No need to drive six hours to a southeast Arkansas swamp when six minutes of kayaking gets paddlers heading downstream to a mysterious backwater that’s much closer to home.
When spring rain fills Beaver Lake to the brim, the rise transforms a piece of the reservoir into a wetland of flooded forest, bushes and brambles. Blades of grass peek from the shallow water to dance and sway in little waves created by a light breeze. A high water level turns this neck of the woods far up the lake’s War Eagle arm into acres of swamp.
Great blue herons glide on big wings over the dark water. Carp and catfish prowl below the surface while mink and gray squirrels skitter along little islands of brush-covered earth.
It’s a wildlife reception for explorers who make an effort to see this isolated swamp that’s unique for a big Ozark reservoir. Spring is prime time to visit when the lake level is high, as it usually is this time of year.
When the lake level is 1,125 feet above sea level or higher, conditions are right to visit this wetland that a group of local kayakers have dubbed “Woolly Swamp,” after the storytelling song “Legend of Woolly Swamp” by the Charlie Daniels Band.
Unlike the vast swamps to Arkansas’ southeast, nature didn’t create this picturesque place. It was formed by the hand of the Army Corps of Engineers when Beaver Lake filled in the mid 1960s. No telling what year high water first covered this bottomland area some two miles downstream from War Eagle Mill. It’s in this general area that the War Eagle River, also called War Eagle Creek, becomes Beaver Lake, depending on the lake level.
This Ozark swamp is also temporary. When the lake level falls below 1,125 feet, the water recedes and visitors see mostly river.
An ideal way to reach the swamp is by kayak or canoe. The closest launch spot is a pay access on War Eagle Road one-quarter mile west of the mill. There’s a gravel entrance and gate where the road turns sharply left. A generous landowner kindly lets people cross his property to the water for a nominal fee of $2 per vehicle.
Drop $2 in the pay box at the entrance, swing the gate open and drive on in. Be sure to stop and close the gate because the landowner’s cattle sometimes roam nearby. Follow the gravel road past a small country cemetery and on down to the water. Launch and paddle left to venture downstream to the swamp area.
Getting there is part of the adventure. The first paddle strokes send boats gliding beneath crags of cliffs more typical of the Ozarks than a swamp. During May, cliff swallows are busy raising tiny young in their gourd-shaped mud nests the birds build under these overhangs. Hundreds of swallows can be seen darting and strafing the surface in search of insects. Bird action is hot and heavy mornings and evenings.
The route follows these jagged bluffs on the right of the river most of the way to the swamp. When more rounded bluffs come into view on river left, paddlers know they’re almost to the swamp.
Travel another 200 yards and start exploring the watery inlets and small dark bays. Some sloughs are barely wide enough for a kayak to pass, or there is plenty of open water.
The branches of cypress and tupelo trees of a southeast Arkansas swamp don’t shade paddlers here, but explorers will likely see more birds than mosquitoes at this unique piece of Beaver Lake.
More swamp to see
Another temporary swamp during high water is at the back end of Van Winkle Hollow on Beaver Lake. The launch site is at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. Drive to the junction of Arkansas 12 and Arkansas 303. Go north on Arkansas 303 and turn right (east) on Van Hollow Road. Follow that about one mile to the lake. The swamp is close by on the right.
— Source: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette