SEARCY COUNTY, Ark. (KTHV) -- One of Arkansas' treasures, tourist destination and piece of history, the Buffalo National River is celebrating 40 years as the nation's first national river.
"A stream is a living thing. It moves, dances and shimmers in the sun." These are the words of Harold Alexander, a man who fought for the free-flowing Buffalo River, and its future to remain free.
It's a treasure to many. For years, millions of visitors have enjoyed the Buffalo National River in north central Arkansas. But 40 years ago, its future was on the rocks.
Park interpreter Caven Clark says the controversy began between staunch landowners and the Army Corps of Engineers which wanted to build dams.
Governor Orval Faubus led the Ozark Society with other strong-willed supporters of the river, to secure its future.
Clark says, "Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt who was a prime player as well and is still very active in the preservation of the River."
Lawmakers drafted a bill in May of 1971. President Nixon signed it into law the following March. Now, 40 years later, canoeing, caving, and camping bring people to the 93,000 acre park.
But they see something different from the pre-legislation Buffalo River our ancestors saw.
In fact, Clark says, "Much more of a rural landscape characterized by small farms. A lot more open ground than we have today. Some of those farms have been allowed to re-vegetate. Those homes were lived in."
It may not be immediately noticeable to the amateur eye, but many things change when a landmark becomes a national park.
New laws and management are demanding, and can break routine.
"People who owned the land no longer own the land. It becomes federal property. It becomes the land of all the people of the United States. That's a huge transformation," says Clark. "We have threatened and endangered species we're obligated to protect. We have an obligation to protect the quality of the water. It's a very big, a very complicated job."
But also, it seems to be a fulfilling and awe-inspiring job. A short hike from the visitors center affords one a breath-taking view hundreds of feet above the waters.
Rangers are responsible for keeping endangered species safe, like a rare mussel in the water, or a rare vulgaris.
"It was grown at these homes as an herbal remedy for heart conditions," says Clark. It grows in the shade of the River's most famous homestead, the Sod Collier Farm.
Clark says, "This is one of the farms that we preserve and interpret. One of the hundreds of farms on the river."
As with any natural landmark, it knows change. Clark says, "The major change, I think, is the loss of farmland, and the houses, the homesteads, the barns that went with it."
Through time, the legend of the Buffalo National River will only grow richer like the soil it serves. It will also grow stronger, like the bluffs that surround it.
The river spans the counties of Baxter, Marion, Searcy and Newton with all 93,000 acres federally protected.