Remember Whitewater? The Place Is Still There (Published 2007) (2022)


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American Journeys | Flippin, Ark.

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Remember Whitewater? The Place Is Still There (Published 2007) (1)

By Paul Schneider

IT’S hard now to remember those shiny days before 9/11 when Congress seemed to believe that the greatest threat to the republic lay in an obscure land deal in northwestern Arkansas called Whitewater. Given all that has passed under the bridge, there’s something quaint and nostalgic about so much froth and fury over something that in the end went nowhere, like a slightly gonzo Norman Rockwell cover showing democracy in action.

These days, Ken Starr seems as distant a figure as Nero, but with springtime returning to the ancient Ozarks, it’s the perfect time to visit Flippin, Ark., to see the appealing mountain landscape where Whitewater was born. And after Flippin, right down the road there is Yellville, Dogpatch, Gassville, Eros, Stumptoe, Fifty-Six, Big Flat — it has to be fun.

The Arkansas spring really does bring white water — mysterious waterfalls hidden away at the ends of impossibly mossy trails, swift rivers thick with monster trout, rapids for paddling. There are caves to explore, woods filled with wildflowers and evening fields ablaze with lightning bugs, as they call fireflies in these parts. No wonder the Clintons thought a development of lots for vacation homes in this corner of Arkansas would be a safe investment.

Satisfy your curiosity first — it won’t take long. There’s nothing much at the actual Whitewater property but a meandering stretch of the White River and a dozen or so houses down at the end of a lovely county road. Chris Wade Jr. of Ozarks Realty, whose father was the original agent on the deal and later bought the land, said this month that the last piece of the original subdivision — a three-acre parcel with no water view — could be had for $25,000.

On Main Street in Flippin, Jim and Susan McDougal’s old savings and loan seems to be one of those doomed locations: it was a pizza place for a while, and a doughnut shop, and a cash advance joint, and is now a barbershop.

But the foofaraw is not forgotten. “People still ask me about it all the time,” said John Wilson, an angling guide from nearby Norfork who periodically takes clients along the stretch of river that flows past the old Whitewater property. “I’ve even had people ask to be let out of the boat to pick up a rock to take home with them.”

After the obligatory chuckle at signs for the Flippin Church of God and at the cruisers that say Flippin Police in big letters on the side, there’s not much more to do in Flippin, a town of about 1,300. “As far as things to do in town, you’re about at it,” said the hostess at Sodie’s restaurant in the town’s old railroad station.

Never mind. The dogwoods are in bloom, and there is a lot more ground to cover.

For hundreds of millions of years the highland now known as the Ozark plateau alternately rose and sank out of a shallow sea that covered most of the southern Midwest. When under saltwater, new layers of limestone were deposited by sea creatures, only to be eroded into tangled networks of steep “mountains” when again uplifted into the wind and air.

Here and there fresh water dissolved away great caverns, which drained with the uplift and became caves. There are plenty to tour — Mystic Caverns near Dogpatch and Hurricane River Cave near Pindall (ask about the “wild caving” tour) are both spectacular. But if you’re going to see only one, it’s hard to beat Blanchard Springs Caverns for variety, magnitude and the quality of the guides. It’s near the town of Fifty-Six, and is run by the United States Forest Service.

Spring is prime season for the Ozark waterfalls. The tallest is the 209-foot Hemmed-In Hollow Falls in the Ponca Wilderness Area. It can roar modestly in very wet years, but more often it whispers down, before a striated and painted cliff that would be worth the 2.5-mile hike in (from a trailhead near Compton) even without the falls.

Ranging downward in altitude are more than a hundred other Ozark cascades worthy of listing in the indispensable “Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook” by Tim Ernst, and below them, countless trickling gurgles that line almost any hike in the lands surrounding the Buffalo National River or in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. Be sure to check the porous-looking white stones for miniature fossils. (Mr. Ernst’s hiking guide is also very good.)

After a hearty breakfast at the Ozark Cafe in downtown Jasper, make for the trailhead at the Lost Valley Campground, south of Ponca on Route 43. From there, a leisurely walk through a mossy glade will lead you to a sculptured pool where Clark Creek tumbles merrily out from under a natural bridge. A little farther and a little higher and you’re at a double drop called the Eden Falls.

