The inn is a popular wedding venue, as well as a gathering place for anglers.
“You never know who is going to walk through that front door,” he said, glancing at the entrance of his inn. “I mean, Buzz Aldrin sat right there at my breakfast table.”
Room rates are from $89 to $115 per night, and that includes breakfast for two or four.
If you’d rather stay in a private cabin directly on the river, the newly opened Red River Adventures Trout Resort on Swinging Bridge Drive is ideal. The resort has 13, one-to-two bedroom cabins, each with a full kitchen and grill, located just off the decks that overlook the Little Red River. Boat rentals and guided fishing trips are also available.
I met Sara Edwards Neal, AY’s art director, and Julie Murray, director of the Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce, and we set off to explore the city and its surrounds. We stopped briefly at the John F. Kennedy Overlook, where Kennedy spoke at the dedication of Greers Ferry Lake in September 1963. We got a good view of Greer’s Ferry Dam before heading down to the Little Red, where a quick breeze skimmed over the water as three fly fishermen occasionally cast their lines back and forth.
The river is a haven for trout fishermen, among them Rip Collins who, in 1992, caught a world-record brown trout there. This record was held until 2013.
After several outdoor activities, a short hike to Collins Creek was a welcome reprieve from the heat. Perched on one of the large rocks near the creek’s edge, I dipped my toes into the frigid water of the constantly moving stream. The easy nature trail leads to a series of small waterfalls, where cold water runs year-round and flows into pools perfect for both fishing and playing.
Food and Shopping
By this time, we had surely worked up an appetite, and what better place to sample local cuisine than Chuck’s Diner and Steakhouse, at 35 Swinging Bridge Drive. There, we met up with Heber Springs Mayor Jimmy Clark. Although the diner is well known for its hand-cut steaks and burgers, I opted for the homemade chicken salad sandwich, along with the squash casserole and potato salad.
Our server, Andrea Christianson, eagerly brought us a sampling of homemade desserts, such as chocolate icebox pie and a frozen brownie complete with ice cream and chocolate fudge. I’d never before eaten peanut butter pie, and it was tasty; I would certainly order it the next time I’m at Chuck’s.
“Everything is fresh,” Christianson said. “Even the salad dressings are made here.”
After lunch, the ladies and I decided to check out some of the town’s unique shops.
As we entered Aromatique’s Panache gift shop, the scents of spring and summer were as delightful as the beautiful displays of products made in Heber Springs and sold all over the world. The company was founded in 1982 and continues to produce its candles, decorative fragrances and bath items in its manufacturing facility in town. Aromatique is the largest- and longest-operating employer in the city, with more than 100 employees.
“We produce everything down to the wood chips and source as much as possible locally … everything is handmade,” said marketing coordinator Netta Thomas, as she held up a bag of decorative fragrance potpourri.
She said the decorative items are strategically placed by hand into each bag to maximize the visual appeal.
During a quick stroll down West Main Street, we ducked into the cutest shop called the Bottle Tree Gallery. Owner Cortney Singleton took us on a tour of the small store, which is filled with handmade items.
“People like giving handmade gifts because they are one of a kind,” Singleton said. “They like knowing information about the artists, too. It makes it more interesting.”
Just a few doors down is Somewhere in Time, which isn’t your typical flea market. Shop owner Margaret Scott is discerning when it comes to choosing what will go in the booths she rents. Here, shoppers can find small, inexpensive gifts and repurposed home-decor items.
And if you need a new outfit, Paulette Yarbrough can help you find just the right look at her boutique, Oohs & Aahs.
“I try to get as many clothes made in the United States as possible,” Yarbrough said as she pointed out a hand-painted belt made in Memphis, Tennessee.
Just outside of town, the Ozark Country Market is a unique little store where owner Linda Little has made nut butters, showcased local farmers’ produce and created gift baskets filled with food items for more than seven years now.
After biting into a fresh ripe peach, I had to fill my bag with a few to take home. Fresh cream, Amish-made butter and gluten-free products are among the many other choices.
“Also, in the fall, we make caramel apples,” Little said, smiling.
Fun and Learning
The Ruland Junction Museum on the corner of 12th and Walnut Streets isn’t an ordinary museum. Daniel Hipp, museum curator-in-training, took me on an abbreviated tour of the toy train museum.
With the help of Hipp and other volunteers, proprietor Wayne Ruland has created a railfan’s fantasyland that includes 100-year-old trains, many of which were owned by his father, Ed. The museum has 12 working layouts and others in various stages of completion.
Ruland welcomes kids of all ages to come to the museum and learn how to work the trains and build model railroads and villages.
“I want to teach kids teamwork and show them that they don’t have to buy all the stuff, and it doesn’t have to be new,” he said.
In fact, he showed me several repurposed items dispersed throughout the museum. Hipp showed me one of those items, which was a perfectly painted hot air balloon suspended above the track. “This is made from a toilet float,” he said.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday and by appointment for groups. If you catch Ruland at the museum during the week, he’ll happily open the doors.
Whether it’s a day trip, weekend trip or an extended vacation, Heber Springs has something for everyone — hiking, fishing, shopping, food and a whole lot of fun.