Section 8 of the Ouachita Trail

by Josh Williams

photography by Jeremy Rodgers & Chris Sale

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes one will see an image so powerful that it will burn itself into one’s conscience like a cattle brand forever. However, not every picture taken has the ability to change lives or shift the world’s balance of power, but every picture does have one thing in common: Proof. Confirmation. If someone or something has its picture taken, it validates its existence. Ouachita High Country is lucky enough to have some of the best picture-takers in the region on its staff (as one can plainly see every issue), and the magazine is introducing a new section: Photographer’s Favorite. Our staff photographers have one of the more interesting and challenging jobs that one could have, and it’s time to give them some recognition. In this new section, our photographers pick one of their favorite spots in the OHC and we profile it. In this first segment, we focus on “Section 8” of the Ouachita Trail.

The Ouachita National Recreation Trail (ONRT) is a 223-mile long, uninterrupted trail contained within the Ouachita National Forest of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Ouachita National Forest was established in 1907 and spans an area of 1.8 million acres. The ONRT is the longest backpacking trail in the Ouachita National Forest, and it is utilized by hikers, backpackers, hunters. This nonmotorized, single lane trail is only open to foot traffic, but, it is also partially open to mountain bikes. The sections open to mountain bikes are from the western terminus of the Ouachita Trail in Talimena State Park to the Big Cedar trailhead on US Highway 259 at approximately Mile Marker (MM) 30 in Oklahoma, and from the Talimena Scenic Drive Trailhead at MM 54, east to Highway 7 at MM 160, north of Jessieville, Arkansas. The last 31 miles of the trail are maintained by Pinnacle Mountain State Park, on land which is owned by several timber companies and Central Arkansas Water. There are plans to connect the Ouachita Trail to downtown Little Rock in the future.

Two of Ouachita High Country magazine’s photographers spent some time out on the ONRT, particularly in Section 8 of the trail (and no, they’re not physically unstable— maybe mentally unstable—but who are we to judge?). Chris Sale and Jeremy Rodgers are professional photographers and outdoor enthusiasts that had the pleasure of traversing Section 8 of the ONRT, and it’s easy to see why they chose this spot for their first “Favorite” feature: It’s breathtaking “It is absolutely beautiful,” Jeremy said. “There is no city-like intimidation out here. It is so easy to just concentrate on nature. There were no distractions whatsoever: No lights, no engines, just us and the sanctuary of mother earth.”

“After we set up camp,” Chris said, “ we witnessed the moon coming up over the ridge, and I almost lost it. I think I might have had an out-of-body experience because nothing else existed in that moment but me and that view.” The forested mountains, the sweeping valleys and the almost crystal clear-running streams probably have something to do with the feelings of infatuation Jeremy and Chris have for this slice of nature. But, it’s not all crimson and clover when it comes to this prodder’s paradise.

Some of the trail located in Section 8 is somewhat overgrown. In fact, some of it is almost impassable. The US Forest Service can only do so much, and the non-profit 501©3 Friends of the Ouachita Trail, can’t be out there every day to do all the maintenance that’s needed. But, the situation isn’t that bad. According to Bo Lea, president of Friends of the Ouachita Trail, only 27 miles of the 223 mile long trail are in “Red” condition. This means that there is heavy vegetation impeding or restricting passage, whether its overgrown vines or fallen trees. Jeremy said, “One part was pretty bad. After we woke in the morning, we started out and missed the connection completely. (We) didn’t even recognize the trail entrance.” Rationalizing that moment, he added “it’s no wonder people come here to practice the ONRT before attempting (the) Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Coast Trail.”

“I wanted to see more than we did,” said Chris. “Some of it was pretty overgrown, there are vines and wooded areas that need pruning—foot traffic alone will help out immensely in perpetuating the trail.” The ONRT runs through eight counties in Oklahoma and Arkansas, so there should be plenty of people who can supply some needed trampling. Chris said, “We basically just need people to come stamp on it. (We need) people to come help be a part of the cause. It’s so beautiful anyway, just do a little
maintenance while (you’re) out here and make it easier to hike in the future.”

This scenic trail might be challenging and only fit for the avid outdoors person in some areas, but even novice hikers and bikers can enjoy this natural wonder. There are other recreational opportunities on the trail: Developed areas for recreation, weather shelters, picnic areas, shooting ranges, float camps and visitor information stations are strategically placed throughout the ONRT.

Right now is the perfect time to get out there and do some trailing. The comfortable autumn weather and the beautiful foliage are the perfect recipe for an outdoor excursion. “I can’t imagine what this place is going to look like in a couple months,” Chris said. We can’t imagine either, Chris. For more on the Ouachita National Recreation Trail call 501-321-5202 or visit www.aokforests.com.