By Stewart Noland and Brian Thompson

The Sassafras Hiking Award is a new form of recognition that the Ozark Society has established. It is given for individuals who hike all four major regional trails:

  • The Ouachita Trail – Talimena State Park OK to Pinnacle Mountain State Park AR, 223 miles
  • The Ozark Highlands Trail – Lake Fort Smith to Woolum and Spring Creek to Matney Knob, 196.6 miles
  • The Buffalo River Trail – Boxley to Pruitt, 37 miles + Woolum to Dillard’s Ferry, 42 Miles
  • The Ozark Trail – Western Trailhead of Eleven Point Section to Onondaga Trailhead, 217.5 miles

Once hikers complete all four trails, they may contact the Ozark Society at: to complete the registry form and submit $10 to cover the cost of shipping the award.  The Sassafras Hiking Award is an original design created by Little Rock ceramic artist Katherine Purcell.  Each individual award has its own distinctive sequential number.
The Ozark Society will maintain a numerical registry of all Sassafras Hiking Award recipients on its website.

A biography of Wade Colwell winner of the first Sassafras Hiking Award by Stewart Noland

The first Sassafras Hiking Award recipient is Wade Colwell. Wade is an Ozark Society member and a native of Fayetteville, where he currently resides. Wade is a committed hiker whose hiking roots include hiking with Neil Compton to Hemmed in Hollow and numerous Boy Scout hikes. His hiking interest peaked while working at the Pack Rat and working with Tim Ernst on early Ozark Highland Trail Association work. The most important hiking take aways for Wade are the serenity and solitude offered by the trail and the resultant stress relief. Wade always enjoys whatever new the trail offers.

Wade has thru hiked the Ouachita Trail, Ozark Highland Trail, and Ozark Trail. His favorite and most challenging of the three is the Ouachita Trail. One thing he tries to never go without on the thru hikes is venison jerky, made by a hiking friend. Wade’s next thru hike is in early March 2023, on the River to River (Ohio to Mississippi rivers) Trail in southern Illinois. It will be a 17-day, 200-mile hike.

Wade is proud to be the initial recipient of the Sassafras Hiking Award, and in his words it “means the world” to him. He hopes to leave a hiking legacy his grandchildren can follow.

Future hikes for Wade could include the Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, or the Benton MacKaye Trail. His goal is to keep moving.

Wade’s advice to fellow hikers includes to be mindful of your step, and to always know where you are.

Congratulations Wade Colwell! The Ozark Society is proud that you are the initial Sassafras Hiking Award recipient. Happy trails!

An interview with Christina Bethalee, the 2nd winner of the Sassafras Hiking Award by Brian Thompson.

Christina is in her thirties, formerly from Fayetteville, currently living in Clinton AR. She moved to the state about ten years ago and has been hiking Ozarks trails for most of that time. In addition to hiking, she is an avid kayaker. She heard about the Sassafras Award through Facebook.

The bulk of her hikes are day hikes, sometimes solo, sometimes with friends or family. She describes her hiking style as casual, mostly going slow, stopping to look at wildlife and take pictures. She enjoys getting out at different times of the year to appreciate the seasonal differences in the landscape. She hikes not so much to get to a destination as to simply get outside.

One particular day she remembers well was when her group was attempting to locate the NARs (the narrows) on the Buffalo National River, where the hillside is eroded by the Buffalo on one side and Richland Creek on the other. This is also where the Ozark Highland Trail crosses at Woolum, continuing on the south side as the Buffalo River Trail. She and her friends knew the NARs was nearby, but they had difficult locating it. This resulted in a fair bit of bushwhacking. Despite the difficulties, the NARs and the scull bluff are some of her favorite spots.

Asked about wildlife, she has seen a bear on the Syllamo Trail, but never encountered one on the others. She has seen what was either a mink or an otter. “It was really shiny and black.” She notes that some of the weirdest creatures can be the people, though she’ll also tell you that some of the scariest looking folks she’s seen were picking up trash along the trail. You just never know.
Christina says she’s never really had a bad day on the trail, though she did step in a mud hole on the Ozark Highland Trail which pulled one of her hiking boots off “which were expensive.” She spent some time reaching deep into the goop to pull it out, but never could find it. Not sure how to best proceed, she removed her other shoe and finished her hike in her socks. “It felt like a really long walk.”

Of the four, Christina’s favorite trail is the Buffalo River Trail.