It’s the Stuff, Stupid!

It’s “The Stuff,” Stupid!

Well, this is going to sound like the simplest solution to putting some life in a dead downtown that you have ever heard: Add stuff. I know that begs the question, of course. What kind of stuff? And the answer is….almost any kind of stuff!
Before we get into the details of why stuff matters, let’s look at the towns without stuff and see if we can get a glimpse of why a dead-as-a-sack-of-hammers downtown is as blank as a sheet of paper. But, why is it blank? Yes, you might say the former downtown businesses closed because no one came downtown to shop and you’d be right, but why did shoppers abandon that downtown? I think the absence of stuff had a lot to do with it. In order to understand the concept of stuff, I’m going to use an example a very successful restaurant—The Superior Grill in Shreveport. It’s packed every night, and yes they do serve good food, but the Superior is much more than a good place to eat. Going to the Superior is having the Superior experience complete with all the trimmings, and the trimmings are the “stuff” that makes the restaurant click. Colored lights are strung from the ceiling, almost every inch of wall space is covered with everything from bullfight posters to mounted steer heads, plus adding to the stuff, there’s TVs on every wall and the music is blaring. This restaurant is the poster child for “more stuff”. Yes, I know they serve great margaritas and their open grill turns out super fajitas, but would the restaurant still knock ‘um dead without the stuff? Maybe, but can you imagine stripping the restaurant to the walls? Of course not, because who in their right mind would tinker with a cash machine like that?
Okay, now let’s see if the “stuff” concept will transfer to a dead downtown and breathe life into it. There are plenty of dead downtowns to use as examples and they all have one thing in common. Almost without exception the store fronts, parking lots, and sidewalks are bare. There are no trees, green boulevards, or any other items to clutter the area. It’s not that the residents wanted a bare downtown; it was a matter of priorities. Trees, planters, kiosks and any other “fluff” items, as these things were called were given such a low priority that by the time the town’s limited resources were allocated, the monies were depleted. Yes, the industrial parks and job creation was considered primary beneficiaries, but if you want to know how that worked out, check the multi-millions spent on deserted industrial parks. Obviously, there has to be a better way for our towns and cities to spend their money.
First, let’s look at the easy items that will improve a downtown, and believe it or not it’s the visual items that are the most important. A government survey of several strip centers proved this point. They compared strip centers that were essentially blank to those that were landscaped with plants around the stores and trees in their parking lot. The compared centers carried similar merchandise. They found that the landscaped strip centers did almost 25% more business than the blank shopping centers. Customers actually thought the stores with the landscaped parking lot had better quality goods and they were willing to pay more for them. Even though, that wasn’t the case. The two strip centers had stores with almost identical merchandise. Well, landscaping is sure stuff; so I guess you might say stuff sells.
I guess you might say stuff sells because of our inquisitive human nature. Let me give you two examples: First Jasper, Arkansas. Well, tiny Jasper is not big enough to have much, but it’s right in the middle of scenic Arkansas, and very close to our elk herd. So why not put a 9 foot statue of an elk right downtown? Yep, they did and a picture of that elk was splashed across paper after paper. Just think of the folks who will go out of their way to visit Jasper—and see the elk. Of course, it takes visitors to give a downtown life, and Jasper has taken a step forward in attracting them. Example number two: El Dorado…yes, we have great buildings and a wonderful courthouse, but what are the most photographed items in El Dorado and maybe in the state? Yes, it’s two pieces of stuff, which are the two red, Old English Phone Booths. They are the real thing straight from London, and when they were installed they were actual phone booths. However, cell phones put them out of business, so the two phone booths have been resurrected as the Downtown Book Exchanges. They are back in business and are as photographed as ever.
If we look a little deeper into the stuff concept, we’ll see we are really picky when it comes to adding stuff to a downtown. The country of Switzerland is almost a Disney theme park when it comes to adding stuff, and naturally with a drop dead backdrop of the Alps, tourism is the number one business in the country. However, most visitors don’t climb the Alps; they end up walking around in the hundreds of small towns filled with stuff. The Swiss have developed a knack for just the right stuff, and what do they focus on? Well, in their natural setting around the mountains, the theme in most villages has to do with nature. Hanging baskets from streetlight poles, window boxes with flowers, and on and on with everything natural and historic as they can make it. If you removed the stuff from the Swiss villages, they might look a lot like some of our downtowns, and they would probably have about as many visitors as we do.
Now, let’s hone in on Arkansas and focus on stuff that would enhance not only the looks of most towns, but would draw visitors, and maybe give some of our visitors a reason to move to one of our towns that are losing population. First let’s look at the big minuses that detract from our Natural State theme, and blank parking lots are the biggest eyesore in most towns. Of course, in automobile American almost every town of any size has parking lots, but they don’t have to be blank eyesores. If we check out how almost every progressive city handles bare parking lots, the first thing you will find is they have a greenscape ordinance, which very simply means parking lots must have at least 25% greenspace. If a city builds on the greenscape ordinance basis, it will promote sidewalk planters, window boxes, and street trees. Yes, it’s just more stuff, but it all adds up.
Of course, I could go on and on about stuff, but I think you get the point. Stuff draws people, and people restore life to a dead downtown.


