Thursday, September 26, 2013

Crater of Diamonds - State Park of the Week #4

Crater of Diamonds State Park
Location: SW Arkansas.  2 mi. S. of Murfreesboro.  108 mi. SW of Little Rock.
Area: 911 ac.
Major Attractions: Digging for diamonds!
Miles of Trail: 2.6
My Favorite Part: Attempting to get rich quick.  As a child it was finding cool rocks and playing in the dirt.
Getting There: From the website:
From Little Rock - Travel west on I-30 approximately 56 miles and take exit #73 at Arkadelphia, then go west on Ark. 51 for six miles, then follow Ark. 26 for approximately 34 miles to Murfreesboro. From the courthouse square in downtown Murfreesboro (North Washington Avenue), travel two miles southeast on Ark. 301 to the park.

From Texarkana - Go east on I-30 for 30 miles and take Exit #30 at Hope. Take U.S. 278 north and go 27 miles to Nashville. From Nashville, take Ark. 27 north and go 13 miles to Murfreesboro. From the courthouse square in downtown Murfreesboro (North Washington Avenue), travel two miles southeast on Ark. 301 to the park.

Crater of Diamonds State Park sits on top of an old volcanic crater.  It is the only place in the world where the public can search for diamonds and keep whatever they find.  Of course, income from park entrance fees, the cafe, the water park, and equipment rentals probably eclipse whatever the state could make off the diamonds found at the site.  As a child, I enjoyed playing in the dirt and finding interesting rocks.  Grownups enjoy the thought of taking home a large, unique, and valuable diamond.  Only a small portion of the park's area is cleared for diamond hunting, leaving much of the park wooded.  There are 3 short trails at Crater of Diamonds that offer views of interesting geological features and the Little Missouri River.

Big Bend - National Park of the Week #3

Big Bend National Park
Location: SW Texas.  320 mi. SE of El Paso, ~100 mi. S of Marfa and Alpine
Area: 801,000 acres
Major Attractions: Incredible cliffs and views in Chisos Mountains, Sheer canyons on Rio Grande
Miles of Trail:  150+
My Favorite Parts: South Rim, Ernst Tinaja, Santa Elena Canyon, Javelinas (I haven't seen any yet)
Getting There: 4 hours from Midland - W on I-20, S on TX-18, S on US-385
5 hours from El Paso - E on I-10, E on US-90, S on US-385

Big Bend lies in the Chihuahuan Desert and contains the entire Chisos Mountain range.  The park is named after a large bend in the Rio Grande, which makes up its southern border.  Major attractions at the park include floating the Rio Grande, taking in spectacular desert scenery from the South Rim, climbing Emory Peak, and getting in some of the best stargazing on the planet.  My favorite time to visit the park is in the spring when cacti are in bloom and temperatures allow for comfortable backpacking trips.  You will miss out on much of the park unless you take a vehicle that can handle the rough dirt roads that traverse the southern portion of the park.

My less formal piece on Big Bend can be read here.
Desert, South Rim, Big Bend National Park, Texas
South Rim

Sunset, Big Bend National Park, Texas by Johnnie Chamberlin

Cacti In Bloom Big Bend National Park
Cacti in Bloom

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Big Creek Hog Farm Near Buffalo National River

Update 1/22/2015:   According the an article on ParkAdvocate: "U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall found two federal agencies liable for illegally guaranteeing portions of approximately $3.6 million in loans applied for by C&H Hog Farms, a 6,500-animal factory farm that began operating on a tributary of the river in 2013. The two federal agencies—the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA)—guaranteed these loans despite failing to conduct adequate environmental reviews."

Update 5/3/2014:  The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission passed a 6-month moratorium on hog farms in the Buffalo River Watershed.  They also initiated a rule-making process to consider a permanent ban on medium and large hog operations in the watershed.  This is a good start, but there is lots of work to be done to protect water quality in the Buffalo River and around the state.

I've now attended multiple talks by UA professors on the state's monitoring plan.  Two questions arise that I don't think have been answered adequately:
1.  Why did the researchers not disclose the fact that nutrient application fields were mislabeled/misrepresented in the permitted plan?  They claim they didn't view it as their scientific duty, but science (I'm a scientist among other things) is about discovering the truth.  In not disclosing this information to the public they were knowingly perpetuating a falsehood and that isn't what science is about.

