HEBER SPRINGS -- When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed building Greers Ferry Dam on the Little Red River in the late 1950s, many residents of Cleburne and Van Buren counties objected. That's because the lake created by the dam would submerge several small towns and flood acres of productive farmland.
The Corps of Engineers had its way, as it almost always did back then. Greers Ferry Lake, with its 340 miles of shoreline created by the project, has made the Heber Springs area a tourist magnet a half-century later. The body of water, covering more than 30,000 acres, brings outdoor pleasure to countless visitors and steady revenue to assorted local businesses.
The federally operated William Carl Garner Visitor Center shows an informative 20-minute movie that details the dam's construction, which required the moving of four small communities and 27 cemeteries from land to be submerged.
Honest enough to recount the initial opposition, the video goes on to report the positive impact of the dam, including more than $100 million annually in tourism revenue. That's a bonus beyond the structure's original purposes of controlling floods on the Little Red and White rivers while generating substantial electrical power.
A compelling moment in the audiovisual program shows a passage from the speech by President John F. Kennedy at the dam's dedication on Oct. 3, 1963. That was one of the 35th president's last major public appearances before his assassination a few weeks later in Dallas on Nov. 22. The spot of the speech, now the John F. Kennedy Memorial and Overlook, provides a panoramic view of the dam.
One object at the visitor center conveys the immensity of Greers Ferry Dam. Looking like a modern sculpture, it's a cubic yard of concrete weighing 4,050 pounds. The dam contains 856,000 cubic yards of concrete, weighing nearly 3.5 billion pounds -- likely beyond even Superman's lifting capacity.
Another display speaks to the popularity of Greers Ferry Lake. It's a replica of the world-record German brown trout caught on the Little Red River below the dam in 1992 by Rip Collins on a 4-pound test line. Weighing 40 pounds and 4 ounces, the trout is the largest ever caught anywhere on such a line. The world-record walleye, weighing 22 pounds and 11 ounces, was taken in the lake itself.
The lake is stocked with rainbow trout and brook trout from Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery, visible below the Kennedy Overlook. Self-guided tours of the hatchery attract more than 50,000 visitors each year.
Along with water-based fun such as fishing and swimming, Greers Ferry offers a half-dozen hiking trails. The easiest is Buckeye National Nature Trail, only 660 feet long and intended "for persons who are not physically able to negotiate the more difficult areas." It is accessible to wheelchairs.
A rigorous hike ascends Sugar Loaf National Nature Trail, reached only by boat. The trail climbs to the peak of an island at the western end of the upper lake. The foliage-rich path passes sassafras, mimosa, redbud, sumac, red oak, winged elm, black gum, persimmon, pecan, red maple and mint trees. Animal sightings may include deer, raccoons, opossums, foxes, armadillos and assorted birds.
Greers Ferry Dam's Garner Visitor Center, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Arkansas 25 Bypass some 65 miles north of Little Rock, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through the end of September. Admission is free. For more information, call (501) 362-9067 or visit swl.usace.army.mil.
The website heber-springs.com. offers information on lodging, dining, shopping and other visitor amenities in and around Heber Springs. A lunch location with a lake view is the dining room at Red Apple Inn, west of Heber Springs at Eden Isle.
Weekend on 07/31/2014
Print Headline: Greers Ferry offers lots of land, water diversions