What Makes Us Americans

Richard Mason

What Makes Us Americans

Well, what makes Americans what we are today? I guess you could fall back on our diversity. You know the old melting pot stuff, but I think we’re a whole lot more than a mix of around-the-world refugees. Yes, I may be bragging, when I say Americans are a special breed of cats but I say that in the light of our place in today’s world. However, I don’t think being the world’s most powerful nation or the greatest economic power defines us. No, we’re sure not one smooth, big ball of economic and military wax, and that’s not all bad either. Sure we’ve got some rough edges, which also adds into what make us who we are. Yes, some of our rough edges make us prone to violence and that’s not all bad either. When an American, sitting at a computer in Las Vegas, puts a hellfire missile in the ear of a Somalis warlord, who is committing genocide that American is reacting the same way our first troops responded at Lexington and Concord. But there’s not any doubt that we have violence intertwined in our soul. If you don’t believe me, watch two demonstrations meet—one right and one left—exercising their free speech complete with clubs and knives. Yes, you’ll be looking at another wild fight when the Alt-right, Nazis and unrepentant Confederates meet Black Lives Matter, the Anarchists and the Ultra-Left, and that’s not all bad either. Hey, what if they didn’t care? So sell tickets and let ’em get after it.
Yes, the spirit of America has a streak of violent intertwined in it and that’s not all bad either. We wouldn’t have a country if our forefathers hadn’t fought it out in the streets of Boston. Of course, we thrive on contact sports. Well, what do you call those Gladiators who trot out on the field every Saturday in the fall and we have the same little routine the ancient Romans had when one of them was ‘hurt’. They are carted off and the game goes on, and that’s not all bad either. It is part of who we are as Americans. But it’s a little different since the Roman ones died right there on the field and the American ones take another 30 or 40 years to die from the brain injuries, but that’s not all bad either or maybe it is. Hell, how should I know, I’m just a geologist who likes to write.
But the true spirit of Americans comes through when fellow Americans are in need. The response to Hurricane Harvey is a good example. A few days after the city of Houston became Lake Houston, we drove to Dallas on Interstate 20. We were in East Texas when we passed a caravan of Caddo Parish sheriff and police officers escorting several 18 wheelers loaded with relief supplies heading for South Texas. That impressed me but not as much as the pickup truck we passed a few miles on down the road. It was an older, non-air conditioned truck driven by a bearded young man who looked to be about 30. He had two large flags flying on the front of his truck; an American and a Christian. In the back of his truck he had an aluminum rescue boat with a motor and the boat was packed to overflowing with cases of bottled water. He was doing just what Americans have been doing ever since there was an America, he was responding to other Americans in need.
No, we’re not a perfect country but that’s not all bad either. I’ve lived overseas and visited Switzerland several times and it is as close to a perfect country as any place I’ve seen but just the idea that I would live there and be bored to death is beyond my thinking.
I worked in Benghazi, Libya of all places, for a couple of years and when I returned to the States, the customs agent in New York handed me my passport back and said, “Welcome home” it brought out a since of pride and a smile. Yes, I’m proud to be an American and I actually like some of America’s rough edges. When I go for a run or more likely a long walk and I see beer cans at the stop sign, I know how long it takes one of our good-old-boys to drive from the convenience store and finish a Budweiser and that’s not all bad either, because I know those guys are part of the backbone of our country and we’d be something like the French with bad food if we didn’t have them, and yes, that would be bad. When I was in college at The University and in love with a Smackover girl, I had to hitchhike 300 miles home on the weekends to see her, I could always count on those good-old-boys for a pickup truck ride.
Of course, we have our Chamber of Commerce and even our Governor still out looking for new jobs for Arkansas, even though we can’t fill the openings we have now, and that’s not all bad either. What if, instead of having ‘em out beating the bushes for a Toyota factory, they joined the work force? Gosh, they would set productivity back ten years, and that would be bad.
Of course, the 2020 Presidential race is about to start up, but that’s not all bad….wait a minute: that is all bad…unless you’re selling advertising.

