Tuesday Fitness Fix: Arkansas Water Trails

Check here every Tuesday
for a fitness fix rundown. I’ll be on the lookout for running, cycling, tri’s,
adventure races, and other active outlets taking place around the state that
I’ll highlight each week. This week:

Arkansas Water Trails

Zoie Clift
As we all know ( and feel), it’s been
blazing blazing hot out lately. Which makes the urge to be by/on/under/or near
the water very very strong. In light of this, I thought I’d post an article I wrote about  the Arkansas Water
Trails Program. Enjoy!
New Arkansas Water Trails
Program Creates Statewide System of Canoe Trails
Though Arkansas is
overflowing with water trails for canoeists and kayakers to explore, chances
are most people only know about rivers such as the Buffalo, the Cossatot, or
the Mulberry.
Arkansas Water Trails is
aiming to change this scenario.

The new program, initiated by
the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC), has been launched to create a
system of water trails throughout the state.

“Canoe trails make
wilderness areas accessible to everyone,” said Debbie Doss, Conservation Chair
of the Arkansas Canoe Club (ACC). “Arkansas has unique treasures that many
other places no longer have.”

Doss said in the U.S., the
diversity of aquatic life found in Ozark Mountain streams is rivaled only by
Alaska. “In addition we also have the largest untouched Big Woods wetland
outside of the Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana,” she said. “These are beautiful
amazing areas full of wildlife that are mostly unseen by anyone but hunters and

According to the Outdoor
Industry Association, paddling is one of the fastest growing recreational
sports in the nation. And the state is prime territory for it. “Arkansas has
more than 90,000 miles of rivers, streams and bayous,” said Kirsten Bartlow,
director of Arkansas Water Trails and Watchable Wildlife Coordinator for AGFC.

According to Bartlow,
routes like the Buffalo are well known and inundated with paddlers but other
water trails are harder to find out about and are mostly known either via word
of mouth or by talking to local paddlers. “There are lots of water trails in
Arkansas but many don’t know what they are or how to find them,” said Bartlow.
“There wasn’t a source to get this information.” Bartlow collaborated with
contacts at the ACC to do something about the situation.  From this, the Arkansas Water Trails
project was born.

This is a passion project
for Bartlow, who grew up in Kansas and has been paddling since early childhood
when she and her father went out on canoeing adventures. Due to the wealth of
routes in Arkansas, she started getting into the sport more.

According to Bartlow,
unlike hiking or biking trails that have to be built, water routes are already
there and “our job is to get the infrastructure in place.”  This includes providing route signs and
trail maps for a trail.  Once a
route is part of the program, “we need people to be the eyes and ears of the
trail,” she said. “We want the communities to be involved – it’s their trail.”

Bartlow said an added
benefit of the program was as a avenue to bring tourism (such as nature
tourism) to many of the towns that host the trails. “One of the best ways to
observe wildlife is from the water,” she said. 

Though whitewater paddling
is a seasonal sport, flatwater paddling (the type found on these trails) can be
utilized year round. Trails are added to the program as site assessments are
completed and maps are developed.

The first route included in
the program (the dedication took place this April) was the 7.8-mile Wattensaw
Bayou (near Hazen) that winds through cypress and water tupelo trees on its way
to the White River. Future water trails are being considered. Possible trails
include Arkansas Post, the Cache River, Bayou Bartholomew, and Bayou Meto.

The stretch of Bayou Meto
that flows through Jacksonville is known as an “urban” canoe trail. An
“urban” canoe trail, as opposed to one like Wattensaw, is one that
passes through a predominately urban area and is close enough to the city to
make it possible for people to use after work or after school. “Like any nature
trail it gives the community a chance to re-connect with the environment with
the added benefit of being relatively easy to maintain,” said David McClanahan,
Central Chapter President of the ACC.

McClanahan said the Bayou
Meto trail is being created and cleaned up via a collaborative effort led by
students known as the North Pulaski High Stream Team. The students are part of
the EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology) program at North Pulaski High
in Jacksonville and are carrying out the project with help from the AGFC and
the ACC. Around four miles of the route are completed via which canoeists and
kayakers can view large cypress trees, beaver dams, and wildlife. 

According to McClanahan
there are numerous urban trails within cities that are still wild. “There is
already a trail at Pinnacle Mountain State Park along the Little Maumelle River
and another under development on Fourche Creek in Little Rock,” he said.

Whether the water trails
are located in urban areas or secluded in the midst of a bayou, a main goal of
the program is to not only spread the word on the variety of trails in
Arkansas, but also help protect the state’s rivers, streams, and bayous. 

According to Doss, hunters
and anglers have been instrumental in preserving the big woods areas.
“Whitewater boaters, many of them in the Ozark Society, have also been involved
in saving beautiful mountain streams like the Buffalo River and Lee Creek,” she
said. “We have worked to save these things because we know what they are worth.
The human spirit is recharged by being alive in nature. We want as many people
as possible to experience the Arkansas that we love…I believe the trail system
we are beginning to build now will someday be the best in the nation.”

If you’d like to become a
partner with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and create a water trail in
your community, e-mail Kirsten Bartlow at kpbartlow@agfc.state.ar.us.
The Arkansas Canoe Club was created in 1976 with a handful of members in
Fayetteville and Little Rock. Since then, the club has grown to around 1200
members with seven chapters in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. For
more information on the Arkansas Canoe Club, visit www.arkansascanoeclub.com.

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