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Buffalo National River closure includes angling, turkey hunting

JASPER — Last week’s closure of the Buffalo National River closes all use of the Buffalo National River Wildlife Management Area until further notice. This includes a closure to angling in this section of the Buffalo, as well as turkey hunting within this WMA during the upcoming season.

“All other WMAs remain open to turkey hunting at this time,” said Brad Carner, chief of wildlife management for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “However, many of the larger WMAs are owned by other entities, and we work cooperatively with them to ensure public hunting and fishing access on these properties. We work as hard as we can to maintain these opportunities, but if the owner of the property feels it is in the best interest of the public to close access during this time, we will respect their decision and do our best to relay that information to the public.”

Carner pointed out that hunters still have millions of acres in Arkansas to pursue turkeys during this year’s season, which opens April 13 (youth-only hunting is April 11-12). And angling opportunities are plentiful throughout the state.

“We just ask everyone to be mindful of concentrating in groups before, during and after their hunting or fishing trip,” Carner said. “Turkey hunting is typically done by yourself or with a single person you’re mentoring, but the gatherings before and after the hunt could be problematic. Likewise, fishing from a boat or canoe is typically in the bounds of social distancing advice, but grouping up along a bank or gathering in large flotillas is just as bad as gathering together indoors.”

The park was closed by the National Park Service at the request of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and many local authorities who feared current conditions would worsen the spread of coronavirus in the rural communities surrounding the park.

During a press conference April 1, Hutchinson said that, in addition to new closures to Arkansas State Parks facilities, he would recommend to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior that the Buffalo National River be closed.

“Sixty percent of the visitors were from out of state,” Hutchinson said, referring to Monday’s park attendance. “When you think about that in terms of hot spots across the country, and the fact that other parks have closed, it certainly points out the need to try and limit out-of-state visitors and the spread of COVID-19.”

As a result of the closure, turkey hunting on the Buffalo National River Wildlife Management Area also will be closed, as the property associated with this WMA is owned by the National Park Service.

Buffalo National River superintendent Mark Foust said in a press release issued by the park, “It breaks my heart to have to close this incredible public park. It is, however, the right thing to do to protect the people that work here, live here, visit here, and love this place. We all have to do what we can to slow and prevent the spread of the virus in and around the park. We believe this will help. I am thankful to the people of Newton, Searcy, Marion, and Baxter Counties, who every day share the river with us and support visitors from all over the country and the world. I look forward to the time we can all welcome visitors back to the Buffalo, sharing the river and the experiences we all know to be good for our minds and bodies.”

Visit https://www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/conditions.htm for more information on the current conditions at the Buffalo National River.