To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Buffalo River’s official designation as America’s first National River, the Ozark Society is releasing a feature length documentary film called, First River: How Arkansas Saved a National Treasure. The film, produced by the Ozark Society, explores the river’s conservation history and contemporary issues facing Arkansas’ Buffalo National River. Following the film’s premiere at the Skylight Cinema in Bentonville on March 17, First River will be available for free public streaming on the Ozark Society website.
The Ozark Society was founded in 1962 by Ozark native, Dr. Neil Compton of Bentonville, and a group of associates for the immediate purpose of saving the Buffalo River from dams proposed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Society founders, working with Sen. J.W. Fulbright, helped get the National Park Service to survey the Buffalo River area and began to campaign for the creation of the “Buffalo National River” as an alternative to the dams. Ten years later, but Congress passed legislation to create the nation’s first “national river” in 1972 and it is now one of mid-America’s most outstanding river-oriented attractions.
“Arkansas has this national treasure because of the vigilance of people who fought for its preservation,” said Ozark Society President David Peterson. “We believe First River will inspire public awareness and involvement in conservation issues for the preservation of the Buffalo River, Arkansas wilderness areas and other unique natural resources.”
First River: How Arkansas Saved a National Treasure highlights activities in the 1960s to protect the river from US Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to construct two dams on the waterway. The 53-minute film recognizes the work of Arkansas conservation advocates, state governors and Congressional officials that led to the designation of the Buffalo River as America’s first National River in 1972. The river remains one of the longest undammed rivers west of the Mississippi today.
The documentary includes rare archival footage of key persons in those efforts, including Dr. Neil Compton and US Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, who assisted in gaining national support for the river’s protection. Douglas, who floated the Buffalo River in 1962, is recorded in Ozark Society notes as saying at a Big Bluff campfire in Newton County, that “You cannot let this river die. The Buffalo River is a national treasure worth fighting to the death to preserve.”
First River also includes interviews with National Park Service staff regarding conservation of Arkansas natural areas and the challenges to the Buffalo River watershed from commercial development, and recreational usage that brings nearly 1.5-million visitors annually to the area. The lower 135 miles of the river flow within an area managed by the National Park Service and formally designated as the Buffalo National River. The upper 17-mile section flows within the Ozark National Forest managed by the US Forest Service and is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River.
The complete documentary will be available for viewing on the Ozark Society website for free. The Ozark Society will also distribute First River to museums, public libraries and schools at no charge. An educator’s guide will be provided to assist classroom discussion of the film’s content as well as a summary of the film’s topics for public discussion. DVD copies and a film poster may also be requested.
First River movie trailer: https://drive.google.com/file/
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