Two of the most popular tourist attractions in Arkansas are free, and they were not planned. We’re talking about the Boxley Valley elk and the Magness Lake trumpeter swans.
Thousands of people from near and far go to see these two wildlife species in two locations that are off the beaten path. Boxley is on state highway maps although there is not a town of Boxley any more. Little Magness Lake appears only on some large scale maps, not the state highway ones.
The Arkansas elk story is well known, although I continually running across residents of the state who are surprised to hear we have elk. The trumpeter swans are fairly well known too, but their background is not.
The Arkansas elk were a restoration project spearheaded by Newton County resident Hilary Jones in the early 1980s. But the elk brought in from Colorado, and later a few from Nebraska, were not stocked in Boxley. They were put downstream and worked their way up to the plentiful food and protection in Boxley Valley.
The trumpeter swans just showed up after a storm to the north. Three young ones came to a little oxbow lake near the Little Red River east of Heber Springs. They came back the next year with a few other, and their numbers have grown.
There is no formality with these two tourist attractions. You just drive up and look at them. Plan to spend some time, and take along a camera with a telephoto lens if you’re into photography. Chances are the elk and the swans will be something you will want to return and bring friends or relatives with you.
Trumpeter swans, like elk, were in Arkansas in the old days – pioneer times. Both disappeared, the elk before the swans.
Today, 500 or more elk live along the Buffalo River country of Northwest Arkansas. Their numbers are stable, in part because of a limited hunt each year that draws thousand of applicants for the couple of dozen permits.
Trumpeter swan numbers have expanded from the original three to more than 200. They are seasonal residents, coming in small groups to Magness Lake around Thanksgiving and heading back north near the first of March.
Both Boxley Valley and Magness Lake are privately owned. Boxley’s land, mostly pastures, is under historical easements of the Buffalo National River so there is some supervision by the National Park Service as well as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The owners of Magness Lake have agreements with Game and Fish, but it’s still private and also with cattle usage.
The first swans at Magness Lake were welcomed by owner Perry Linder. He watched over them, fed them shelled corn and took pride in telling visitors their story. Linder sold the land to the Eason family out of Memphis but with an Arkansas background.
Larry Eason is gone now, but Pat Eason and son Brian Eason continue the pattern of Linder in looking after the swans. Their land is called E&W Wildlife Refuge, the W coming from Pat Eason’s family name, Winemiller.
The Easons put in a graveled parking area at the best spot to view the swans, along with a sturdy fence and informative signs.
To see the swans at Magness Lake, drive east of Heber Springs on Arkansas Highway 110 from its intersection with Arkansas Highways 5 and 25. Go 3.9 miles from the intersection to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, on the right and marked with a white sign. Turn left on Hays Road, a paved county road. The lake is about a half-mile down this road, with the parking area is at an S curve in the road.
To see the elk, go to Arkansas Highway 43 just south of Ponca in western Newton County. The elk are in fields on the east side of the road. Stay behind fences and park off the pavement.
No signs tell you that you are at Magness Lake or at Boxley Valley. Best times for seeing both the elk and the swans are just after sunrise and just before sunset.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.