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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy photo Student backpackers take in the sights from the Buffalo National River high above the water on the Goat Trail. Gustavo Rodriguez (from left), Sebastian Torres, Courtland Haynes and Jason Martinez explored the bluff.

When Shawn Flannigan set out to get his students outside, he did it in a big way.

With the help of two fellow teachers, Flannigan led nine teenagers on an overnight backpack trip along a trail high above the Buffalo National River.

Most of the high school students from the ALLPS School of Innovation in Fayetteville hadn't stepped foot on a trail. Only two had slept in a tent. The two-day trek was the adventure of a lifetime, which nurtured their love for the outdoors.

Flannigan teaches English at the ALLPS School of Innovation. The acronym stands for Agee-Lierly Life Preparation Services Center. There's classroom learning, but Flannigan wanted more for his students.

He started pondering.

"How can we get these kids outside?"

The idea for the backpack outing became reality when the hikers hit the Centerpoint Trail near the Buffalo River on Dec. 12-13.

Flannigan, along with teachers Eric Yates and Melissa Opela Craig, and the teenagers arrived at the trail in a small school bus. Student hikers were Zadrien Pickle, Gustavo Rodriguez, Kristian Delgado, Meica Kyles, Courtland Haynes, Sebastian Torres, Russell Pettit, Denver Squires and Jason Martinez.

The farther the bus traveled from Fayetteville toward the river, the quieter the students got, Flannigan said. Most were venturing into the unknown, wilderness liked they'd never seen.

Unlike a walk in the woods, backpacking requires gear. Flannigan obtained a $2,000 grant from the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation for equipment. Rick Spicer at Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville helped the teachers stretch their dollars to buy backpacks, tents and other items, Flannigan added.

Outdoor education teachers at Rogers High School lent out some gear. Flannigan is a former outdoor education teacher at Rogers High School.

ALLPS School of Innovation ponied up $600 for food. Before their adventure, students formed an assembly line and fixed hobo-pack meals wrapped in aluminum foil that could easily be heated over a campfire.

Excitement grew each day. The teachers were frank in telling the students what to expect.

"We told them it's going to be cold. We told them you'll be sleeping in a tent with somebody else," Flannigan said. "We said 'Hey, we have to be able to trust you guys. We're going to a dangerous place."

Day one was a three-mile hike along Centerpoint Trail to an intersection with the Goat Trail. Flannigan picked the right word for the Goat Trail -- dangerous. The narrow path meanders along the belly of a bluff 200 feet above the river. Big Bluff, as it's called, is one of the tallest along the Buffalo. A Goat Trail hike would be the morning treat after a night camping out.

There's a slight clearing in the forest where Centerpoint and Goat Trail meet. Here the teenagers staked out their real estate for the night. They pitched tents and pitched in on camp chores.

"They did everything," Flannigan said. "We just kind of sat back and let the kids do it.

Soon there was a large pile of firewood beside an existing fire ring. When it came time to light the tinder, students got it going with a flint and steel tool. No matches needed.

Once a good fire burned, Flannigan whipped out a camp oven and made pizzas for the group.

The Buffalo River is rocky realm. Craig, a science teacher, conducted an impromptu geology lesson right there in camp. That night, students read poetry near the warm, flickering flames, reading verses by headlamp light.

Morning found the teenagers, yawning, stretching, and lacing up shoes for their Goat Trail hike. The path strikes out along Big Bluff one-quarter mile from their campsite. Soon lofty views of the river and wilderness open up through the hardwood and cedar trees.

The trunks of cedars grow right out of the rock in places, appearing gnarly and bleached by a century of sunlight. Students were taken aback by the grandeur, Flannigan said. The view from the Goat Trail is one of the most spectacular on the Buffalo.

"They were mesmerized by it," he recalled. "Everybody was very safe. There was no horseplay. It was breathtaking for them. They saw some deer cross the river. The kids got real quiet, more quiet than I'd ever seen them."

There was ample time to bask in the Goat Trail's magnificence, to savor a view at one of Arkansas' most stunning vistas. Scenes they experienced played back in their theaters of the mind on the hike back to camp. Those pictures may be memories that last a lifetime.

Backpacks were shouldered for the three-mile hike, mostly uphill, out of the wilderness paradise and back to the bus.

For students like Delgado, the adventure kindled a passion for being out in nature. The trip was his first time to be in the woods.

"I've already started purchasing equipment and plan to backpack as a hobby starting this spring," Delgado said. He's grateful to his teachers, and his school for offering the experience and a chance to learn outdoors in nature.

Yates said the young backpackers raved about the trip.

"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "I think it was impactful beyond the event itself. There were so many firsts for them. To watch their faces and see their appreciation for it was incredible."

Out and back

Find out about hiking at Buffalo National River at or call park headquarters at 870-439-2502.

For information about the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation visit

Source: Staff report

Flip Putthoff can be reached at

Sports on 02/05/2019

Print Headline: Backpack trek a class act


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  • Jfish
    February 6, 2019 at 10:09 a.m.

    Good story, and the students probably learned a lot more on the trip than with anything they could find on the internet.