2.  Is the current, funded, monitoring plan adequate to definitively determine if the Cargill Hog Farm has negative impacts on Big Creek and the Buffalo River?  I don't think it is and two professors I've heard from on both sides of the issue have said as much.  The major flaws are that no funding is in place for accurate groundwater flow or nutrient sourcing studies.  The research team wants funding for dye-tracer studies.  There should be isotopic or other studies done to determine the source of nutrients found in the Buffalo.  There should also be more monitoring and karst mapping on fields where application is actually taking place.  Due to funding and landowner concerns, very few actual application fields are being monitored.

Update 2/12/14: Read this incredible letter from Earthjustice to ADEQ showing how C&H has been intentionally misrepresenting facts about its nutrient management plan to ADEQ, UA researchers, and others.  The letter also accuses C&H of spending and wasting taxpayer dollars via multiple sources despite their connection to Cargill, a private company with annual revenues over $100 billion.

Original Article:
The USDA and Arkansas Dept. of Environmental Quality issued permits to C&H Hog Farm to operate a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) along Big Creek near Mt. Judea. The perceived weakness of the permit applications, and the permitting process in general, in addition to the fact that the farm is located in the Buffalo River Watershed roughly five miles from the Buffalo, have alarmed paddlers, environmentalists, and locals concerned with air and water quality impacts in their community. From the hog farm landowners' perspective, they followed all the rules, got their permits, took out large loans and have already begun bringing in hogs.

Due to water quality concerns and the importance of the Buffalo River (our nation's first National River and a major tourism draw), the Arkansas legislature approved the use of ~$340,000 of rainy day funds to study impacts of the hog farm and its proposed application of hog waste to nearby fields. Many of the proposed application fields border Big Creek and are in its floodplain. The fields will likely reach nutrient saturation within a short period of time and will probably contribute nutrients and biological contaminants to Big Creek and the Buffalo River. Ideally, the testing that will be performed by University of Arkansas researchers would take into account all possible routes for pollution to travel from the farm into the Buffalo River, however some of the university's professors already argue that isn't the case. I attended a presentation by Dr. Van Brahana, a Prof. Emeritus at UA, during which he argued that monitoring plans were insufficient as they didn't even mention karst or karst-related groundwater transport. This area of the state happens to have lots of karst (see map below), which allows for rapid transportation of water underground. This also means that pollutants aren't attenuated before they reach surface waters, such as the Buffalo or Big Creek in this case.

A lawsuit has been filed against the "U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for their inadequate review and improper authorization of loan guarantee assistance to C&H Hog Farms". "Earthjustice, Earthrise Law Center, and local attorney Hank Bates are representing the Arkansas Canoe Club, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, and The Ozark Society".

One of the least discussed aspects of this story is that CAFOs fall under the General Permit system at ADEQ. General Permits are designed to be quick and easy to get and it is very difficult for ADEQ to deny a general permit application without risking a lawsuit. Few if any environmental organizations testified when ADEQ was deciding to place CAFOs under the general permitting system. If we want to prevent other CAFOs from popping up, this is something structural we need to change. Many states already ban CAFOs or specific practices often used by CAFOs. North Carolina, a huge pork producer, after having horrific spills from hog waste lagoons following a hurricane, has banned the construction of any new lagoons.

Let me know if I'm missing any important aspects of this issue or if I've gotten something wrong.

Links to More Information:
Lots of Documents and Background via Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
Hog Farm Near Buffalo Raises Concerns
Legislature Approves Funding for Water Testing at Hog Farm - ArkTimes
TNC Karst Program
ADEQ Site Inspection Report

How You Can Help:

Elect people who want to strengthen environmental protection and enforcement. Weak enforcement of existing laws is a big issue in AR.

Lobby legistlators and ADEQ to remove CAFOs from the general permit system or to ban CAFOs entirely (other states have already taken this step).

Encourage NPS, US Forest Service, State Parks, etc. to acquire entire Buffalo River watershed

Join the organizations mentioned above or here. Or at least get on their mailing lists.

