Jill Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
If you love clear running water, trees and boulders, lush landscapes, colorful wildflowers, the crunch of the earth under your feet, and the Buffalo National River valley, have I got a place for you – Smith Creek Preserve. Personally, I think the name should have been Smith Creek Paradise. Since I didn’t get to name it…
The Preserve is 1,316 acres of beautiful, rugged Ozark forest bisected by Smith Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo National River. To the public, it offers 10-plus miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, creek wading, swimming holes, birding, and that beauty and peace you find in such a fine outdoor setting. To Mother Nature, it offers preservation for one of the longest caves in Arkansas and a home for bats and other animals.
The acreage lies above Sherfield Cave, where the state’s largest colony of Indiana bats hibernates each winter. Smith Creek Preserve, along with an easement The Nature Conservancy purchased on adjacent property where the main entrance of Sherfield Cave is located, limits disruptions to the endangered bats during hibernation, which can increase the bats’ mortality rates. In addition, the preserve, which is also home to gray bats, black bears and elk, conserves the surrounding forest necessary for the Indiana bats’ foraging and roosting needs. It also helps ensure the water flowing into the cave and the Buffalo River – the nation’s first national river – remains clean. Additionally, the preserve serves as a connection between the Ozark National Forest and the Buffalo National River Wilderness Area.
The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas first dedicated a portion of this preserve, located in Newton County, in 2005. The acquisition was made possible by a generous discount sale from the late Marty and Elise Roenigk of Eureka Springs and by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Walmart’s Acres for America Program. An additional 90 acres to the preserve was dedicated April 7, 2017. It was made possible with support from Tyson Foods, Inc., the Buffalo River Foundation, and many private donors.
You should avoid the sink holes and the cave, but the public is welcome to hike the area and cool off in the crisp, clear water. You’ll find a short hike to Elise Falls. The Roenigks actually collected waterfalls. How cool is that? They would buy property containing waterfalls they loved. Kudos to Elise for donating one from her collection to the preserve.
If the Conservancy had not acquired the area, it likely would have been developed for vacation homes. Learn more about what the Conservancy is doing at the Smith Creek Preserve to protect clean water and fragile wildlife of the Buffalo River.
Smith Creek Preserve is located on Ark. 21, just south of Boxley Baptist Church. Other incredible hiking opportunities in the area include Lost Valley and Hawksbill Crag, one of the most photographed views in the state. Nearby Upper Buffalo mountain bike trails include a wide variety of incredible Ozark Forest riding, native plant species and wildlife.