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Water Trail Leads to Exploration, Fishing Opportunities


Officials from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Trumann Chamber of Commerce and delegates from northeast Arkansas joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson at the Oak Donnick Access in Trumann on May 5 to dedicate the St. Francis Sunken Lands Water Trail. 

Although the water trail officially opened last fall during the pandemic, officials were excited to promote the attraction with a post-pandemic dedication and “first float.”

Kirsten Bartlow, watchable wildlife program coordinator for the AGFC, said the dedication was planned to celebrate the partnership that made the project a reality and to let people know about paddling opportunities beyond well known Arkansas destinations such as the Buffalo River and Kings River.

“We want to remind Arkansans about this great resource that is available to them in Poinsett County,” Bartlow said. “We had a surge of first-time kayak and canoe purchases last year and are still seeing a lot of interest in paddling. Trails like this offer people a chance to get out in their own backyard and enjoy the outdoors with some information and guidance to make the experience even more rewarding.”

St. Francis Sunken Lands Water Trail takes advantage of the effects of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12 and offers canoe and kayak enthusiasts a rare view of the creatures that call these bottomland hardwoods home.

The Sunken Lands were formed when the earthquakes rocked the Mid-South. The seismic activity caused ground along the St. Francis River to drop 6 to 8 feet over an area of about 30 miles. Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee was also formed during the event.

The new water trail snakes through 10 miles of the area, and three access points offer entry to the trail and have informational signs at the boat launch. The water is relatively calm, with little current unless there has been a rain. Paddling is possible upstream and downstream in the wider portions of the Sunken Lands.

“I would suggest someone visiting for the first time put in at Oak Donnick and paddle upstream, exploring all the cypress swamps and wildlife in the area locals call ‘the wide water,’ then paddle back,” Bartlow said. “There’s a nice little loop they can make where they will see new ground for the entire float.”

Bartlow warned that trail markers are not used once you make it to the St. Francis River, and paddlers should download a special georeferenced map, available at www.agfc.com/en/explore-outdoors/wildlife-viewing/water-trails/st-francis-sunken-lands-water-trail.

“Download the app ‘Avenza’ and add the St. Francis Sunken Lands, then you can follow the trail using your phone’s location services feature,” Bartlow said. “We have a few water trails and watchable wildlife sites that use this technology, so it’s an app many paddlers will find helpful. The free version of the app allows you to download three maps at time.”

Angling is popular throughout the St. Francis River and is an ideal complement to the float. Bartlow encourages paddlers to get their fishing license and bring along a lightweight rod-and-reel combo and a handful of crappie jigs and small spinnerbaits to take advantage of a little extra fun on their float.

Bass, crappie, bream and catfish all make excellent targets in backwater portions of the river.

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