The Ozark Society will mark its 50th Anniversary of conservation efforts in Arkansas this weekend with a return to its original roots on the beautiful Buffalo River.


The two-day celebration at Tyler Bend Recreation Area for OS members and honored guests will include hiking and paddling activities along the iconic Ozark stream the organization was founded to save from being dammed by the Corps of Engineers in 1962.

The perseverance of founder Dr. Neil Compton and his like-minded friends extended for 10 years before the free-flowing Buffalo River was named the first “national river” in 1972, to be preserved and enjoyed forevermore as a natural treasure.

The anniversary, however, will also recognize the many other contributions to conservation the OS has achieved during a half-century of its steadfast pursuit of its mission to preserve the wild and scenic rivers, wilderness and unique natural features of the Ozark-Ouachita region.

Paraphrasing the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, the rich legacy can be attributed to a record of speaking softly and carrying a big stick.

For OS members past and present, the “stick” refers the paddles and hiking sticks used for their avid enjoyment of streams and trails.

Speaking softly, on the other hand, refers to OS approach to achieving conservation goals throughout much of its history. Rather than taking a strident confrontational stance of some well-known environmental groups, the OS has quietly succeeded through passion and persuasion.


During the campaign to save the Buffalo, for example, Compton and his cohorts took elected officials on paddling trips to show the beauty of the river first hand, filmed videos of its sparkling waters and soaring bluffs to share and circulate and published a book about it.

With no more than 800 members in three chapters in Arkansas and four more in Louisiana, Missouri and Oklahoma, the small organization’s low-key efforts over the years helped save seven scenic and recreational waterways in a four-state area from being dammed.

In Arkansas, successes in recent years have included helping preserve Bear Creek and Lee Creek as free-flowing streams.

On a broader scale, the OS was instrumental in the passage of the Arkansas Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1992 that added rivers and creeks in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains to the National Wild and Scenic River System. These include the Cossatot, Little Missouri, and Mulberry Rivers and Big Piney, Hurricane, Lee, North Sylamore and Richland Creeks.

In the conservation of public lands, the OS organized the effort in 1975 to create the first two wilderness areas – the Upper Buffalo and Caney Creek – in the Ozark and Ouachita national forests. Later, it helped pass the Arkansas Wilderness Act of 1984 that led to more wilderness areas in the state.

Through hands-on work over the decades, OS members have also helped build and maintain trails along the Buffalo River, with plans to build more in the near future.

Such successes have not only preserved natural resources, but have also allowed them to be enjoyed by millions of outdoors enthusiasts from Arkansas and around the country.

The achievements also explain why Compton and a dozen other OS members over the years have been inducted into the Arkansas Outdoor Sportsmen’s Hall of Fame.

Recreation and Education

During its history, the OS’ emphasis on recreation and education has been a blessing for untold numbers of Arkansans of past and present generations who have accepted open invitations to join guided paddling and hiking jaunts to scenic locations.

The Fayetteville-based Highlands Chapter alone has led thousands of men, women and children on hundreds of free hikes throughout the Ozarks, which have also helped quadruple the chapter’s active membership. The chapter continues to lead weekly hikes from September to May of each year.

Through its Ozark Society Foundation, the organization has sponsored the publication of more than a dozen guidebooks focusing on the Buffalo River and the flora and fauna of state.

The comprehensive books include The Buffalo River Guidebook by Ken Smith, the guides to trees and wildflowers by Carl Hunter and Arkansas Butterflies by Lori Spencer, to name a few.

Between its recreational and educational outreach, the OS has created and informed thousands of new “friends” for the Arkansas outdoors and supporters to the cause of conserving the state’s natural resources.

New Directions

However, the 50th anniversary celebration at Tyler Bend won’t see the OS resting on the laurels of the past, but also focusing on the future with greater vigilance and activism. Simply put, the OS aims to speak with a stronger voice, according to President Bob Cross of Fayetteville.

“It is my belief that in the future our problems will become more complex as population growth and development put more and more pressure on open spaces, water and forest resources,” Cross said.

Evidence of the organization’s stronger voice was heard six months ago when it filed a federal lawsuit alleging the National Forest Service and federal agencies responsible for managing gas drilling in Ozark National Forest had failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The lawsuit indicated more study needed to be done on the impact of gas drilling on Wild and Scenic Rivers, wilderness areas, forest habitats and endangered species.

“The increase in natural gas drilling in the Ozark National Forest represents the greatest threat to Arkansas’ public lands since the Corps of Engineers attempted to dam the Buffalo River,” Cross said when the suit was filed.

Notably, the legal action came only after the OS had appealed directly to the National Forest Service for more study.

Stronger support for conservation in the future will also require growing a larger membership, which will be a primary goal of the OS going forward.

The model Cross has for the OS in the future is the Appalachian Mountain Club, the nation’s oldest conservation organization with over 100,000 members in northeastern states.

The AMC has achieved on a larger scale what the OS has done in Arkansas, with a major key to their membership growth and public support being an outdoors recreation program involved the operation of lodges and campgrounds and facilities for environmental education, Cross explained.

“I believe the Ozark Society must move in this direction by establishing a combination lodge, education and information center in the Buffalo region and having a continuing membership and fund drive,” Cross said.

A site on the Buffalo River is already looked at as the site for the OS’ physical footprint.

In other words, back where it all started.

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[contact name=”Carmen Quinn” tel=”(501) 993-1883″ email=””]