Throughout my week at the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, I was in a constant state of amazement at this relatively unknown national treasure and the truly incredible group of people I was lucky enough to meet. The Buffalo National River is unique in that it is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states and offers a vast area of activities for visitors of all ages. The river flows freely for 135 miles of breath-taking scenery, which contains everything from beautiful landscapes and forests to 500 foot limestone bluffs. The river also offers many different levels of rapids so that any paddler, no matter their level of experience, can be as far inside or outside of their comfort zones as they desire. The thing that surprised me the most from this trip was not seeing and taking in the beautiful scenery, but instead seeing how much I would grow attached to the people I paddled down the Buffalo with.
The trip started off with a pizza party and ice breaker session, which would rival any Welcome Week activity in terms of the level of nervous trepidation for making friendships with the people around you. However, this nervousness quickly evaporated as we packed all our belongings and set out on our journey to the Buffalo. Even before we got to the park, the activities began with a side trip to the house of a retired professor turned stone mason and master craftsman. This was honestly one of the most incredible stops of the trip because we were shown his 3 handmade log cabins, each bigger than the next, as well as his handmade castle. The shear dedication and level of craftsmanship that this man possessed was truly inspiring for everyone on the trip. Here we are, a group of fifteen kids, standing before an enormous castle which this 65 year old man built from stones he individually found and dug up from across his property.
After visiting what I have to believe is the only castle in central Arkansas, we finally arrived at the river and split off into pairs to begin paddling down the river. The river itself varied significantly in depth, current, and most obviously in scenery throughout our trip. The shear beauty was absolutely incredible and something which I will never forget. One minute you would be enjoying looking over an untouched landscape, than all of a sudden be surrounded by massive limestone caves carved out over millions of years by erosion. This particular Partners in the Parks experience was unique in that it was the first “floating trip” or trip in which the majority of our travel would be done on the water in canoes. In total, we canoed for a total of 4 days and each night camped out on gravel beds that lined the river which allowed us to see a staggering amount of stars.
Even though the scenery was absolutely stunning, the thing that made this trip most memorable for me was the vast array of different people, backgrounds, and personalities on the trip. During my time on the river, I can honestly say that I formed close friendships with everyone and also learned about the diversity within the United States. I remember one afternoon after a long day of paddling, I sat with another Northeastern student, and we riffled off question after question to two students who were from Arkansas. Just listening to their responses and answering their questions for us was an eye opening experience for how different each of our college experiences and worlds are.
On our last night of the trip, the changes that occurred during the week were clearly evident. Just a week later, there was absolutely no awkwardness or nervousness around each other as we joked and reflected about our time together. It was at the moment when I realized how lucky we are as Northeastern Honors Program members to have access to such unique and incredible opportunities.
Coleman Clifford, Biology