A one mile hike can take a couple of hours when wildflowers waving in a gentle breeze line the trail.
Spring at Kings River Falls Natural Area in Madison County, south of Huntsville, can be such a case. Kings River Falls is the centerpiece of this 1,059-acre tract, but violets, spring beauties, wild huckleberry and wild geraniums lined the mile-long trail to the waterfall during a visit on April 14.
Terry Stanfill and Alan Bland are walking wildflower guidebooks who identified most of the blooms a quartet of hikers enjoyed on the scenic walk along the upper Kings River. Two others in the group were eager for some wildflower coaching from the experts. Bland and Stanfill were happy to oblige.
A dozen or more varieties were seen and photographed on the trek that was more of a mosey than a hike.
Stanfill learned their names over the years. One would expect Bland to know his blossoms, and he certainly does. Bland is a Beaver Lake park ranger with the Army Corps of Engineers.
The trail heads north along a little creek at Kings River Falls Natural Area. The creek joins the river in short order and hikers meander down a level path on the west side of the river. Dogwood and redbud trees in the peak of bloom added to the wildflower show.
A group of dogwoods framed a bluff shelter on the left about one-half mile into the hike. Stanfill spied a stand of some rare wildflowers at the bluff and scrambled through tall grass for a close look.
The rest of the way treats wanderers to lovely views of the upper Kings River. The stream splashes over rocky shoals and chutes on its way to the waterfall.
Kings River Falls tumbles about 10 feet from top to bottom. The stream breaks into four or five different waterfalls as it spills over the lip of rock and into a pool that’s inviting for a cool dip on a warm day. It’s the local swimming hole, as the hiking group found out when a gaggle of teenagers arrived and jumped into the pool whooping and hollering.
Wildflowers, a waterfall and swimming hole make Kings River Falls Natural Area one of the most visited of the Arkansas’ natural areas, said Darrell Bowman, director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, which manages the tracts.
The commission manages natural areas like Kings River Falls to preserve native habitats for future generations, Bowman said. In contrast, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission manages its wildlife areas for hunting and fishing.
Game and Fish may be mostly concerned with deer and wild turkeys while natural area managers focus on nongame animals and plants. However, hunting is allowed on 42 of the state’s 71 natural areas, Bowman added.
Kings River Falls was added to Arkansas’ portfolio of natural areas in 1979. It has grown to its current 1,079 acres through nine different land purchases from 1979 to 2012, Bowman said.
Improvements over the years include the parking area, trail work and stream rehabilitation along the Kings River. Visitors probably won’t notice the stream work.
“If you do it right, you don’t even notice it was done,” the director said. Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission staff and contractors did the work.
Northwest Arkansas master naturalists volunteer to help the commission keep the area in good shape. They’ve adopted Kings River Falls Natural Area and just about every other natural area in Northwest Arkansas.
“They’re a tremendous help,” Bowman noted.
Springtime visitors to the area come for the waterfall, but get a natural bouquet of flowers along the way.
Flip Putthoff can be reachd at email@example.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip