Tom Butt
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May 5, 2019

Last week, we escaped for a few days back to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to enjoy old friends and family, springtime and the Buffalo River.

Fayetteville, where I grew up and attended undergraduate architecture school at the University of Arkansas, is currently rated as the fourth best place to live in America. And the best place to live in the Southeast Conference (SEC).

We have  a getaway in Fayetteville called “Deepwood,” that we keep as a lodging rental. It was originally designed and built by my architecture professor Herb Fowler and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fayetteville High School Class of 1962, National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists. Two have moved back to Fayetteville (Jacqui Brandli upper left and Charles White – lower right. Do you recognize me with the gag tie?

We hosted some old high school friends for a barbecue on Friday night then floated the Buffalo River on Saturday. The Buffalo National River was America’s first national river. Although it was established in 1972, I have been floating, hiking and fishing the river, probably a hundred times, at least since 1955, when I participated in the opening of Boy Scout Camp Orr.

“Your summer Scouting experience made you a pioneer You have done something that has never been done before and can never be done again”

Later, I served on the staff of Camp Orr, mainly running the camp store but also helping out wherever needed, including providing merit badge instruction and lifeguarding. Back in those days, driving from Fayetteville to Camp Orr was an all-day trip over mostly poorly maintained gravel roads. Today it takes about 1 ½ hours.

I have never floated the entire length of the Buffalo, but my brother, Jack has. See, and read his journal.

Tom Butt Lifeguarding at Camp Orr on the Buffalo River

There were heavy rains in northwest Arkansas last week, and the Buffalo was at flood stage. But it rises and falls quickly, and by Saturday the sun was out and the water level perfect. We rented our canoe from Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca, and put in at Steel Creek, about 1 ½ mile downstream from Ponca. The combination of perfect water and river on a weekend brought out the crowds, and Steel Creek was zoo, but once on the water, the crowd sorted out.

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Shirley Butt at Steel “put-in”

Not far below Steel Creek and just beyond Big Bluff is an innocuous looking but treacherous “riffle” (Ozarkian for “rapids”) – video. The kayaks and rubber rafts got through okay, but about half the canoes “tumped over” (Ozarkian for “capsized”).

About two-thirds of the way to the take out at Kyles Landing is a side trip hike of about a mile up to Hemmed-in-Hollow, the highest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies (video).

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Shirley and Tom at Hemmed-in-Hollow

Immediately adjacent to Deepwood is Mt. Kessler Regional Park, famous for its mountain biking trails through the woods. The park is a former cattle farm purchased by the City of Fayetteville. The former pastures have playing fields, and biking trails snake through the upland woods.

“Located on the southwest edge of Fayetteville in Washington County, Kessler Mountain reaches 1,856 feet above sea level. The area consists of steep bluffs and rock-covered woodlands with miles of nature trails that traverse through stands of old-growth forest, rock out-croppings and many native flora and fauna species.”

One of the former stock ponds near the ridge of Mt. Kessler.
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Tom and Shirley on the Mt. Kessler trail.

We hit the Ozarks at the peak of the dogwood bloom

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Dogwood tree in the front yard of Deepwood.
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Fancy rockwork form a hairpin turn on the Mt. Kessler Trail

In a saddle on the Mt. Kessler ridge is an unusual exposed shale barren with stunted hardwood trees. We always called the area “the land of the little trees” for its stunted and Bonsai-like oaks.

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Baptisia leucophaea growing in the shale barrens.

Ozark woodland wildflowers typically don’t grow in profusion like California’s superblooms because they can grow in shade are seeking out patches of sunlight below the forest canopy, mostly hardwoods like oaks, maples and hickories.

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Hypoxis hirsuta
Camassia scilloides
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Trillium viridescens
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Osmorhiza longistylis
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Viola Pedata
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Delphinium tricorne

On our last night, we attended a dinner hosted by the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation, which was funded by my brother Jack Butt. Northwest Arkansas, home of Walmart, is awash in money, and the foundation has a $4 million endowment, but I couldn’t help gloating a little about our $35 million Promise Program.

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Fayetteville Public Education Foundation Dinner to recognize grants to teachers for creative programs and projects.
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The dinner was in the historic hanger at Drake Field, now an aircraft museum.