The Flip Side – Hikers hope furry dam builders return
With so many new hiking trails to choose from, some tried and true routes are now the paths less traveled.
One hike we’ve neglected for years is a walk to the beaver ponds at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. The series of rodent-engineered lagoons shimmers deep in the folds of Van Winkle Hollow along the park’s Hidden Diversity Multiuse Trail.
Hike, bike or ride a horse along the Little Clifty Loop of the trail, and you’ll eventually drop down into Van Winkle Hollow and the network of beaver ponds.
A misty, cool Sunday morning, March 22, proved ideal for a visit to the ponds that we hadn’t seen in years. Decades ago, the leather-tailed critters were, well, busy as beavers chewing trees and building dams along a 75-yard stretch of Little Clifty Creek.
The clear-water stream eventually empties into Beaver Lake a mile downstream from the beaver ponds. It joins the lake where the park’s Historic Van Winkle Trail is located along Arkansas 12.
The Hidden Diversity Multiuse Trail was routed close to the beaver ponds. A viewing deck was built by a Boy Scout troop so trail users could admire the pools without walking all over them.
Then, the beavers vanished. It’s like they packed up their little dam-building skills and wandered off to a new project. Could be they didn’t care for all the visitors so they took off for new real estate.
Not long ago, one of the park staff mentioned he’d heard a rumor that the beavers were back. We set off on a hike to the beaver ponds for a thorough investigation.
Our trek started at the Townsend Ridge Road trailhead, two miles south of Arkansas 12. The path from the parking area meanders for one-half mile to a trail intersection. Keep walking straight on the Little Clifty Loop. Don’t turn right or you’ll be on the War Eagle Loop.
The trail weaves through the woods, past some hitching posts for horses, then downhill into Van Winkle Hollow. Near the bottom, a spur trail goes off to the left for about 40 yards to the viewing deck. There’s some nice benches here for relaxing and admiring the beaver ponds.
Our investigation revealed three fresh beaver sticks in sight, sticks that have been stripped of their bark by chewing beavers. They eat the inner bark, twigs and leaves of several tree types. The sticks appeared bright yellow in the water on this gray overcast day.
Yet there was no sign of beavers chewing on new trees, no sign of dam maintenance or new dam building. One of the chewed beaver sticks was on top of a beaver dam, but all of the dams appeared old.
We hashed out our findings and came to these conclusions: If there are beavers here, they are few and far between; or maybe the beavers are just starting to return; or could be they’ve moved upstream or downstream of their original ponds.
It’s anyone’s guess.
I first saw these beaver ponds long ago before Hobbs was a state park. Some squirrel hunters were kind enough to let me tag along with them to do a hunting feature for the paper.
We started at the top of Van Winkle Hollow and worked our way down through the woods along the creek. The guys sported camo duds and knee-high muck boots. Slings on their rifles let them hike with shotguns on their backs.
Now and then, their small dogs would tree a squirrel in a tall oak or hickory. The little hounds, squirrel-finding specialists, jumped up and down like crazy trying to climb the tree as best a dog can do.
Shotguns popped. The guys started gathering a fine mess of squirrels. Farther down the hollow I noticed the creek got wider. My feet sank into the grass and moist soil. There in some water I saw the first beaver stick, then noticed beaver ponds everywhere.
Holy cow. What a place. Old hat to these hunters, but all new to me.
At about the spot where the viewing deck is now, the guys took a westerly tack, up a hillside away from the ponds, working on their limits of squirrels.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed those beavers are coming back, ready to fix up their old dams like people restoring a vintage home.
<em> Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.</em>