ATVs to boost Ozark tourism

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Kris Muldoon knows his way around the Ozark National Forest as well as others know their own neighborhoods.

Muldoon has been riding ATVs in the Ozarks back country since he was a kid. Now, as president of the Clarksville Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, he wants to share the joy of traveling the remote and rugged two-track routes with other off-road enthusiasts.

“Every place has its own beach. Something that other people want to come and see. This is our beach,” Muldoon said to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , admiring a wilderness view worthy of an artist’s canvas.

From a lofty hill top, miles of hill country forest stretched to a blue-sky horizon. Not one iota of civilization tainted the vista seen from the seat of Muldoon’s ATV. It’s a four-seater big enough to haul his whole family.

The chamber president and six of his friends were four miles into a 45-mile ride through the Ozark National Forest and Johnson County routes open to ATVs.

The four-hour trek visited deep valleys, hill tops, mountain streams and waterfalls. Some of the routes were so rugged they might give a mule pause. That’s the kind of travel legions of off-road aficionados prefer, Muldoon said.

The riders stopped now and then at their favorite spots. One break was along Murray Creek, which flowed bank full, loud and proud with small stair-step waterfalls. It’s a busy place during summer, Muldoon noted. A pool below the falls is a refreshing swimming hole for the ATV crowd, miles from the nearest pavement.

Lunch was at a meadow in front of the Union School house, circa 1929, out in the Johnson County back woods. Mike Howard pulled a log of deer summer sausage out of an ice chest and cut thick slices for the hungry bunch.

It’s possible to hike into some of these forest delights, but not everyone is able to slog miles over a trail. Howard was part of the group bouncing through the wilderness. Medical issues prevent him from hiking far, but his two-seater ATV gets him into the woods — most of it.

Not all roads and two-track trails in the Ozark National Forest are open to ATVs. Howard and Muldoon would like to see the U.S. Forest Service open more routes to ATV sight-seeing travel.

Howard said he wouldn’t mind paying a fee, up to $60 per year, to ride through more of the forest.

The Ozark National Forest website points to concerns about erosion, water quality, wildlife habitat and disturbing other visitors as reasons for designating ATV routes. Maps of the routes, which cover hundreds of miles, are available on the web site.

Howard says the logging industry does more damage in the national forest than ATVs.