We invite you to have “More Fun Per Gallon” in Arkansas this year. Each day we will be blogging on different Arkansas destinations which can be reached on one tank of gas or less. This is basically every corner of The Natural State. We hope these suggestions help you in planning a trip to remember.
Today’s Trip: Scuba Diving in Arkansas
Today’s One (Air) Tank Travels features an article I wrote for AY magazine. I wanted to share it below to help further spread the word about the scuba diving spots we have here in Arkansas. For details on more water sports to enjoy in the state, visit www.arkansas.com/watersports/.
It might surprise you to learn that there are more than 30 scuba diving spots to explore in Arkansas, including clear lakes and deep quarries.
“I think there are many who are unaware of how vast the dive community is here,” said Terri Bernard, a dive instructor at the Dive Shop in Little Rock. “Arkansas has some of the most beautiful lakes and streams in the country — most offering excellent visibility.”
Diving in Arkansas requires getting certified, putting the appropriate set of scuba equipment together and heading to the nearest dive-able body of freshwater.
“As soon as you put a mask on, you open a window to another realm,” said Sandy Carroll, who has been a diver for about 30 years and is a dive instructor at Rick’s Dive ‘N Travel Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas. “There is so much life teeming below the surface of the water. You just have to put that mask on and take a look and see. There is more diversity underwater than anything topside. Until you take the opportunity to see what’s it’s like, it’s beyond what you’ll ever envision.”
The most common misconception of diving Arkansas lakes is that you can’t see anything. “Some assume that since it’s freshwater lakes, it’s going to be cold, dark and ugly with no visibility,” said Mike Taylor, owner of Ocean Extreme Dive & Travel in North Little Rock. “We are blessed here to have very clear water.”
According to Carroll, the majority of diving in the state takes place at U.S. Army Corps of Engineer lakes. “These are larger bodies of water with marinas and usually an air station,” she said. She mentioned there are also remote lakes and quarries that are diveable.
One thing to remember, Carroll noted, is that one shouldn’t compare lake diving and ocean diving. “Other than the fact that they are both bodies of water. They are two totally different environments of water. We always encourage people to lake dive so that they can keep their scuba skills comfortable for when they go to the ocean.”
Taylor said he still remembers his early lake dives. “The first time I saw the actual cliffs, for instance, like those at Lake Ouachita and all these manmade lakes, the rivers, especially like the Ouachita River which makes Lake Ouachita, years and years and years ago before the lake was built, it would be like floating the Buffalo River on some of those rivers that are unchecked,” he said. “You have these wonderful cliffs that you would float by in a canoe and look up at them. Some of the coolest things, when I was a brand new diver, was when I dove in several places where we are seeing those same cliffs and walls of rock but we are seeing them from the top down instead of from the bottom up … it’s the closest you can get to Caribbean saltwater wall diving as you can.”
The same freshwater species that make Arkansas lakes popular fishing destinations also serve as attractions for scuba divers.
Bernard said her first lake dive in Bull Shoals Lake included watching the feeding patterns of bass and crappie and finding herself in the center of hundreds of schooling white bass. “All experiences are met with wonder every time,” she said. “It’s hard to nail down just one memorable dive.”
Diving is a form of relaxation for most and “there’s a lot that can be learned about freshwater marine life when you’re down there observing it firsthand,” she said. “There are varying types of fish habitats in our lakes, as well as the presence of hydras and jellyfish.” Of note, Arkansas freshwater jellyfish are about the size of a penny. Their stings cannot penetrate human skin and are harmless to humans.
This year, to help spread the news about diving in the state, the Dive Arkansas Challenge was launched. The mission is to inspire divers to travel to Arkansas and explore the diving opportunities here. Dive facilities across the state have come together for the project and participation involves simply signing up at an Arkansas dive shop that is part of the project.
The basic premise entails grabbing one or more of your certified dive buddies and participating in a minimum of three verified dives at each of four different geographic dive locations.
The project was created by Dive Shop owner Mike McCrory and Bernard. It started with a conversation regarding specific questions they heard all the time, such as “where is there to dive in Arkansas?”
“We felt we needed to do something to educate potential and already-certified divers, while also giving them a venue that introduces them to the vast opportunities our state has to offer,” she said.
During their research, they found a program developed for divers in Texas. “It seemed to address the very issues we wished to address here,” Bernard said. From that, they developed a very similar program for the state. “I feel it will be a very important, annual event for divers living in, or coming to our beautiful state,” she said.
As for suggestions for those interested in starting the sport: “If you have the least inkling of interest, you can pretty much go to anybody’s [dive shop] website and see what it takes to get started,” Taylor said.
“Don’t procrastinate,” Bernard added. “If you think this is something you would enjoy doing, do it now.”
For more details on the Dive Arkansas project, log onto divearkansas.com.