Comments on the Buffalo National River

Response issued Oct. 6, 2023, to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

“We are participating in early stage conversations around the Buffalo River designation. We are eager to listen and collaborate with the community to support the best path forward to conserve our national treasure here in Arkansas.”

Statement issued Oct. 9, 2023

As Runway Group and others across the state continue to promote the outdoor economy in Arkansas, we want to make every effort to explore how adequate funding for critical infrastructure and resources would be available to conserve the Buffalo National River area, while maintaining access to the river, hunting, and fishing for all Arkansans.

As participants in very early conversations around how to support the Buffalo National River, Runway engaged in polling residents of Baxter, Madison, Marion, Newton, and Searcy counties. Our intent with this survey is to better understand the feelings and beliefs of the Arkansans whose daily lives are connected to the River. At this time, no official proposal has been offered, only preliminary research as reflected in some fact sheets designed to lead meaningful conversations about the future of the Buffalo and the growth of Arkansas’ outdoor economy.

We are engaging in a coalition to explore new ideas centered on preservation, quality of life, and economic vitality. It is our hope to continue these conversations with sincerity and respect.

Response issued Oct. 17, 2023, to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

“We wanted to explore a new idea for our home state together. However, this is not our decision to make. There is no new action being taken.”

Additional response to questions on drilling rights and private land issued Oct. 17, 2023:

 “We do not support drilling or mining in the Buffalo River Watershed, nor do we support any taking of private land.”

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story from Oct. 20, 2023:

Runway Group of Bentonville has released the detailed results of a poll it commissioned to gauge people’s interest in changing the Buffalo National River’s designation to that of a national park and preserve.

This re-designation is just an idea that’s being floated out there, said Krista Cupp, communications director for Runway Group, which commissioned the poll.

“This is an idea that we certainly think is worth exploring, but there’s nothing new happening right now,” she said. “It’s an idea out there that’s being considered. The private sector brings ideas forward, to the public, to the decision makers. Outdoor recreation is a key area for us. This is something that we thought would be interesting to look at. I think what makes this particularly relevant right now is that there’s recent data from this happening in West Virginia.”

FAQ Created Oct. 24, 2023:

Why the Idea 

Runway is a privately held company that invests in part in outdoor recreation experiences. For more than a decade, we have invested resources throughout the state to expand access to the outdoors. Our team develops unique experiences that benefit quality of life and create economic opportunities for our communities to thrive. We believe a change in status is one idea that would provide needed infrastructure support to a growing number of tourists; would support the preservation of the river and its current boundaries; and would create new ways to benefit the surrounding communities.  

Timeline 

It was with all of that in mind when we approached Congressman Westerman in July 2022 to discuss an idea about the redesignation of the BNR to National Park Preserve. We studied Preserve status because it’s the only park status that can maintain hunting and other public recreation access. We wanted to get the congressman’s thoughts, first because part of the BNR is within his district, and because he holds a position on the Natural Resources Committee. Congressman Westerman made it clear to us that the idea needed support from various groups, state and local officials and the local community. Any status change requires an act of Congress.  

We had some more conversations, which led to us conducting a poll. Runway paid for a poll in September to ask folks in the region if they’d be open to the idea of changing the status of the river. Polling is something Runway has engaged in in the past to understand how people feel about certain topics before we advocate for an idea. We instructed the polling company to be transparent about who funded the study if asked. 

We learned a lot from the survey, including where we have shared values with the community: Runway doesn’t support the taking of private lands and doesn’t support mining or drilling on the Buffalo River. We are in favor of maintaining public access to traditional forms of recreation, such as hunting. We were also looking at the success of West Virginia’s New River Gorge [area], which recently celebrated $3.7B in federal funding since it was designated a National Park. 

A designation change for the Buffalo National River is not our decision to make, but we believe it’s an idea worth exploring. 

Newton County Town Hall 

We think the town hall is a great idea and the first step to bringing this idea to the table. We’ve been informed of the upcoming town hall and shared with the organizer that we looked forward to hearing how the conversation unfolded. For all voices to be heard without distractions, Runway will not be formally attending. 

Coalition  

The coalition’s development was to bring folks around the table to explore this idea. We can’t speak for others. There has been no date set for a coalition meeting. 

Kingston 

As part of a restoration effort, members of the Walton family acquired three historic buildings on the square in downtown Kingston, intending to update them and open their doors to the community. While we don’t yet have a timeline for the opening, we will share more when we do.  

 

Please join us in this conversation at info@futureofthebuffalo.org.

Fact Sheet:

 

 

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