BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER — As beautiful as the Buffalo National River can be at almost any location, sometimes Mother Nature has to do some cleaning.
Floods happen on a regular basis and almost anyone will have a flood story to tell and will most likely be able to tell the year it happened and where they were when it affected them.
The recent rains during the past weekend made a big impact on the river. Water levels were reaching low levels until the downpour came a few days ago. In some places, the water rose as much as 13 feet in a short time.
Floods do a lot to the river every year and sometimes it happens on several occasions.
Jesse Jefferson, owner/operator of Buffalo River Canoes, was asked about his observations of seeing the river change due to this flooding.
“It’s changed a lot. The gravel was washed in at a bunch of places and anybody who floated the river last month will notice that it became very different very quick,” Jefferson noted. “Every time it floods, it changes. So I invite them to float the new Buffalo River.”
When the river reaches flood stage, the Park Service will close the river from concessioners due to extreme danger. The recommendation during this time is that the river will be for experienced floaters only.
This weekend, the rains created a flash flood that caused the river to rise over 5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) in a matter of 2 hours.
Jefferson relayed a story from being at Mt. Hersey on Sunday morning to pick up boats from people who were getting off of the river from a multi-day trip. He explained that in the 30 minutes that his crew was at the take-out area, Davis Creek, which converges with the Buffalo River at Mt. Hersey, had risen over 3 feet in that short span of time.
Flooding on the river can come all at once and a person on the river doesn’t necessarily have to be getting rained on to notice a change in the water level. Rain from many miles away will work its way to the river and anyone who is on the river needs to take precautions accordingly. People who camp on the river overnight can be affected greatly if not prepared for the possible rise in water levels.
“Choose an elevated campsite wisely because the water can come up quickly,” Jefferson continued. “People need to understand to pull their canoes above their tents so that if the water reaches their toes while they are sleeping, then they will still have their boats.”
When on the water, every safety measure should be observed. “Wear your lifejacket instead of sitting on it,” Jefferson exclaimed.
In order for concessioners to put patrons on the river, the gauge at Ponca has to drop below 1,300 cfs which is around zero airspace at the Ponca low-water bridge. Airspace is determined by the amount of space below the bridge and the top of the river.
With the changing nature of the river and the way that the gravel bars are moved around due to each flood, airspace may not be an accurate gauge in some instances for the condition of the river.
“Not all zeroes are created equal,” Jefferson explained about the airspace. “If you don’t look at it every day, it could look like zero but the river could be moving faster than anticipated.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior has a webpage that can be found by searching “USGS Ponca.” Information can be found regarding temperature of the water, cfs and the rise and fall of the river.
Visitors and locals alike that visit the Buffalo National River should stay informed on the conditions of the river because safety is of the utmost importance.
The Elk Festival in Jasper is taking place this weekend and people from the Park Service will be available to answer any questions regarding safety and situations along the river. So get informed.