Blue and Green Show Karst Areas.  Red Star - Location of Hog Farm

Green Arrow - Hog Operation Site.  Red - Waste Application Fields
View Hog Farm in a larger map

Proximity of CAFO to Big Creek and Buffalo National River.
View Hog Farm in a larger map

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Prairie Grove Battlefield - State Park of the Week #3

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park
Location: Prairie Grove, 11 mi. SW of Fayetteville off of US-62
Area: 708 ac.
Major Attractions: Civil War Battlefield, Apple Picking
Miles of Trail: 1 mile - Paved Loop
My Favorite Part: Picking apples at the old farmstead.
Getting There: Head west from Fayetteville on US-62. The park is well signed and will be on your right as your enter Prairie Grove.
More Information:  Battlefield Trail   Apple Picking at Prairie Grove Battlefield

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park is home to one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields in the country.  Its one mile Battlefield Trail and five mile driving tour take visitors through areas that played a significant part in the Dec. 7th, 1862 Battle of Prairie Grove.  The park has a visitor center, playground, pavilions, historic buildings, and an apple grove that is open to the public.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sequoia/Kings Canyon - National Park of the Week #2

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are actually two national parks, but they share a long border, a website, and are managed together.

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park
Location: SE California in the High Sierras.  200 mi. N of Los Angeles, 70 mi. east of Fresno
Area: 868,000 acres
Major Attractions: Most massive trees on the planet, Incredible canyons, Beautiful alpine lakes, Mt. Whitney (tallest mountain in the Lower 48), Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail
Miles of Trail:  800+
My Favorite Parts: Rae Lakes, Hell For Sure Pass, Giant Sequoia Trees
Getting There: Roughly two hours east of Fresno on CA-198 or CA-180

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Join One (or all) of These Today!

Next time you are out enjoying a nice hike in Arkansas or a scenic float down one of the state's many amazing rivers be sure to take a minute to appreciate the exhaustive efforts that numerous organizations have made to make your trip possible.  In Arkansas, we face continued attempts to weaken water quality standards and eliminate funding for trails and bike lanes.  The organizations below all work to promote outdoor activities and protect our environmental resources.  If you enjoy hiking, biking, paddling, rock climbing, birding, fishing, walking, or just breathing clean air and drinking clean water, consider taking the time to join one or more of the these organizations that best fit your interests.  If I've missed your favorite organization, leave a comment explaining why I should add it!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Toltec Mounds - State Park of the Week #2

Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park

Location: 16 mi. SE of Little Rock, 9 mi. north of England. On Hwy. 386 off of US-165
Area: 130 ac.
Major Attractions: Native American Mounds, Artifacts in Visitor Center, Boardwalk on Oxbow Lake
Miles of Trail: 2.25
My Favorite Part: Watching wildlife from the boardwalk
Getting There: From the website: "Take Exit 169 off I-40, going south on Arkansas Highway 15 for 14 miles to Keo, then northwest on U.S. Highway 165 for 4 miles; OR, from I-440, take Exit 7 (England), going southeast on U.S. Hwy. 165 for 10 miles to the park"
More Information: This park and its trails are covered in Trails of Central Arkansas.  Wikipedia has lots of great archeological/historical information.

Kobuk Valley - National Park of the Week #1

Shortly after I got into backpacking, I received a National Parks Guidebook detailing all the national parks.  I immediately wanted to go to almost all of them, but I remember one in particular stood out largely due to its remoteness, isolation, and unique features:

Kobuk Valley National Park
Location: NW Alaska above the Arctic Circle.  500 mi. NW of Anchorage, 370 mi. NW of Fairbanks, 260 mi. NE of Nome
Area: 1.7 million acres
Major Attractions: Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Baird Mountains, Kobuk River, isolation
Miles of Trail:  0
My Favorite Part: Sand dunes, no trails, have to get dropped off by plane.
Getting There: By plane from Bettles, Ambler, or Fairbanks.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Good News for Water Quality in Arkansas

Update 10/21/13: After seeing that warnings from policy experts and scientists were true, the cosponsors of Act 954 (which sought to weaken water quality protections) asked Gov. Beebe to call a special session and allow them to vote to repeal their own bill.


