TYLER BEND — The vast majority of the 800,000 or more visitors expected this year along the Buffalo National River are here for the pleasures of the present — swimming, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, fishing, camping and other fun in the sun.
But the human past is also a visible and fascinating presence in one of Arkansas’ most treasured natural resources. Nearly all people living within the preserve’s boundaries were required to move elsewhere when the 94,293-acre federal enclave was established by Congress in 1972.
Some of those rural residents deeply resented having to give up their long-held family land for a greater cause. They were losers in the worthy effort to preserve one of the few remaining rivers that still flows freely in the lower 48 states after a century of damming by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
To get a quick sense of life along the Buffalo in former times, the place to begin is the National Park Service’s Tyler Bend Visitor Center, near the river’s south bank in Searcy County. That can be followed by stops near opposite ends of the park at Rush Historical District and Big Buffalo Valley (aka Boxley Valley) Historic District.
Vintage black-and-white photographs at the visitor center show the rough-hewn circumstances in which pioneering residents lived. National Park Service information notes that from 1880 to 1915, “the remaining public land was entered both by prospective homesteaders and timber companies.
“At times the two came into conflict, as ‘squatter land’ was legally entered by outside interests. The homesteaders of this period in many cases were trying on a wilderness lifestyle for the first time…
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