Making Time for Marinoni
story and images JIM WARNOCK
Published in At Urban magazine of Fort Smith (This magazine is now named Do South)
There’s a treasure waiting for you in Franklin County, near the small town of Cass. One local backpacker recently said, “Hiking there is like walking through a beautiful cathedral!” Those who have experienced the Marinoni Scenic Area would completely understand this statement.
Imagine a place with twisting waterfalls, arching rock bluffs and towering trees. Walk along a gentle stream that flows over rocks into quiet, clear pools. The sounds of gurgling water, windblown trees, and a variety of songbirds will soothe your soul. Leave your cell phone in the car because there’s no coverage here; who wants to hear cold digital sounds in this acoustic setting?
The Marinoni is beautiful in every season. Fall colors glisten and shimmer,appearing as stained glass atop pools of water. Winter brings the possibility of stunning ice formations and frozen splash patterns around waterfalls. Spring brings dwarf crested irises peeking out from the most unlikely cracks and crevices. Their violet-to-purple hues sparkle against damp stone walls. During any season, you’ll find lush green moss-covered sandstone and lichen-speckled bluffs. Your greatest challenge on this hike might just be keeping your footing as you gaze up, entranced by the beauty.
Access to this jewel of a place used to be difficult and limited to strong, long-distance hiking legs. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) held a weeklong work camp in March of 2011 and built a .6 mile spur trail that connects to the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) just west of the Marinoni Scenic Area. You’re now able to hike a couple of miles and find yourself in one of the most beautiful places in Arkansas.
“Well worth a 3-hour drive,” says Dale Fudge, a hiker from Oklahoma City. Dale goes on to say, “The Marinoni Scenic Area is one of the most intimate and inspiring sections of the OHT. It’s secluded and packed full of dramatic landmarks. The area is now more accessible than before with the addition of the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail at Indian Creek, making for one of the best day hike opportunities in the entire region.”
It’s fitting that this area feels like a sanctuary and that it memorializes the lives of two special individuals. Paul A. Marinoni was from Fayetteville and was involved in volunteer efforts with Tim Ernst’s father. Tim, renowned outdoor photographer and author of the Ozark Highlands Trail Guide says, “My dad had his first heart attack when I was only six, so he was unable to take me to the woods like he would have wanted to. When I was seven, I began spending a lot of time with Paul Marinoni, hunting and camping during annual retreats into the woods. Paul was a real character, one of the most down-to-earth and honest people you would ever meet.” Given Tim’s sentiments, it seemed proper to name this area after a man who influenced others to appreciate the Ozarks.
The short trail allowing us to enter this natural area is named in memory of Dawna Robinson. Dawna and her husband, Bob, spent years maintaining sections of the OHT. She was well known for her love of the trail and her desire to share it with others. “When the new Indian Creek Spur Trail was first proposed, Dawna’s spirited personality and dedication came to mind as a fitting tribute to memorialize how the entire trail came into existence through the hard work and perseverance of volunteers,” says Mike Lemaster, President of the OHTA.
In many ways the Marinoni Scenic Area reflects qualities of these two lives. Sitting at the edge of Briar Creek, you’d think these bluffs had always been as they appear today but this valley was shaped by centuries of water and ice. There’s an honesty and straightforwardness in its beauty. Giant rocks stand like monuments of strength where they folded down to the creek years ago. Although fragile, there’s a sense of permanence here and although subtle, the beauty is deep and unmistakable in any season.
If you’ve never visited the Marinoni Scenic Area, it’s an experience not to be missed. If you have hiked the area, you will want to return again and experience an even deeper appreciation of its beauty. So, lace up your walking shoes! Let’s go visit an Arkansas natural cathedral and pause there as it becomes our own special place of sanctuary and reflection.
Getting there: From Hwy 23 just north of Cass, turn onto Hwy 215 east. Travel 7.4 miles to Indian Creek Canoe Launch and OHT Access. The trail is on the north side of Hwy 215 and begins at an opening in the fence directly across from the Indian Creek OHT Access sign. The spur trail is marked with 2×6-inch blue metal blazes. You’ll hike .6-miles to the OHT and then turn right, hiking another 2 miles to the Marinoni Scenic Area marker at the base of a bluff. Hiking out-and-back gives you approximately 5.2 miles. With a shuttle you can hike through to the Lick Branch Trailhead which will be a 5-mile hike and cover even more scenery.
For more information:
Ozark Highlands Trail Association ozarkhighlandstrail.com
Ozark Highland Trail Association Facebook page
Ozark Highlands Trail Guide by Tim Ernst