Thursday, April 18, 2013

top story>>Travel Feature: Ozark, Ark.

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

This is a new feature series by the 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs. The intent is to inform Team Little Rock about interesting travel opportunities and activities happening around the state and nearby. If you have suggestions or comments, contact the PA office at 987-3601.

The sleepy city of Ozark, an access point to the Ozark National Forest, is a beautiful area to spend a weekend exploring the highways and byways of western Arkansas.

Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, or a connoisseur of finer things, this area has something for you.

My first stop was to Outdoor Recreation. I picked up an A-Liner camper, for a scant $45 per night, and headed west on Interstate 40 for an adventure-filled weekend.

The trip itself was a quick two-and-a-half hour hustle from the gates of Little Rock Air Force Base. When I exited the highway, I found myself in the middle of Arkansas wine country. Arkansas happens to be the oldest and largest grape producing state in the southern United States. Whether you enjoy wine, food or history, the wineries are a great stop to learn more about Arkansas, and the award-winning wines produced here.

With my stomach full, and sobriety fully intact, I jumped back in my truck and drove a country road a few miles to downtown Ozark to see what the town of approximately 3,500 people had to offer.

Downtown was like stepping back in time, when things were seemingly more simple and quiet. Accentuated by beautiful murals on the buildings, the old town charm was in full effect. The city square is home to a number of historic sites, the courthouse and a number of small gift and antique shops. The jewel of the city is essentially its location. Saddling the Arkansas River, the view near the Arkansas River Bridge is stunning, especially in the evening while illuminated and enhancing the already scenic setting.

As dusk began to take hold, I hopped back into my truck and headed north into the Ozark National Forest to find a place to camp. The route to my destination was along famed Arkansas Highway 23, otherwise known as the Pig Trail Scenic Byway. The road received this humorous moniker allegedly for its steep hills and hairpin turns.

At dark, I made my camp along the shores of the Mulberry River. A beautiful and meandering stream, it steadily makes its way through the heart of the forest. Designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the waterway is a tributary of the Arkansas River and offers a multitude of outdoors adventures. There are several local canoe and rafting outfitters, or if you prefer the slow lane, fishing for bass and panfish is also popular.

On day two, I unloaded my four-wheeler from the truck, and set out to explore the area. Much of the Ozark National Forest is all-terrain vehicle friendly, but riders should obtain a map online from the U.S. Forest Service outlining areas and roads approved for use. Additionally, there are nearby ATV parks, such as Byrd’s Outdoor Adventure Center. This particular weekend Byrd’s was hosting a spring ATV rally. Riders from Arkansas and surrounding states had descended into the valley for mud-slinging, off road-escapades. The trails varied in difficulty level, from beginner to advanced. Riders should speak with their unit safety representatives to ensure they have completed the necessary safety forms, and taken the appropriate precautions.

After a full day of riding, clean clothes and a hot plate were in order. I moseyed further down Arkansas Highway 215 to the tiny town of Oark, home of the Oark General Store. This small treasure, listed in the Arkansas Register of Historic Places, lays its claim to fame for being the oldest continually operating general store in Arkansas and, according to owner Brian Eisele, ‘one heck of a burger.’

“My wife, Reagan, and I both worked in Washington D.C.,” said, Eisele. “We bought this place last May and it’s like living in a outdoorsman’s paradise. Living here is like a snapshot of what living in America was like 40 years ago. This is a true-blue community.”

The next morning I loaded my ATV, and packed up the camper. My short-lived, and highly relaxing weekend had recharged my batteries and renewed my spirit.

All totaled I spent $90 to rent a camper, $20 to camp, $50 on gas for my truck and four-wheeler, $20 for warm meals, and $15 to ride on private trails. That’s under $200 for a weekend of fun, food and adventure, for anyone keeping track. Some of those costs could have been easily reduced, had I been more social and invited friends to ride along, or been willing to sleep in my too much assembly-required tent.

What can’t be calculated was the fun I had exploring a new area and making friends along the trail. I’m always amazed by the kindliness of our Arkansan hosts, and their willingness to share the spots and stories that make this state naturally adventurous.

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