Walking My Adopted Trail: OHT from Dockery Gap to Lake Fort Smith SP

I’ve wanted to check my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail for several months but life wouldn’t cooperate, so we were thankful for this time. I love this section and Hike-dog does, too. It was a crisp, clear day and water was running perfectly.

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Immediately, I noticed the excellent work done by volunteers with the OHTA recently. Several downed trees on the upper ridge were cut out and made for easy walking.

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The first Jack Creek crossing was almost a wet crossing but it was fairly easy to step across rocks. A favorite feature of this 4-mile section is that you cross a series of small streams that flow down into Jack Creek. Each of these streams is a visual highlight and different in every season.

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Hiker-dog seemed to enjoy having this rock in the middle of one of the small drainages we crossed.

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The water in Jack Creek was flowing clear. We met about seven young backpackers having lunch at the nearby campsite. We’d passed a solo teenage backpacker and a father and 9-year old son duo for a total of 10 hiker sightings on my small section. It was good to see so many young people on the trail.

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Seeing Trout lilies means springtime is near. These little splashes of color dotted the forest floor.

 

 

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The photo above shows one of the small streams we crossed and a huge boulder that always impresses me. To get an idea about its size, I placed an arrow pointing at Hiker-dog next to a tree for a sense of scale.

IMG_2950rrI filled my water bottle twice, the first time simply dipping into one of the side streams that flow into Jack Creek. The second refill came from this favorite spot where water usually flows across moss-covered rocks before crossing the trail.

I used a small handsaw to cut a few smaller trees off of the trail and used my GPS to record waypoints for future trips out with OHTA chainsaw pros for larger trees, none of which were major obstacles.

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Hiker-dog enjoyed several cooling bathes over the course of the day and she definitely exceeded my 8-miles out-and-back distance with her dashes out through the woods. She and I were both thrilled to do this section of the OHT again!

Consider volunteering! Go to the OHTA website and check under maintenance. Use the maintenance coordinator email to see if there is a section you might want to adopt.

Jack Creek Criminals on the Ozark Highlands Trail

As I hiked east from Dockery Gap to check my section of trail a dad and his four sons approached from the opposite direction.   They had a haggard and disheveled look as they lumbered up the trail loaded down with one-gallon plastic milk jugs filled with cloudy water and overloaded backpacks.  One of the sons carried a rifle presumably for protection from wild bears.

The gun made me nervous, but I relaxed when the dad spoke.  He explained that they had camped at Jack Creek with plans to hike to White Rock Mountain, but now they were wondering how to hike out and where they might get cell phone service to call mom to come get them.  I took my map out and showed them the road they were approaching and how to walk toward civilization.  They explained that their water filter wasn’t working correctly, hence the murky water jugs.  They’d not slept well, were overheated and exhausted.  As I continued down the trail, I thought they’d made the right decision in exiting the forest.

Approaching Jack Creek less than a mile later, I saw smoke and a burning campfire.  There was a hammock tied between two trees next to the creek and trash everywhere.  Thinking someone must still be occupying the site I called out, but there was no response.  It gradually dawned on me that this was the camp left by my exhausted friends who’d just asked for directions.  I extinguished the fire, kicking a large aerosol can of insect spray out of the coals and then collected the trash.

I continued down the trail picking up more trash at each creek crossing.  It appeared that these young men and their dad deposited trash at every rest stop.  After doing a little maintenance I returned to the trashy camp, scattered the now cooled fire ring, and bagged the trash I’d collected earlier.  Then I noticed scaring on a tree next to the creek where they had chopped it with an ax for no apparent reason.  This began to feel like a crime scene.

Some of the trash collected at the site.  Notice the burned aerosol can.

Some of the trash collected at the site. Notice the burned aerosol can.

I had visions of driving up on these fellows as they walked along the road and what I would like to say but then considered the rifle and thought a more diplomatic approach might be best.  As I hiked up the trail away from the scene of the crime, I rehearsed the discussion I would have about the beauty of the Ozark National Forest and how important it is that we care for it and pass it on to our children.  I wished for words to help these men discover a better way to treat the wilderness but, in reality, it seemed futile to try to convert remorseless criminals who enter the forest for recreation and harm it by their very presence.

As it turned out, by the time I arrived at the trailhead to throw my bag of trash in the Jeep, the father and his sons were nowhere to be seen.  I do wish I could have that conversation, but I take comfort in the knowledge that I probably witnessed the conclusion of their first and last backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail.  If I just had some assurance that they don’t have access to four-wheelers I’d feel a whole lot better.