Winter wildlife viewing at Holla Bend

JOHNNY SAIN/THE ARKA TECH: Armadillos are common at Holla Bend.
JOHNNY SAIN/THE ARKA TECH: Armadillos are common at Holla Bend.
JOHNNY SAIN/THE ARKA TECH: Armadillos are common at Holla Bend.

The dividing line between Pope County and Yell County is the Arkansas River. But the river, as rivers are apt to do, has wandered over the years.

When the Corps of Engineers cut a new channel for barge traffic in the river decades ago, it left 8,000 acres of Pope County on the wrong side of the new channel. The rich bottomland surrounded by both the new channel and the old river became Holla Bend.

Holla Bend became a national wildlife refuge under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1957. This designation was made in order to provide a safe stopover for waterfowl migrating between the Canadian prairies and the Gulf Coast.

Today, Holla Bend is a wildlife wonderland. The blend of bottomland forest and agriculture provides food and shelter for nearly every species of wildlife found in the River Valley.

As a southern waterfowl stop, many species hang around for extended periods making winter a prime time to head to the “Bend.”

One of the most popular winter visitors to Holla Bend are the bald eagles. They are usually found near the river sitting on a cottonwood branch. Their shrill call is unmistakable and unforgettable.

Along with the eagles and ducks, you can also see deer, turkeys, armadillos, swans, all kinds of hawks and falcons, coyotes, bobcats, opossums, and…you get the picture. It’s a wildlife lover’s dream.

The refuge has well maintained roads throughout. Sharp eyes will rarely go far without spotting wildlife. You can even drive down to the old river channel and get a look at the river’s path in those days before it was dredged and dammed.
Several trails crisscross the refuge, and a designated hiking trail cuts through a hardwoods just past the hunter’s check station. This is flatland. Other than thickets and loose sandy soil, the walking is easy.

An observation tower is located adjacent to the old river channel and offers spectacular views of Petit Jean Mountain to the east and Mount Nebo to the west. Mallards and wood ducks are often observed in this section of the channel. Public telescopes are available for use at the tower as well.

Binoculars are highly recommended for a trip to Holla Bend because many animals will be spotted at the far end of a big field. Super zoom lenses are a must have for photographers.

Holla Bend is located 5 miles southeast of Dardanelle. Turn off Highway 7 onto Highway 155. Drive to the refuge entrance. There is a $4 per vehicle fee with proceeds going to refuge maintenance.