Hall’s Creek Canyon most recent addition to Arkansas Heritage Commission

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Photos/ Lauren Siebert The Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism held a ribbon cutting ceremony at Hall’s Creek Canyon in Ravenden Springs Nov. 5 to celebrate the 33 acre addition to the collection of properties under the protection of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. The property will be open for public access and is home to species of plants, animals and natural topography unique to the canyon.

It was an exciting day in the town of Ravenden Springs Nov. 5 as a large crowd gathered for a dedication ceremony of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism newest parks addition, located in Ravenden Springs.

According to Mayor John Cochran, Ravenden Springs was initially the town of Ravenden.

“The history of Ravenden Springs is also about the healing waters. Years ago, so many people started moving here because of the minerals in the water and they said it had healing power. It was a very large town with motels and other amenities. When the railroad came through, everyone decided to move six miles down the road and called it Ravenden Junction and it was confusing,” Cochran said. “This town was more about the springs so they renamed this town Ravenden Springs and separated the two towns.”

When asked about the dedication ceremony, Cochran said the dedication was for the canyon, which is home to what he called “Arkansas’ oldest schoolhouse”.

“This was the dedication of the canyon. Heritage has taken over the canyon and are dedicating it here to the State of Arkansas. This area, the cave in the canyon, is the oldest school in Arkansas. There is another cave called the Ravenden Cave which is a hole in the mountain,” Cochran said.

According to Stacy Hurst, Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, the 33 acre plot of land, known as Hall’s Creek Canyon is among the most unique tracts under the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission’s control.

“We dedicated this natural area and included it in the system of natural areas that is maintained by our Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. This tract of land, Hall’s Creek Canyon was donated to us and we are thrilled to have it and make it available to the public,” Hurst said.

One aspect which makes the land so unique was the discovery of several unique plants and animals.

“There is a fern our lead botanist, Theo Witsell, has been searching for 20 years for and the first time he found it was here in this canyon. It is exciting and he said he’d been searching for so long. There is also quite a historical significance to the property,” Hurst said. “There are very unique features of the landscape and it is just beautiful.”

During the dedication ceremony, Director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Bill Hollaman explained the purpose of the Heritage Commission was to preserve and protect lands while making them available for the public to access and enjoy.

“We do this in two primary ways. First, our heritage program gathers and stores data on the location of these rare elements of the rare plants, animals and natural properties and others use that information in natural resource planning,” Holliman said. “Second, we have a natural areas program that directly protects rare species and habitats. We currently have 75 natural areas protecting nearly 70,000 acres spread across 49 counties.”

Holliman said the history of the canyon dated back to when John James, a revolutionary war veteran, settled just west of the canyon in 1809 and established a trading post near a creek that was later named after him.

“Much later, but still a very long time ago, the town of Ravenden Springs was formally established in 1880. The springs around Hall’s Creek that feed Halls Creek became a magnet for tourists who sought the healing powers of the five springs. Stomach, Eye, Arthritis, Kidney and Heart Springs contribute to make this spring,” Holliman said.

At one time, the town consisted of more than 2,000 residents, who utilized the spring in many ways.

“Although tourism faded, the community’s passion to protect the site has not faded,” Holliman said.

The property was donated to the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission by Lou and Sandy Decker. The process began several years ago when Lou contacted the commission as he wanted the land to be conserved and accessible by the public.

Witsell shared some of the background of the ecological values of Hall’s Creek Canyon.

“The mission of the commission is to seek out and protect the state’s most unique natural areas. Special places that stand out above the rest in terms of their natural and scientific value. We have a reputation for being very picky when it comes to selecting these areas, and rightly so. To qualify as an addition to the state system of natural areas, an area must either support an outstanding example of a particular natural community or habitat, support viable populations of high priority species or communities of conservation concern or both,” Witsell said.

Despite a high volume of calls from individuals interested in giving ownership to the commission, Witsell said it was very rare a property would be adopted by the commission.

“This place is one of the rare exceptions. Hall’s Creek Canyon is truly a special natural area. Located in the Salem Plateau section of the Ozarks which is one of the least rugged portions, it’s a landscape characterized by lower elevations, gently rolling hills and limestone geology,” Witsell said. “This region has very little public land, among the least in any region of the state... The canyon has provided both a safe haven for rare species and habitats and a natural resistance to human alteration of the land.”

Witsell said while exploring the canyon, he discovered rare species of plants and animals which are being documented.

“A losing stream flows through the canyon flowing above ground for part of the year but retreating to underground passages during the dry months. The whole canyon is riddled with springs. It is home to some of the rarest plants and animals in Arkansas. Our staff are still taking inventory of these, but some of them include two rare aquatic species. The first, the Mammoth Spring Crayfish and it is truly a global rarity found only in the Spring River watershed in the Arkansas/Missouri border and nowhere else on earth,” Witsell said. “The beautiful Current Darter... is found only in the watersheds of the Black, Current, Eleven Point and Spring River watersheds in Arkansas and Missouri.”

Witsell said 400 species of plants have also been discovered and the canyon is the only confirmed location in Arkansas for the rare Wall-rue Spleenwart.

“It is a rare fern that grows only from cracks in limestone cliffs. I’d been looking for that fern for 20 years and I found it here. It was an exciting day,” Witsell said. “We know the people of Ravenden Springs are proud of this unique natural area and we can now encourage everyone to explore the natural wonders it contains. A rare and wonderful piece of Arkansas’ natal heritage.”

Following the close of the dedication ceremony, those in attendance were encouraged to travel to the newly created parking area at the end of Canyon Street to tour the dedicated land.

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