The EPA recently threatened to remove some of Arkansas' authority to enact and enforce the Clean Water Act (CWA) after finding that a bill from the most recent state legislative session weakening water quality protection in the state was in clear violation of the CWA.  This means that our state government's attempts to allow much higher levels of pollutants into most of our state's waterways has been thwarted, which is great news for people who enjoy spending time in and around those waterways.

Petit Jean - State Park of the Week #1

The State Park of the Week is a new feature I will be trying out as I attempt to get back into book writing mode.  Since Petit Jean has long been my favorite state park, I decided to start with it.

Petit Jean State Park
Location: 20 miles west of Morrilton and Perryville atop Petit Jean Mountain along AR-154
Area: 3,471 ac.
Major Attractions: Cedar Falls, Huge Bluffs, Caves, Turtle Rocks, Incredible Views, Nice Lodge and Cabins, Lots of Campsites
Miles of Trail:  20+
My Favorite Part: Seven Hollows Trail
Getting There: From Central Arkansas either take I-40 to Morrilton, then AR-9 south, and AR-154 west; or for a more scenic route (and maybe faster from West Little Rock) take Hwy-10 west, AR-324 N, AR-155 N, and AR-154 E.

New Regular Features

I will be trying out some new regular features on the blog in an effort to get back into book writing mode.  These posts will be more formal and provide descriptions, maps, and photos with out all the "Last week Buddy and I decided to..." narrative.

The features I plan on introducing are:
1.  State Park of the Week.  These will be limited to Arkansas State Parks and should boost the amount of Arkansas content I have on here, even when I'm out-of-state.

2.  National Park of the Week.  These will somewhat obviously not be limited to Arkansas.  While outside the scope indicated by the title of this blog, National Parks are amazing places and I like visiting and writing about them so I will!

Both will have their own labels/tags (SPOTW & NPOTW) so if you enjoy this style more than my typical articles, you can easily access only articles done this way.

I also plan on getting back into more policy related pieces. I haven't done any recently, but have some good ones planned on a variety of issues relating to hiking, biking, and paddling in Arkansas.

Castle Rocks State Park - Idaho

Located in southern Idaho, roughly 40 miles from Burley, Castle Rocks State Park is home to some interesting rock features.  For this reason, it and the larger neighboring City of Rocks National Reserve, are very popular with climbers.

The park has a network of unpaved trails that work their way around and over the rocks, making it easy to go for short or long hikes.  Be on the lookout for Native American petroglyphs in this interesting and scenic area with its rocky crags, drier plant species like sage, pines, cedar, juniper, and cacti, but also aspens.  I particularly enjoyed seeing curl-leaf mountain mahogany, with its fascinating helical, feather-like seeds.

For more information on the numerous great places along I-84 in southern Idaho, click on over to my piece on Bruneau Dunes State Park.

Arkansas Outdoor Resources

This one is filed under "Book Updates" since I included a Resources page in the back of Trails of Central Arkansas.  Now that some years have passed, there are some new websites, groups, and stores people should be aware of.  Let me know if I've missed something important or if any of the links don't work.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bruneau Dunes State Park - Idaho

On my drive home from Seattle, I stopped at Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho.  Having been to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Salt Basin Dunes in Guadalupe National Park, Jockey's Ridge State Park dunes in North Carolina, and White Sands National Monument, I know dunes are lots of fun to play on. Boasting the "tallest single-structured sand dune in North America" these dunes were no exception.

I got to the park around eight in the morning which had multiple benefits including solitude and cooler temperatures.  Even though this was a holiday weekend in the summer, I didn't encounter any people on my wanderings and temperatures were in the 50s and 60s.

I didn't do the main 5.9 mile trail since I was there first thing in the morning with a dog and hiking on sand is difficult.  We ended up climbing around on two large dunes and walking around part of the lake.  There were lots of interesting tracks in the sand and the dunes had distinct characters with one dune softer, one firmer, one with a sharp-edged peak, and the other smooth and rounded.  On our way out we saw lots of children playing on some of the dunes near one of the campsites.

There are lots of other points of interest along this stretch of I-84 including: the Sawtooth Mountains, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Twin Falls, City of Rocks National Preserve, and Castle Rocks State Park.

Bridge Near Twin Falls. Popular kayaking and base-jumping location.