Almost 40 years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood on a flag-draped platform overlooking the just-completed Greers Ferry Dam and spoke of the prosperity the lake would bring to the region. It was his last major appearance before his ill-fated trip to Dallas a few weeks later.
His prophecies about the Greers Ferry Lake and Little Red River region have come true perhaps beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. The millions who visit annually recognize it as one of the cleanest and most scenic places in the mid-South. They come to fish, swim, camp, sail, hike, sightsee, shop and enjoy the Ozark foothills country.
A good first stop for travelers is the Corps of Engineers Visitor Center, along Ark. 25 at the western end of dam. The 6,000-square-foot stone and redwood structure houses an information center, exhibit hall and public restrooms. And a 96-seat theater at the center features a 20-minute presentation, “The Saga of the Little Red River: A Tale of Two Centuries,” which relates the history of the region prior to and through the construction of the dam. It also chronicles President Kennedy’s dedication of the $46.5 million project on Oct. 3, 1963.
The exhibit hall includes displays on the geological history of the region, early natives and explorers, pioneer days, towns and transportation, plus an intriguing demonstration on how electricity is generated by the massive dam.
Entertainment and learning programs are also presented every Saturday night beginning at 7 p.m. throughout the spring and summer months at the center. Topics range from eagle awareness to folk music and fishing clinics to boating safety. Special exhibits and demonstrations are also scheduled each month.
The center is open daily April through October, plus Saturdays and Sundays in March and November. It is closed December through February. All programs and exhibits at the center are free and open to the public. (Note: Public tours of the Dam and Power Plant have been suspended until further notice due to national security. The closures affect all federal power dams in the nation.)
Hikers can enjoy two award-winning national nature trails located near the welcome center. Mossy Bluff extends along a tree-covered bluff overlooking the Little Red River, immediately below the dam. It ends almost one mile away at a rustic shelter, which offers a panoramic view of the river and dam. Nearby is Buckeye Trail, a short barrier-free, paved pathway designed for the physically challenged. Guide maps for both trails are available at the center.
While at Greers Ferry, hikers can also trek the Sugar Loaf Mountain National Recreational Trail, near Fairfield Bay, which climbs a 1,000-ft. rocky summit on an uninhabited island in the upper section of the lake. Sugar Loaf rewards those that make the trip with some of the best views in the Ozarks. (Because it’s on an island, the Sugar Loaf Trail must be accessed by boat.)
The Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery, in Heber Springs, located below the dam, offers free tours. Built in 1965, the hatchery produces about one million rainbow trout yearly for restocking the Little Red and other Arkansas streams. The visitor center contains exhibits on the life cycle of trout and a brief history of the hatchery. Nearby, cold water raceways hold thousands of fish in various growing stages, including some monster-sized lunkers. The hatchery is open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily.
With two world-record catches on Greers Ferry Lake and one world record on the Little Red River, it’s understandable why anglers are attracted to the region. Al Nelson of Higden started the action in 1982 with a 22-pound, 11-ounce walleye. Jerald C. Shaum of Shirley added a 27-pound, five-ounce hybrid striped bass in 1997.
But the late Rip Collins of Heber Springs shocked the fishing world in 1992 with a 40-pound, four-ounce brown trout he caught on the Little Red River. The three catches constitute all of the state’s world-record holders, but several state-record fish are not far off the world marks. The Little Red is famous for johnboat trout angling and great fly fishing, and there are numerous outfitters, marinas and resorts along the river and lakeshore.
Some of The Natural State’s premier resorts are located on the wooded shorelines of the lake and river. Championship golf courses, tennis centers, nature trails, shopping centers, conference facilities and luxurious dining are some of the reasons people return year after year to vacation in the region. Of course, there are plenty of smaller resorts, secluded cabin rentals, bed and breakfast inns and motels.
Private and public campgrounds are scattered throughout the foothill country, plus the Corps of Engineers operates 14 parks, which provide picnic areas, lake and river access and more than 1,300 campsites. The Corps has a camp reservation service that covers 60 percent of its sites. The remaining 40 percent are on a first-come, first-serve basis. For campsite reservations, phone 1-877-444-6777 or visit www.reserveusa.com.