HARRISON, ARK. — The National Park Service touts the Buffalo River for its “wildness” and “isolation.”
Outfitter Mike Mills says it offers “a peace like no other peace.”
His wife, photographer Rhonda Mills, calls it “some of the prettiest scenery in mid-America, and relatively unknown.”
“It's possible to have the Buffalo River to yourself,” Rhonda Mills says. “Not on a Saturday in May, but there are plenty of other times when you can hike a trail and not see anyone.”
The park service credits Congress, which in 1972 declared it a national river, thereby sparing the 150-mile waterway from “impoundment and impairment.”
The river and surrounding Ozark Mountains offer kayaking, canoeing, hiking, fishing, trail riding and miles of scenic highways. And at day's end, a warm greeting, soft bed and tasty meal await in nearby Harrison, a city of 13,000 that advertises itself as a gateway to all of that stress-relieving recreation.
Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Terry Cook also loves the serenity of the hardwood forests and river bluffs, but he's happy to share it with the motorcyclists who crave those winding mountain roads.
In 2006, noticing that none of the other towns in northwest Arkansas were doing so, he started marketing to bikers. He created a brochure with maps of scenic rides that begin and end in Harrison, giving them such names as “Ozark Moonshine Run” and “Jasper Disaster,” a route that boasts 316 curves in 56 miles.
Cook is joined in his biker recruitment by hotel owners such as Jack Moyer, who welcomes riders to the 1929 Hotel Seville with reserved spots in the parking garage, a motorcycle wash station and biker-only rates of about $85 a night. Bikers and other guests of the restored Spanish-style hotel can enjoy an eggs-cooked-to-order breakfast and dinner at J.P.'s Chop House, which features aged Midwestern Angus beef.
Harrison is a manufacturing town, a tradition that began a century ago when it was headquarters for the Missouri and North Arkansas Railway Co. Its railroad and industrial heritage are well-documented at the Boone County Museum, where one learns that the last parking meters to be manufactured in the United States were made at Duncan Parking Meters.