With about 45 percent of the Illinois River Watershed covering northwestern Arkansas and 55 percent covering northeastern Oklahoma, the bounds of our watershed can seem awfully vast and difficult to traverse. In reality, though, adventures across the border can be surprisingly accessible and refreshingly close to home. In this edition of Paddler’s Post, our journey takes us to Natural Falls State Park, which is just minutes from the Arkansas-Oklahoma border.
Just off of Highway 412 in West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma, lies Natural Falls State Park, named for a spring-fed, 77-foot waterfall where Dripping Springs Branch tumbles over a jagged limestone bluff on its way to the Illinois River. Historically known as Dripping Springs, the community surrounding the park has an abundance of underground springs and limestone outcroppings that are indicative of fragile karst ecosystems.
Dripping Springs Branch is a spring-fed tributary of the Illinois River that forms Natural Falls when it tumbles over a limestone bluff.
The park has 4.5 miles of interpretive nature trails featuring educational signage about the delicate ecosystem of Dripping Springs, the local flora and fauna, and the area’s history. The upper trails are paved and wheelchair-accessible with railed landing platforms where visitors can safely view the scenery from up above the falls.
Casey Wong, a student from Haas Hall Academy, views the waterfall from the upper viewing platform during the IRWP’s Conservation Leadership Summit in January 2014.
The lower trail zigzags down a steep, craggy slope to the bottom of the falls, where a viewing platform invites hikers to take a breather while enjoying the sights and sounds of falling water, a cerulean pool, and a lush, fern-covered, parabolic rock face. Downstream from the waterfall, Dripping Springs Branch continues to flow southwest for approximately 3 miles before it converges with the Illinois River.
Dripping Springs Branch flows about 3 miles southwest from Natural Falls State Park and then meets the Illinois River.
Natural Falls State Park also has RV and tent campgrounds, basketball courts, pavilions, picnic areas, and playgrounds for park visitors to use. The visitor center offers trail maps and other helpful brochures to make the experience more complete and pleasurable. A lesser known but indubitably exciting activity that brings people to this park is Geocaching. If you didn’t catch our blog post about Geocaching, click here to learn more.
This area is also known as Dripping Springs because spring water drips off of ferns and mosses that are attached to the rock face.
During the Illinois River Watershed Partnership’s Conservation Leadership Summit in January, middle school and high school students from six schools in northwestern Arkansas (Springdale High School, Har-Ber High School, Prairie Grove Middle School, Haas Hall Academy – Fayetteville, Greenland High School and West Fork Middle School) participated in the Dripping Springs EarthCache challenge, a science-based Geocache within the boundaries of Natural Falls State Park.
EarthCaches are not like regular Geocaches because participants are not searching for a hidden container; rather, they are making observations and searching for scientific answers. The Dripping Springs EarthCache challenge required students to hypothesize the causes of certain natural features at the park, such as the color of the pool beneath the waterfall and the width of the stream where it takes its downward plunge.
Students and teachers from the IRWP’s Conservation Leadership Summit in January enjoyed their visit to Natural Falls State Park. This photo was taken at the upper viewing platform.
This Saturday, January 25, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm, the Illinois River Watershed Partnership is hosting a Geo-Quest Challenge at the Illinois River Watershed Sanctuary in Cave Springs. Similar to the EarthCache described above, the Geo-Quest will challenge participants to observe their surroundings and seek answers about the cave, the spring, the urban forest, and the Illinois River Watershed itself.
Participants who turn in a completed Geo-Quest challenge form will be entered in a drawing to win a $25 gift card to Lewis and Clark Outfitters. We hope to see you out there!