Buffalo National River Named an International Dark Sky Park

Updated: 
Stars above the Buffalo National River in Gilbert, AR
Stars above the Buffalo National River in Gilbert, AR
Come for the river, stay for the stars.

The darkest skies in The Natural State can be found at one of Arkansas’s greatest natural treasures. The Buffalo National River is now an International Dark Sky Park, a designation made by the non-profit International Dark-Sky Association.

The Association is the recognized authority for night sky protection and works with governments, communities and city planners to help reduce impacts to natural night skies where possible. The park’s work to promote the protection of Buffalo National River’s natural nighttime environment as a resource to be enjoyed by visitors is what inspired the designation. This designation does not restrict or control lighting in local communities or on private property within the park.

“Staff has worked hard to enhance visitors’ opportunities to experience the wonder of a natural night sky by lowering the park’s use of artificial light at night,” Buffalo National River Superintendent Mark Foust stated in a press release. “The Buffalo River area is a destination for experiencing outstanding natural and cultural resources and the natural night sky is an essential element of those resources.”

Beginning in 2016, park staff and volunteers began inventorying the park’s light fixtures and bulbs. Since then, Buffalo National River has been working toward reducing its light footprint by installing light bulbs that are more efficient and exterior light fixtures that point light directly downward.

“Many of the changes were easy to do and did not cost extra, but it took the insight and work of a dedicated staff and several volunteer groups to recognize what could be done and make the changes,” Foust said. “Buffalo National River would not have been able to achieve this special status without the support of astronomical groups from across Arkansas. The park would like to thank the Arkansas Natural Sky Association, Central Arkansas Astronomical Society, North Central Arkansas Astronomical Society and the Sugar Creek Astronomical Society for their support with data collection and interpretive programming over the last two years. The expertise that these groups provided was invaluable.”

The Buffalo National River is the 26th National Park Service site to receive this designation and the first in Arkansas.

The National Park Service oversees 95,730 acres along the Buffalo River and three designated wilderness areas within that acreage. Rushing whitewater is interspersed among sections of calmer water as the river wends its way 135 miles through the lush green valley that is home to elk, deer, black bear and other woodland creatures. Tall limestone bluffs in earthy hues of gray, tan and brown are defining features of the Buffalo. It is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states.

Along its corridor, you’ll find canoe and kayak outfitters, campsites, hiking trails, rock climbing routes, cabin rentals, towering limestone bluffs, quiet pools and whitewater rapids, an elk herd, and historic areas such as the Boxley Valley Historic District, the Parker Hickman Homestead, and the Villines Cabin. The Buffalo National River preserves many pioneer homesteads ranging from the 1840s to the 1930s.

There are more than 75 miles of designated equestrian trails, and 100 miles of maintained trails within the river park. Mountain biking and hiking are very popular activities. Some trails offer views from the top of the limestone bluffs. Other treks snake through the woods past remnants of old homesteads and down old logging roads.

Overnighting along the Buffalo can be unrolling a sleeping bag on a primitive backpacking adventure, pitching a tent at a NPS campground, or staying in rustic housekeeping cabins constructed in the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps at Buffalo Point. Cabins and resorts just outside the park are popular with visitors as well.

Call the Buffalo Point Ranger Station at 870-449-4311 or go to www.nps.gov/buff for more information about programs in the park.