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Bill Expanding Flatside Wilderness Goes to President's Desk

Additional parts of the Flatside Wilderness may soon get permanent protection, more than 30 years after lawmakers established the current boundaries. (Kirk Wasson)
Additional parts of the Flatside Wilderness may soon get permanent protection, more than 30 years after lawmakers established the current boundaries. (Kirk Wasson)
December 31, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A bill is now on President Donald Trump's desk that would expand the Flatside Wilderness - about 50 miles west of central Little Rock.

The Flatside Wilderness Enhancement Act would add 640 acres to the site, near the southern flank of Forked Mountain. Anders Reynolds, officer with the public lands program at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said the rugged area is a critical watershed with amazing views from the Ouachita National Recreation Trail.

"You've got extraordinary opportunities for solitude, you've got some incredible habitat for animals like wild turkey and black bear,” Reynolds said. “And maybe most critically, you've got a portion of the Ouachita National Scenic Trail that goes through this area."

The area currently is designated a wilderness study area, so the new status would protect it from development in perpetuity. The public still would have full access to camp, hike, fish, paddle and hunt. Gov. Asa Hutchison, the state Forestry Commission and conservation groups all gave the thumbs up to the change in status.

David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society, said Arkansas is known as the Natural State, but only 2 percent of the land is designated as wilderness. And it’s a big win to get this kind of support from both sides of the aisle.

"Arkansas is a southern state and it's also a Republican state. We didn't think it was going to get done,” Peterson said. “We were ecstatic with the idea. So actually getting wilderness added is spectacular. It also sets a precedent of Arkansas being unusually environmentally aware."

The bill was sponsored by Rep. French Hill and pushed through at the end of the legislative session by Sen. John Boozman, both Republicans. The new addition will be named the Bethune Woods-Flatside Wilderness, in honor of former U.S. Rep. Ed Bethune, who has been working to protect the area for decades.

Support for this programming was provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AR