And from there, a short but occasionally steep trail takes you to the mouth of the mysterious Eden Falls Cave, where, if your two flashlights have batteries and your two knees have cartilage, you can make your way in a couple of hundred feet, if you dare, to where there is yet another waterfall, some 35 feet tall. “If you don’t have a helmet, I wouldn’t recommend going in,” warned one enthusiast with enough gear to plumb Carlsbad, so consider yourself warned, though it’s likely that more people have made the trip without such protection than with it.


ALL good waterfalls eventually join together into rivers, and in northwestern Arkansas this means the Buffalo River, which was the National Park Service’s first National River, and the White and North Fork Rivers, which consistently produce some of the world’s largest trout.

First the Buffalo: you can paddle for as little as a half-day with bottle of water and a sandwich, or you can put in for a 10-day, 120-mile voyage. Or you can arrange pretty much anything between. There are decent whitewater in the upper reaches in early spring and lazy floating along colorful cliffs in the midsections all year. Below the mining ghost town at Rush is a 25-mile unbroken stretch through the Lower Buffalo Wilderness Area.

There is good fishing for bass and catfish on the Buffalo, but for the world-famous local mega-trout you need the cold waters flowing from under the dams on the White. The fish, which are heavily stocked, grow to enormous sizes in part because the limestone bedrock continually fertilizes the water, creating a virtual smorgasbord of prey that lasts all year.

A day with a top fly rod guide like John Wilson on the White River will run upward of $400 for two. But when he hooks you onto a 35-pound brown trout, you’re likely to forget the price before you forget the fight.

For a town to spend some time in, you’ll have to head west to Eureka Springs, a stone and Victorian treasure that is seemingly built directly into the side of a cliff perforated with natural springs. The town went through a bad spell in the early 1900s when its 60 natural springs became polluted around the same time the Victorian health spa craze was winding down. You wouldn’t know it today, though. The winding streets are full of interesting little shops, not-your-usual-tourist-town art galleries; conceptual watering holes; a Mexican dive bar; a concert hall; immaculate and less than immaculate Victorian hotels; groovy basement coffee bakeries; and even a writer’s colony dedicated to culinary wordsmiths.

What’s more, it doesn’t look like anywhere else. With its mix of Arkansas stone and Victorian gingerbread, it’s like some weird cross between Asheville, N.C., and Oak Bluffs, Mass., all perched on the side of a hill that would make San Francisco proud and topped with a grand old hotel. In short, it’s fun.

But lest you forget you’re in Arkansas, from the fourth-floor porch of the Crescent Hotel, in Dr. Baker’s Lounge, you have a fine view of the seven-story statue “Christ of the Ozarks” on a nearby hilltop, his arms outstretched. He, it seems, has a fine view of you and your martini, too.

And just outside of downtown proper on Route 62 is the Smokehouse Cafe, which claims to be “home of the world’s largest biscuit.” It’s a thing of beauty, as big as a football, lightly golden on top, and it comes smothered in gravy for $3.89.

Yes please, ma’am, with extra sausage. Who needs a cappuccino?


FLIPPIN, ARK., is about 150 miles north of Little Rock, on Route 412/62.

Cave tours nearby are available at Mystic Caverns (south of Harrison on Route 7; 888-743-1739; $12.95), Hurricane River Cave (south of Harrison on Route 65; 800-245-2282; $10.75) and Blanchard Springs Caverns (north of Mountain View off Route 14; 888-757-2246; $10).

“Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook” by Tim Ernst, is available from Publishing ($18.95).

A list of registered outfitters for paddling on the Buffalo National River is at

Details about John Wilson’s guide service are listed on

If you’re looking for a full-service fishing resort, try Gaston’s in Lakeview (870-431-5202;

In Eureka Springs, the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa (75 Prospect Avenue, 877-342-9766; has rooms starting at $129. Other lodgings in town include bed-and-breakfasts and cottages. The Smokehouse Cafe (479-253-9842) at 580 West Van Buren (Route 62), serves biscuits with gravy, with sausage, with eggs or all of the above.

The former Whitewater development is about eight miles south of Flippin off Route 101. A left turn on County Road 6067 and a right on 6068 will take you into the development proper, but staying on 101 as it goes along the White River gives a better feel for the land.


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