Help For Your Ugly Streets

Richard Mason

Help for Your Ugly Streets

Last January, my wife and I spent our wedding anniversary at the Alluvium Hotel in Greenwood, Mississippi, and the next day we continued on to Columbus to take care of some business. I’ve made the trip numerous times, usually driving straight across east Arkansas ending up still on Highway 82, when I arrived in Columbus. I guess I’ll always marvel at the Mississippi River’s Delta, and since I’m a geologist, I can visualize the vast amount of water from the melting Ice Age Glaciers that created the Delta.
January is bleak in the Delta, since the once great swamps have been drained, the trees cut, and the river has been tamed with levees to stop the flooding. The mile after mile of plowed dirt is as boring as any place I’ve ever been. However, some of the entrances to several Delta towns have been perked up by planting crepe myrtle trees along Highway 82 and by creating crepe myrtle tree-lined boulevards into their towns. Greenville, with its casinos and dead-as-a-sack-of-hammers downtown, has planted several hundred crepe myrtle trees along Highway 82 leading into town, and although their downtown is almost vacant, your first impression, as you drive into town, is extremely positive. There’s not enough space in this column to comment on their downtown except to say, “Needs work.” However, they are doing the right thing in planting the entrance-way crepe myrtle trees, and by letting them grow tall with only trimming the very lower branches—they look great.
We continued on across the Delta, stopping at Indianola where we stopped in their very nice, viable Main Street downtown and dined at the Crown Restaurant. Great restaurant, and I think, if it were Michelin rated, it would deserve a “Worth a Detour”. Again we found their entranceways and actually throughout the town, streets lined with tall, crepe myrtle trees. That was when it began to occur to us that, in general, folks in Mississippi don’t chop off their crepe myrtle trees like they do in most Arkansas towns. It seemed to me that it was 80% tall crepe myrtle trees and 20% chopped off semi-bushes, whereas El Dorado has 80% (or more) chopped off crepe myrtle trees, and many other Arkansas towns follow the same trimming as if crepe myrtles were bushes instead of trees. The difference is remarkable and extremely noticeable, and for once, at least some Mississippi towns have gotten it right. Of course crepe myrtle trees shouldn’t be chopped off, and that will change one day. However, folks will tell you that’s the way they’ve been doing it for years, but the Master Gardeners and every nurseryman or woman worth their salt, will tell you it’s the wrong way to trim crepe myrtle trees, so don’t commit, crepe murder by chopping them off.
I know taking a lesson from Mississippi would choke some folks, but let’s just do a “what if” here in my home town. Okay? What if the City of El Dorado actually tried to do something about the eyesore of South Arkansas, North West Avenue, the entrance-way avenue into town? How about making it a boulevard with a limited turn lane from Walmart to Locust Street and then plant crepe myrtles trees every 20 feet in about 75% in what is now the endless turn lane. Of course, while the City is at it, they could plant hundreds more along the City right-of-ways on both sides of the street. Yes, I’m dreaming again, and I know it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Well, that’s an example from El Dorado, but almost every town of any size has a “North West Avenue”, and yes, almost all of them could use an uptick. Hot Springs has Central Avenue, Little Rock has Broadway, and Fayetteville has Dixon Street.
If you have lived in Arkansas for very long, you’ll know how much ugly leafy trees cover up, and that’s exactly what a tree lined street will do. Actually, planting trees along a busy entryway street is the least expensive way to improve eyesore streets, and most of the time that street is the first impression street in your town. Every city owns the right-of-way and all they have to do is cut a three foot square hole in the sidewalk or pavement and plant a crepe myrtle tree. They don’t even have to worry about overhead power lines because a mature crepe myrtle trees won’t grow tall enough to get into the power lines.
A boulevard center is an area about the width of a turn lane and almost every progress city will have them planted with trees or bushes. A turn lane doesn’t have to be essentially endless to be effective. By reducing the spots available to turn you won’t create any traffic problems because leaving one turn lane per city block leaves plenty of opportunities to turn, and by taking around 75% of the turn lane and planting trees or shrubs, you have added measureable to the ambiance of your cities entranceway. I know, if we’re honest, we would agree almost all of our entrance-ways into our towns and cities a just bone ugly and desperately need anything that would enhance their looks, and when we consider how inexpensive the project is and how much it would add to the looks of those streets, you would think our city officials would be standing in line to plant crepe myrtle trees along the entrance-ways and along the sides those streets. Well, if you haven’t noticed, they are not standing in line to plant, and trying to get any action on tree planting along these entryway streets is like pulling teeth. There is something about tree planting on or in the median is a signal to get your back up if you are a mayor or a city engineer. A city street doesn’t have to be designed as a raceway to get cars and trucks through town as quickly as possible. By making the street pedestrian friendly by putting in sidewalks, crosswalks, and lining it with trees you are building up the towns quality of life, and that’s trumps the raceway every time.
And now an important announcement!
The Buffalo National River is in grave danger of being polluted by the factory hog farm. In my 35 years of working to protect and enhance Arkansas’ environment, this is the greatest threat I have ever encountered. If the Governor doesn’t force the re-location of the hog farm, I believe we will see the river damaged beyond repair. You can help: On December 4th you can join to flood the Governor’s office with letters and emails to relocate the hog farm and save the Buffalo. Please post this and share on Facebook, but don’t send anything until December 4th—or the 2nd if you are going to mail a protest.

