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New nonprofit seeks to preserve Batesville bayou

by Sam Pierce | October 20, 2020 at 9:57 a.m.
Nick Spivey, left, and Nathan Huffman pull out a tire from the Poke Bayou in Batesville during a cleanup Oct. 3.

The last 4 miles of the Polk, also known as Poke, Bayou waterway that runs within the city limits of Batesville has become a very popular strip of water for people to float, said Sam Cooke, president of the Poke Bayou Foundation, a newly formed nonprofit that is helping to preserve, develop and promote the Poke Bayou waterway.

“The foundation was formed by local citizens to help improve the quality of life in the community, and that goes for the wildlife community as well,” Cooke said. “The last 4 miles of the waterway are very accommodating for families, boaters, kayakers and canoers.”

Cooke said the Poke Bayou is adjacent to downtown Batesville, and the focus of the foundation is the preservation of the bayou and its history.

“We want to preserve the beauty of it before too much urban encroachment takes over,” he said.

Cooke, a native of Batesville, is very familiar with the Poke Bayou, having enjoyed the benefits of recreation on the bayou. He said that as a child, like a lot of people in Batesville, the bayou was a favorite place of his for fishing, kayaking, swimming and other activities.

“Kayaking and canoeing are fun things I have done since I was a teenager,” he said. “The stream itself is about 290 miles and covers about 111,000 acres, beginning north of the Independence County line and running through the mountains and bluffs, with turns and mild rapids.”

He said the last 4 miles is the focus of the foundation, with the mission of educating and informing those who are affecting the water quality in Poke Bayou.

“I have been involved in the conservation of streams for quite some time and have been active in other nonprofits, including serving as president of the Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers,” Cooke said. “Water conservation is a natural fit for me and to be involved in this foundation. I gladly jumped at the opportunity to get it off the ground.”

Overall, Cooke said, the water quality is still good in the last 4 miles of the stream, and one of the foundation’s efforts is to encourage people to be part of the stream-clean and water-quality monitoring, with cleanup events and bank restoration. Last week, the foundation hosted a stream-clean event, where volunteers pulled tires and other trash from the bank and river.

Cooke, who also worked for the Batesville Water Utility Commission, said the city of Batesville has come a long way in the past decade in its cleaning up and treatment of waterways — the White River, in particular.

“The citizens of Batesville really want to see a Poke Bayou that is going to be vibrant and available for recreation and at the same time be beautiful,” Cooke said. “Even though the Poke Bayou is in the middle of a city, most visitors feel like they are in the middle of a park, due to its scenic beauty and treeline views.”

The foundation gained nonprofit status in May, and Cooke said most of the people contacted were eager to be on the board and be involved. He said it was easy to put together a foundation board. Local attorney Barrett Moore helped with the foundation’s nonprofit status, and his family recently donated 15 acres along Poke Bayou that will be used as part of a trail system and the location of a small-craft access point.

“We have preliminary plans for a trail system along the banks of Poke Bayou for the entire 4-mile stretch, from the White Drive Bridge to the White River Bridge,” Cooke said. “That will tie into the city’s master trail plan.”

For more information on the Poke Bayou Foundation, contact Cooke at sdcooke@gmail.com, or visit the organization’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/Pokebayou.

Kyle Christopher, vice president of the Poke Bayou Foundation, knew Cooke, who has been a part of the outdoor recreation scene in the area for some time, prior to coming to the foundation.

“I personally grew up on the Poke Bayou, and I have a personal connection to it,” said Christopher, who left the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce as tourism director in the beginning of June to work in the insurance industry. “Literally, my parents’ property has the bayou that runs right through it, so swimming it was the best part of my life.

“It is an important stream that has held some important memories.”

Christopher and his two brothers own Jamestown Crag in Batesville, a hiking and climbing area just outside the city.

“The No. 1 goal of the Poke Bayou Foundation is to bring awareness of [the Poke Bayou],” he said. “People are welcome to use it and float on it, and floating has really exploded in the past year or so — especially during quarantine.

“But the most important part is the preservation of the bayou and the stream bank. We want to make sure the waterway is taken care of, not only now but in the future.”

He said throwing tires and other litter in the stream has lasting effects. He said that by putting in additional access points that are built for handling the traffic and steering people to the right areas, there will be more eyes on the site and better protection for it.

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