Buffalo River

A piece of litter sits off  a trail along the Buffalo River on April 1 where the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission is working to clean up the river.

His family packed into the car to spend the weekend exploring the winding river and the soaring cliffs and roasting s’mores over a campfire. Senior Andrew Jewell’s fond memories for the Buffalo National River motivated him to help clean up the waterway.

“People, I think, don’t realize the value of protecting our environment because they don’t get out in it,” said Jewell, who is majoring in biological and agricultural engineering. “Taking care of your only Earth is actually valuable.”

As a member of the Student Sierra Coalition Registered Student Organization, Jewell helps remove invasive species and trash from the river. Last year, he helped re-establish the group, which spreads information about environmental issues to the UA community.

Multiple organizations in Arkansas are also dedicated to preserving the river. Aletha Petty, the river cleanup coordinator of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission, loves nature, and has dedicated her career to keeping the river clean and beautiful, she said.

“The Buffalo is one of our greatest tourism attractions in the country, and people certainly don’t want to go floating down a trashed-up river,” Petty said.

The commission’s goal is to prevent litter and promote recycling, according to Keep Arkansas Beautiful. Other organizations, like the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, also take action to help keep the river clean after Arkansans raised concerns about a nearby hog farm.

The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a group of advocates who think government officials made an oversight in allowing C&H Hog Farms to operate five miles upstream from the Buffalo, according to the Watershed Alliance. They fear that the family-owned farm threatens to destroy the river’s ecosystem.

Acknowledging public concern, the farmers have had groups like the Environmental Protection Agency take steps to ensure the farm is safe, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

Millions of gallons of liquid hog waste are sprayed on fields and stored in manure ponds that can drain into the Buffalo, according to American Rivers. Contaminants in manure fields might pollute groundwater or harm wildlife.

The Watershed Alliance formed to combat threats to the water quality in the river, said Jack Stewart, vice president of the organization.

Stewart helped start the organization because of his love for nature and to ensure preservation of the first national river in the U.S., he said.

“When (the river) was established, the whole idea was that it would be preserved for present enjoyment and for future generations,” Stewart said. “It seemed to me that we were breaking that promise by allowing this facility to operate.”

Watershed Alliance officials sued C&H Hog Farms on multiple occasions concerning water quality in the Buffalo River, Stewart said.

The first lawsuit involving the farm was against the federal government, Stewart said. The Watershed Alliance won the suit, which required a second environmental assessment of C&H Farms.

The United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency and the United States Small Business Administration concluded in the second environmental assessment in 2015 that the hog farm had no significant impact on the river.

Stewart doubts the results of the second assessment, but lawyers advised the organization not to pursue the case any further because they were involved in other legal issues, he said.

While the alliance attempts to protect the river through legislation, Petty takes an individual approach to help it by organizing cleanups along different sections of the waterway, which happen three days throughout the year. The first will happen April 22, which is Earth Day; June 21, the longest day of the year, and September 28, which is National Public Lands Day.  

“I’ve had as many as 60 volunteers and as few as 20,” Petty said. “It’s just a fun activity to get people out and see that really big production. We floated down the river, filled up canoes, and you get to the end, and there’s a big pile of trash that we’ve collected.”

Petty thinks that volunteers have found less garbage than previous years, she said. People come from all over to help clean the Buffalo.

“I really enjoy having the youth there,” Petty said. “I think it’s good for it to be multigenerational. I think people are being more conscious cleaning up not only after themselves but just what they find along the river.”

 

Tegan Shockley is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since 2017.

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