250 State Capitol Bldg. Little Rock, AR 72201. Fax:(501)682-1382.
Tel:(501)682-2345 email:

The El Dorado Story

The El Dorado Story

El Dorado had a rather ordinary beginning, and from its founding in 1845, the town, slowly grew to where in January of 1921 the city could boast 3800 rather ordinary farmers, merchants, and woodsmen, who struggled to survive. The area’s virgin timber had been harvested and the sandy soil could barely produce enough cotton to pay the bank for the seed. It was a grim outlook these El Dorado folks faced as they started the New Year. However, at 4:00 P. M. on January 11th, 1921 there was a thunderous roar west of town and almost the entire population of the little village hurried to the edge of town where oil was roaring through the top of a wooden derrick. The Bussey # 1 Armstrong had come in as a gusher ushering in an oil boom unlike anything anyone in Arkansas had ever seen. Within five years hundreds of wells had been drilled and the value of the oil produced during those five years was greater than the entire appraised value of all the property in the state. In those five years Union County’s population mushroomed from 5000 to 100,000 and El Dorado’s population of 3800 soared to an estimated 40,000.
Almost all of the wood-frame downtown buildings, the three center of town churches, and the red brick Victorian Courthouse were scraped off, and in their place some magnificent buildings were built. Many of El Dorado’s city leaders of the 1920s had been in World War I and had seen the wonderful buildings of Europe, and with the oil boom money they did their best to emulate them. After the excesses of the oil boom settled out, El Dorado’s population stabilize between 28,000 and 30,000 in the 50s and 60s.
However, as El Dorado’s manufacturing base relocated to cheaper labor out of the country, the county and city steadily lost population until it dipped under 20,000 in 2010. When it became obvious that the manufacturing jobs that sustained the city would never return, different ways to reverse the downtrend in growth were considered. A group called 50 For the Future was formed and their mission was to turn the negative growth rate around, and once again have a growing expanding economy. After hearing Roger Brooks, a destination expert from Seattle, speak at a State Main Street meeting in Little Rock, he was invited to address the business community in El Dorado. He was so impressive that 50 For The Future and the City of El Dorado each put up $25,000 and hired Mr. Brooks to recommend how to turn El Dorado’s decline around.
After working on the project a year, he came back into town with a thick packet of recommendations. The key to his vision was to make El Dorado an entertainment destination. He called the project El Dorado! The Festival City of the South. Mr. Brooks is a destination expert, and his premise is the small to medium size towns must be a destination if they are to grow and prosper.
To become a destination is very simple, you must have something that will attracted people to visit your city, but it goes further than that. A town also must have the things the skilled professional people, who are anxious to leave the mega cities and all the traffic, noise, and pollution where they won’t just visit, they will move there. Actually, they want what all of us desire: entertainment, good restaurants, a safe, attractive downtown, and good schools.
In 2009 El Dorado’s restored downtown was selected at the top downtown out of over a 1000 Main Street communities under 50,000 in population, and Mr. Brooks used that foundation to build upon his recommendations.
Phase One of MAD, the Murphy Arts District:
The project is just a block off of the downtown square and it is centered around the 1929 Rialto Theater and the adjacent buildings. The Griffin Auto Building, a 1920 era building was built as a Ford Motor Company showroom. It is a huge, open steel-arched building that has been converted into a 2200 seat Broadway stage quality theater called the Griffin Music Hall. It also includes a cabaret restaurant, the Griffin, which opened with sold out performances each Thursday from the cabaret stage. It’s Thursday Night Live at the Griffin!
Adjacent to the Griffin building an 8000 capacity amphitheater has been constructed, and during opening weekend festivities, Brad Paisley filled it to capacity. Work continues on the MAD PLAYSCAPE, which will be the largest children’s play area in the state. It will feature state-of-the-art water projects and numerous other children’s play items.
Phase Two of MAD
The MAD Art Museum is the next major agenda item, and renovation of the 1920 era McWilliams Furniture Building will start within a few weeks. The museum will have three floors of display area, and connections with other regional and national museums to offer rotating art displays featuring top American and European artists. As this work progresses, one of the remaining 1920s Ritchie Grocery Buildings will be converted into a recital hall and small, black-box theater.
After the MAD Art Museum opens, work will begin on the crown jewel of the MAD, the 1929 art deco, vaudeville-movie house the Rialto Theater. This major project will restore the interior and exterior to exactly the condition it was when it opened in 1929, plus the addition of numerous attendee enhancements.
The facilities that are finished and those under construction are the items that will bring in skilled professionals to reverse the population loss and create jobs. MAD is creating exactly what these folks are looking for as they leave the mega-cities. In ten years, after MAD is finished, I predict several positive things will have taken place in El Dorado.
Well over 500 new jobs will be created, the new, empty Industrial Park will become a high-end residential subdivision, El Dorado’s population will pass 30,000, dozens of stores and restaurants will open, South Arkansas Community College will become a four year university, real estate values in the two shopping areas, North West Avenue and Downtown, will double, and Hot Springs couples will start buying condos in El Dorado.
Actually, since the initial opening of MAD, exceeded all expectations in attendance and job creation, and the ongoing multiple events have attracted such a large audience, the above projections very likely underestimate the final success of the completed MAD. At the present MAD has 310 full and part-time employees, and they are still hiring.
. That is exactly how you make a town a destination, which will stem the outflow of jobs and population. Well, the bottom line to all of this is very simple: The skilled workers who will grow a town must have the quality of life items they want, and the town wants or the skilled workers won’t come and the young people won’t stay. It’s up to the town to give both groups what they want, or face a continuing population loss.


