Vol. VI, No. 1, Summer 1992 / No. 2, Fall 1992

Change in the Boxley Valley

by Mary Virginia Ferguson

The author is from a long-time newspaper family in Conway, Faulkner County, Arkansas. Since 1980 my husband, Hubert, and I have lived in the Boxley Valley Historic District of the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas. These years mark the second time in my life to be on the cutting edge of social change. The first time was in the 1960s as the schools in Conway, Arkansas were being totally integrated and I began teaching in the high school. That process of change was one of meeting challenges daily---challenges that were turning centuries of old traditions around. For me it involved, first of all, commitment to an ultimate goal and required patience, understanding, and a willingness to listen to others.

The social change being brought about in the Boxley Valley is certainly not of the magnitude of that cataclysmic event of the '60s, but in one way the two are similar; in both instances change did not come from within, but was imposed from outside the community. I see many of the same factors involved in making each change become a reality. Neither of these processes has yet reached a state of maturity; each is being examined, changed, scrutinized, and worked-over. Each is being alternately cursed and praised, derided and exemplified.

It is the changing scene in the Boston Mountain region of the Ozarks, and in particular, the Boxley Valley of the Big Buffalo, that I will discuss here. I will to explain how man is attempting to preserve the natural and cultural resources and how, at the same time, he is inevitably changing them.

In 1973 Congress passed the law creating the Buffalo National River. It allowed the National Park Service to establish areas within the 92,000 acres of the park to be set apart for a specific purpose. One of these areas was a "private use zone" of over 9000 acres in the Boxley Valley. The property owners within the valley would be given the right to retain ownership of their land after selling a "scenic easement" to the park service. This easement would place use restrictions upon the land forever, the purpose of which was to insure a pastoral scene in an agricultural use zone that lies along State Highway 43. This seven-mile stretch of the valley of the Big Buffalo River, encompasses the Boxley community.

The idea of setting aside lands for parks to be enjoyed by generations of Americans in the future is not a new one. The idea of people living in a park forever while maintaining and promoting a sense of community is, however, new to the National Park Service and has presented problems to planners and park managers as well as to the property owners.

To deal with these new ways of working the Park Service has prepared a Land Use Plan /Cultural Landscape Report for the Boxley Valley. In doing this, an interdisciplinary resource team was used, as well as public meetings involving the residents of the area. The plan promotes a public/private partnership to preserve the scenic pastoral landscape in a cost-effective manner. The plan uses a new management concept -- bio-cultural resource management. This replaces the traditional Park Service natural and cultural resource management models, and it allows for some change in the historic/private use district in Boxley Valley. This was the first cultural landscape report for any area in the national park system. It described an innovative resource management concept for preserving the special living cultural landscape of the Boxley Valley while protecting critical natural resources of Buffalo National River.


The Boxley Plan, as the Cultural Landscape Report is called, regulates much of what is visible to the eye as one travels through this pastoral valley dotted with fields, meadows, grazing animals, and farm houses with their accompanying outbuildings. What it cannot plan for are the inevitable difficulties of meshing the various personalities and agendas of Park Service personnel with those of the numerous owners of the property that now lies within the park. These difficulties are often compounded by bureaucratic mazes and innumerable regulations and laws that can turn the simplest request into a major action requiring days and even weeks to resolve. All of us who live in the Valley have experienced this way of working within the regulations. We also experience the problems that arise when new personnel come on to the scene and are anxious to make changes for what they see as the best interest of the park.

We have two groups of people attempting to work together. On one hand are landowners, independent and strong-willed, whose property may have been in their family for six or seven generations. On the other hand are personnel, trained in the old manner of the National Park Service, who must deal with an entirely new concept -- people living within parks.

As for what the future will bring, I think it is safe to say that the Buffalo National River will endure, and that the "private use zone" of the Boxley Valley will continue to provide a pastoral scene for the visitor. What that scene will someday be, may change.

That change will come is inevitable. We are aware of changes in the use of resources throughout the Ozarks region -- many of them degrading the land and water and creating unsightly areas along rivers and streams. One of north Arkansas' most beautiful streams, Spring River, is suffering from all these degradations. A group of concerned citizens has formed an organization, Save Our Spring, attempting to curb rampant riparian development and on site pollution. Their cause is a good one, but their ability to persuade property owners to adhere to restrictions is limited by the owner's willingness to do so. The prognosis for success is not optimistic.

The future of the resources of the Boxley Valley in Buffalo National River -- land, water, air, cultural landscapes, and sense of community -- is yet to be worked out. A legal commitment has been made by land owners and the Park Service. It is to be hoped that the two groups, working together, can develop a unique--even exemplary relationship. It will take patience, understanding and a willingness to listen. The need now is for present and future generations of landowners and Park Service personnel to be imbued with measure of all those characteristics.

An article about the Boxley Valley appeared in the Summer, 1990 issue of OzarksWatch. It was written by Jim Liles of the Buffalo National River.


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