By Tom McClure, OS Conservation Co-Chair
The Flatside Wilderness Additions Act, H.R. 3971, was introduced in June, 2023, by Congressman French Hill (2nd Congressional District – Arkansas). The proposal will add 2,215 acres to Flatside Wilderness.
H.R. 3971 is strongly supported by the Ozark Society. Please consider helping to pass this important wilderness legislation by contacting your U.S. Representative, and also your U.S. Senators, to express support for the Flatside Wilderness Additions Act. Letters, emails, and calls at this time will let them know of your support for wilderness, and also of your support for their efforts to pass this bill.
H.R. 3971 will protect important lands on the north side of the existing wilderness, expanding the total Flatside Wilderness acreage from about 10,000 acres to more than 12,000 acres. The wilderness additions in this bill will make a very good wilderness area even better. This proposal gives Flatside more width in a north/south direction, enhancing its wildness.
This proposal will complete watershed protection for West Cedar Creek by adding watershed acreage that was previously not in the wilderness. The bill will also protect an additional stretch of Cedar Creek, downstream from the confluence of Crystal Prong and West Cedar Creek. Completely protecting entire watersheds, both big ones and small ones, is always desirable for a wilderness area. It improves the odds that the streams will retain their natural qualities, including native species, for the long term.
Looking west from the top of Flatside Pinnacle is one of the most spectacular landscape views in the state of Arkansas.
In good weather, looking west across the expanse of Flatside Wilderness, it is impossible not to notice Forked Mountain standing distinctly seven miles away. As you look directly toward Forked Mountain, you are looking out over the lands that are included in this legislation. Although they appear to look much like the existing wilderness, some of these strikingly beautiful rounded hills and ridges, that are so much a part of this iconic scene, do not have formal wilderness protection. The Flatside Wilderness Additions Act will make sure that these hills and this unforgettable view, so loved by so many, will be protected as a part of Flatside Wilderness for the enduring enjoyment of all.
It takes only an hour or so to drive to Flatside Wilderness from Little Rock, North Little Rock, Benton, Conway, Morrilton, Russellville, or Hot Springs, making it readily accessible to a large portion of the state’s population. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail runs through Flatside for about 10 miles, and offers a wilderness hiking experience in a very wild, natural setting. Forked Mountain, a captivating scenic feature in the western portion of Flatside Wilderness, looms high above the surrounding forest. On a clear day Forked Mountain can be seen for miles from all directions.
Flatside Wilderness is a designated wilderness area, and as such is one of the few places in the state of Arkansas that is set aside to be left wild, natural, and undeveloped. It is entirely in public ownership as a part of the Ouachita National Forest. It is by far the most eastern of the six wilderness areas in the Ouachita National Forest and is the only designated wilderness area in the Ouachitas that is found east of Highway 7.
There are no other wilderness areas even close to Flatside. The nearest wilderness area to Flatside is Dry Creek Wilderness (6,300 acres) about 40 miles away in a west/northwest direction. The other four Ouachita wilderness areas are even farther west, with Caney Creek Wilderness, Poteau Mountain Wilderness, and Black Fork Mountain Wilderness, all within 35 miles or so of the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. The Upper Kiamichi River Wilderness is just across the state line in Oklahoma. Part of Black Fork Mountain Wilderness extends into Oklahoma as well.
If the Flatside Wilderness Additions Act is passed by Congress, is signed by the President, and becomes law, the wilderness acreage total for all six wilderness areas in the Ouachita National Forest will be approximately 70,000 acres, representing about 3.9% of the 1.8 million acres of land in the Ouachita National Forest. Statewide, designated wilderness areas make up less than 1% of the total land area of Arkansas. The total land area of Arkansas is about 34 million acres.
Flatside Wilderness is a wild treasure. The Flatside Wilderness Additions Act (H.R. 3971) will make it even more of a treasure, by adding important lands to complete watersheds and by expanding the wilderness boundary in places which will enable Flatside to stay wilder and better protected over time.
Please act now to do what you can to help this legislation make its way through Congress and become law. Thank you.