Back in December, I visited north Arkansas to talk to folks about a newish and somewhat stalled phenomena there — mining the White River watershed for the very particular sand used in fracking.
No one wanted their picture in the paper. No one wanted to be the face of the resistance. One guy mentioned “hillybilly justice,” and a house fire or two that happened in conjunction with efforts to keep the Army Corps from damming the Buffalo River in the 60’s. But the folks who retired to the pristine White River watershed, the ones who planned to spend their last decades canoeing and hiking the Ozarks, were happy to speak on record. They are the voice of the fight, but they are a measured, diplomatic voice. It’s the younger folks, the ones who grew up there, that are truly pissed off. But those folks don’t speak on record, because the mine that directly or indirectly led to the death of fathers, uncles and grandfathers and polluted beloved swimming holes also employs other relatives. And the proposed mines would probably employee more.
Sandstorm (thus dubbed in editorial meeting) was one of my last stories to write for the Arkansas Times (now I work at the state daily, which is here), and it was probably the most difficult. The facts are buried and scattered, and some of the most meaningful anecdotes were relayed off-record. But this Facebook group illustrates how insular and intimate these tiny communities can be. The ties are still binding, no matter how the population dwindles (Guion has something like 80 folks left, at last count).
Some of these towns, such as Calico Rock and Mountain View, bustle with fishers and floaters in warm seasons. But poking around others was near archeology — excavating the remains of a civilization and culture long gone.
This part of the state is gorgeous, and I do plan to return as a tourist, even to those communities that aren’t really noted for tourism. And if memory serves, I had a lovely bit of chocolate pie at a diner in the Melbourne town square. So you know, if you’re passing through, stop and sit a spell.