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April 13, 2023 Comments Off on OPINION | Magazine explores state’s great outdoors Fishing, Hiking, Hunting, Latest, Nature, On The Water

OPINION | Magazine explores state’s great outdoors

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

A great outdoor magazine that won’t cost you an arm, a leg and a foot is “Arkansas Wildlife,” published six times each year by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

There’s all sorts of stories about fishing and hunting, but the magazine covers so much more. Conservation issues on the state’s numerous wildlife management areas get plenty of ink. Programs for young people such as archery in the schools and high school trap shooting are featured. There’s something for everyone from bird watching to crappie fishing and deer hunting.

Subscriptions are $12 per year, $20 for two years or $25 for three years. That’s for six magazines annually plus a beautiful wildlife calendar.

Two articles in the March-April edition alone are worth the price of a three-year subscription. The stories are about the culture of floating Arkansas’ streams and rivers with interviews from four outfitters who are legendary in business of float trips.

If there was a Mount Rushmore for Arkansas floating, people would see the faces of Ernie Kilman, who owns Kings River Outfitters; Brad Wimberly at Turner Bend outfitter on the Mulberry River; Kerry Moore with Moore Outdoors on the Big Piney; and Mike Mills, founder of Buffalo Outdoor Center. The story by magazine editor Jeff Williams notes the four have a combined 165 years of outfitter experience.

All four got together at Buffalo Outdoors Center last summer to swap stories, finally. The four outfitters and their wives have known each other for decades, sharing information and advice mostly by phone, but they’d never all been together in one place until last summer.

One article tells how each of them got into the business. Mills, who is now secretary of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, got started renting canoes out of his apartment while attending the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Kilman found his love of rivers while in Boy Scouts.

Wimberly traveled regularly from Louisiana to float the mighty Mulberry. Moore and his wife, Debbie, were regulars on Big Piney Creek while in college and saw the need for an outfitter on that remote stream.

In the other story, the four discuss the pressure that’s put on our streams by an increasing number of floaters and the changing culture of floating. How many people can an Ozark stream stand? What’s the breaking point?

It’s a dilemma for outfitters because the more people who rent boats, the better they prosper. Yet too many can spoil the experience and harm water quality and ecosystems.

Buffalo National River is unique because the National Park Service limits the number of rental boats. Not so on Kings River, the Mulberry or Big Piney.

Kilman notes in the story he voluntarily limits the number of boats he rents so his customers will have a nice Kings River float. For 15 years, he rented about 40 canoes when he could have rented 200 or more.

Mills noted that when he started, the most poplar Buffalo trip was a two-day trip from Ponca to Pruitt and camping overnight on a gravel bar. Nowadays, nearly everyone day floats. Few people camp.

Another big change is what the story calls “the kayak invasion.” Today people can buy a $200 kayak, haul it in the back of their car and go float the Buffalo or any stream. That’s increased the number of paddlers across the nation.

Back in the day, Wimberly noted, there were lots of floaters, but most needed to rent a boat, and that was a canoe. Now the majority of boats on the Mulberry are privately owned.

“You’ve got to give everyone credit,” Kilman says in the story. “because they’re off the couch. They’re out there. At a certain point the rat race, you’re trying to get away from is the rat race you’re getting into.”

Flip Putthoff can be reached at