Pine Bluff 101
“When the center of your city is a failure, then the perception is your whole town is a failure.” No, that’s not my original thought. It came from one of the community leaders in San Antonio, Texas in the mid-1960s as they started an effort to renovate and restore their downtown. I lived in Corpus Christi and visited San Antonio numerous times during the start of that effort, and open carry would have been an excellent idea if you visited downtown San Antonio after dark. Downtown was a rundown, drug-infested, boarded up place that desperately needed help. The help came after the community leaders banded together and in 1968 put on Hemisfair, a World’s Fair type exhibition confined to the Western Hemisphere. Hemisphere kicked off the restoration-renovation process where public and private money and a lot of hard working individuals banded together to produce a new-old downtown that is currently a showpiece for how to bring a city center back to life, and in doing so revive an entire city.
Pine Bluff is a 1960s San Antonio, and from all the press I read, it seems the city is getting ready to tackle the revitalization of the town. However, I don’t believe the focus of the initial work is directed at the root of the problem. I guess, paraphrasing a well-known politician, “It’s the Downtown stupid!”
Yes, I believe Pine Bluff is considered a failure because the downtown is not just a failure, it is an embarrassment to the entire state. I know that’s a little strong, but downtown streets closed for months because buildings are collapsing in the street? How do you get worse than that? You don’t!
I can remember growing up in the 50s and 60s considering Pine Bluff being Arkansas’s second city, but now? Well, it can be again, but until their downtown is once again the center of the town, and it is restored and vital, it won’t happen. You can increase traffics to downtown, but until you give someone a reason to go there, it’s no different than increasing the traffic to a cemetery.
The effort to restore Pine Bluff back to being the preeminent City in southeast Arkansas to be successful, must be focused in removing the negative image the downtown—bricks-in-the-street—has given it. Now, let’s look at the root problem confronting the town. Loss of population signals the skilled professionals who are critical to a town’s growth are not coming, they are leaving. Unless you can reverse that trend, the city won’t be revived. Skilled professional people are the one who create jobs and this high technological workforce is centered in mega cities, but many of them are looking to relocate because of congestion, pollution, and a raft of other big city problems. Attracting these skilled professional is the key to any medium or small town survival, and to attract them, you must give them what they want, and they don’t want jobs. They have jobs. They are job creators.
A town must have several key items all built around an attractive city center if that town is to grow. But first, before we get to exactly what these skilled professional people want, how do you get a vital, attractive center of the city? This first point is an absolute must: Your center city buildings, which are potential retail, restaurant, and entertainment venues, must be better or equal to any comparable real estate in the city. This is step one, and if you don’t complete step one forget steps one, two, three, etc. that is because step one is critical to the remaining steps. Of course, that means you must restore the Pines Hotel and the Sanger Theater along with most of the core downtown buildings. To attract the skilled professionals you must give them the items that want and that list of wants depends on quality real estate. These folks demand good restaurants, entertainment, and retail located in an attractive setting. Now let me suggest how city government and other community leaders can make step one happen. Either re-zone the center of the city to require properties to be upgraded, or give financial incentives to developers who will restore these buildings to meet today’s standards. Of course, the renovation of Pine Bluff’s center city will be a decades jobs, and it won’t be cheap. The 5/8s of a cent tax is just a drop in the bucket. If the city council is serious about seeing the city return to his preeminent position in the state, then they will have to raise at least five times that amount of money, and make step one, the downtown restoration, a must before launching into outlying projects. The worst thing the city can do is scatter shoot their funding, and wake up with their money gone and very little to show for it.
After step one is complete, the remaining work is primarily to present an attractive surroundings for these buildings, and of course that is adding almost everything you can imagine to the downtown. Brick sidewalks dozens of flower planters, information kiosks, and focus on everything starting or happening downtown. Of course, every holiday should feature something downtown, 5k races and pep rallies should be downtown, and the goal should be to etch in everyone’s brain that downtown is the center of the city, and when Pine Bluff’s downtown becomes the pride of the town, the community will have taken a giant step toward reviving.

Rewilding Arkanas


Rewilding Arkansas
Rewilding? Yes, rewilding is just what it says and means, and here in Arkansas it is a plan to restore a portion of our forests and some of its wildlife to what it was in the past. When we look back on our recent history, let’s say 200 years ago, I am confident that we wouldn’t recognize most of our state. We’ve essentially cut all of the massive, virgin timber, drained the great swamps near most of our rivers, and killed off at least 90% of the animal life. What now? Are we satisfied just to accept the disaster we have created? Or should we join a movement that has started in Europe called Rewilding Europe. This is the concept: Certain large forested and lightly inhabited areas of the European Continent would be selected to be rewilded. In other words, allowed to become as wild as possible. I know we think, if a program such as “Rewilding” was important, the United States would be leading the world in adopting it. Well, we’re not leading the pack. We’re not even in the pack. In fact very few Americans even know what ‘Rewilding’ is, so let me bring you up to date.
Rewilding is a movement to recreate an area or a species of wildlife as close as it was before it was inhabited by humans, and not just a National Park, but a woodland where as many of the original animals that inhabited an area would once again live there.
Of course, rewilding would be selective, and essentially that’s what many of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s programs are doing now, but it would be more extensive. Restoring the turkey and deer populations are good examples, but that’s only a starting point.
Arkansas was once the Bear State because bears were so plentiful, and I would venture a guess that bears were in every county in the state. Of course, the restocking and reestablishing of the bear population has started, but it is confined and limited, and with a bear hunting season, it seems as if the Game and Fish Commission is trying to only recreate a token bear population. Why not let the bear population increase until we reach a rewilding level equal to the turkey or deer population? I can’t see how, if it’s okay to have a bear population in a couple of Northwest Arkansas counties and one Southeast county, why wouldn’t it make sense to have bears in all 75 counties again? Of course, if there is nothing wrong with having more bears, having a bear season is a stupid way to achieve that. Eliminate the bear season until the bear population has a 300 to 500% increase. That would put the bear population at something over 75,000, and it would probably have a positive effect on reducing the feral hog population.
Well, while I’m writing about increasing an already small population of wild game, why not let the elk expand their range? What’s wrong with elk being in the Ouachita Mountains or along the Red River in southwest Arkansas? Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but having an elk hunting season to keep the herd along the Buffalo River at about the same size is just one step from having a hunting season at a petting zoo. Eliminate the elk season until we have substantial herds of elk throughout the state, and yes, a substantial statewide herd of elk would be in the hundred thousand range instead of a few hundred.
Next let’s talk about the harvesting of alligators in the state. How many 12 foot alligators are left in the state after that big one was killed last month? Ten maybe fifteen; and what is the alligator population in southern and eastern Arkansas? 1500 maybe 2000? Okay, maybe you’re not ready to see more alligators in south Arkansas, but how many beaver are there? Hundreds of thousands, and more are on the way, and the over-abundance of beaver has wreaked environmental havoc by flooding thousands of forest habitat acres. Of course, we are overrun by beaver because we have eliminated all the predators that prey on beaver, and guess what helps control beaver? Of course, it’s the alligators, especially the big ones! We should eliminate the gator season until we reach some equilibrium with the beaver population, and that would let the few thousand gators in the state expand to several hundred thousand.
Now before you start thinking I’m anti-hunting consider the effect of what I have proposed. By allowing the population of elk, bear, and alligators to expand until those populations are as plentiful as deer, would create a much better opportunity to hunt. When I grew up in South Arkansas deer were so scarce that just seeing a deer was a big deal, and now after rewilding the deer population, deer hunting is a huge part of the hunting season in Arkansas.
But just having more wild game is only part of the rewilding we need here in Arkansas. There is another large area of our state that needs more habitat restoration, and this area will surprise you. We should rewild a portion of the roadways and median right-of-ways especially on our Interstates and other major roads in the state. The Arkansas Highway Department, which has done a super job of road construction, is probably responsible for more habitat destruction than any entity in the state. I walk and jog on the 167 Bypass in El Dorado and the medians are mowed grass, and the cleared right-of-ways are 40 to 50 yards of mowed grass on both sides of the road. Multiply that extra unneeded right-of-way by a 5000 or 10,000 and you will understand the magnitude of the loss. I believe the right-of-ways could be reduced by at least 50% without any appreciable hazard to drivers. I have driven on dozens of interstate highways where the right-of-way were a third of Arkansas’s, and I have noticed the nationwide trend to plant trees and bushes in the medians and reduce the right-of-ways in surrounding states. Louisiana, Texas, and even Mississippi have tree planting programs to reforest medians and over-extended right-of-ways. Of course, by allowing part of the right-of-ways to have major vegetation instead of grass, it would save the state thousands of dollars in mowing expense.
Yes, Arkansas has already benefited immensely from rewilding, but if we will ramp up the process and rewild other species of wildlife and habitat, our state and our hunters will reap huge benefits.




Of course, unless you have been living under a rock, you know I’m referring to the Buffalo River, our country’s first national river. The Buffalo is an old friend of mine. I have floated it, swam and fished in it many times. I first met the Buffalo when I was attending The University and joined a group of students called the Ozark Hikers. Well, we hiked very little, but I think the Ozark Spelunkers would have been too much of a mouthful for a bunch of college kids. Yes, we were cave explorers, and pretty unconventional ones. A typical weekend would find us driving around where the Boone Limestone outcropped, pulling up to a rancher or farmer’s house with this spiel, “We’re from the University, you know that school over in Fayetteville, and we explore caves. Are there any caves around here, and do you mind if we go in ‘em?” Almost every rural farmer or rancher in the area where the Boone Limestone outcropped would nod, and soon we would be deep into some cave that probably very few folks even knew existed.
I can still hear one old farmer after we asked about any caves on his property, “Yeah, boys, there’s one on my back forty, but it ain’t no big deal. But one of the Tucker boys went in and said it gets real little, and then there’s a big room. Just head off behind the barn down yonder, and you’ll see a little opening ‘bout 200 yards down across the fence. Watch out for bats and snakes.”
Well, that’s exactly the kind of cave we were looking for and in about 15 minutes we were standing there looking at a 6 foot wide hole in a limestone cliff. Since I was the skinniest of the bunch, I was picked to lead the way. I put on my headlight and thirty minutes later I was into the cave about 200 yards and on my knees with my headlight shining into the darkness, hoping to see the big room the farmer mentioned. The cave was about ten feet wide to start with, but after about 200 yards it slowly became narrower and smaller until I was crawling on my knees inching along when someone back of me yelled, “Richard, do you see the big room the man told us about?”
“No, but I think the cave may be opening up.” I was wrong. Thirty minutes later, after crawling another couple of hundred yards through bat manure, dead bats and mud, I could feel the roof of the cave on my back and the floor of the cave on my stomach. As a lay there in mud and bat guano I figured the Tucker boys must have been midgets, because I was calling it quits.
“Everybody back up!” I yelled. “I can’t go any further.” Okay, I’m not claustrophobic, but there were a few minutes of near panic, since I couldn’t turn around in the tight space, and everyone had to crawl backwards for about a 100 yards.
I know you’re wondering why am I’m telling stories about an Ozark cave when I’m supposed to be writing on the Buffalo National River? It’s because the caves are the keys to understanding the River. There are over 300 known caves in the Buffalo’s watershed, and thousands of small caves, all of which are interconnected and ultimately all of these caves dump their water into the Buffalo. Let me explain. A significant part of the Buffalo flows across a landscape created by the Boone Limestone, and a huge amount of water flows out of the Limestone each day into the river. This is the lifeblood of the river. When rains flood the landscape, the water either runs off into streams or percolates down into the Limestone and eventually all of the water not absorbed by the land’s top-soil ends up in the River. Of course, the water that falls on the ground and runs off or percolates into the subsurface carries with it a portion of whatever is on the surface of the ground. If you dump the refuse from 6500 pigs on fields anywhere on the Buffalo watershed, some of that pig manure is eventually going to end up in the river. Just imagine the amount of waste from a town of 20,000 dumped year after year on the watershed fields, and you will understand the threat to the River.
The factory hog farm is located on the worst terrain in the state and probably in the mid-south. This terrain is called a karst topography. Karst—think of a sponge or Swiss cheese. Of course, as rains falls on the fields in the Buffalo National River Watershed, where the hog manure from the holding lagoon is spread, the river will be polluted. That is a virtual certainty. The only question is how much and how long will it take.
Writing as an expert familiar with the geologic setting, I believe the factory farm hog permit should be revoked, because of the overwhelming evidence that the facility will pollute the River. However, establishing the Beautiful Buffalo Action Committee will not stop the hog farm from polluting the River. It can only make watershed recommendation, and the committee has no authority to revoke the permit. The situation is so critical that immediate action is a necessity, and only the Governor or the Department of Environmental Quality’s Commissioners can stop the Buffalo from being polluted
“Governor, a state agency has made a horrendous mistake in granting a permit to allow the factory hog farm to be located on the worst possible terrain in the mid-south. You should immediately revoke the permit! Your “Pretend to Care Committee” cannot revoke the factory hog farm permit, and unless the hog farm is relocated to a more suitable location, it is almost a certainty the river will be polluted. What is a more suitable location? Of course, a freshman geology student could tell you to move it out of the National Buffalo River Watershed and onto land where the Fayetteville Shale outcrops. It is not fair to just revoke the permit and have the owners of the factory hog farm take a loss. The State is to blame and the State should step forward and admit they shouldn’t have granted the permit, and buy out the hog farm. Governor, if that doesn’t happen, you and the commissioners of the Department of Environmental Quality will be the ones to blame when the Buffalo is polluted. Are you ready for the signs on the boat landings? NO SWIMMING OR FISHING!”