Photos courtesy of Jason Hayes | Little Red River Outfitters
The mission of Float VBC is to provide public kayak and canoe launches on the floatable rivers in Van Buren County and to provide the information necessary to ensure that visitors and locals alike can have a safe and enjoyable trip exploring our county and local rivers.
Float VBC is brought to you by collaborative effort of the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Clinton, the City of Shirley, and Van Buren County.
The Middle Fork of the Little Red River, located in Shirley, Arkansas, is a hidden treasure nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. This premier floating destination is ideal for your casual to intermediate floater. This cozy river offers amazing scenery, premier fishing, holes large enough for relaxing, and rapids that are sure to make it a trip to remember.
There are currently four launch points on the Little Red River with float trips ranging from 3 and a half hours and up (float time can be affected by factors such as water level, pace of the group among others). These float trips provide picture perfect views and a chance to unwind and disconnect from your every day worries.
The Middle Fork floats offers a number of unique characteristics due to the rail road bed running the river, that was abandoned by the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad that ran between Joplin and Helena. There is still one active bridge from the railroad days being used in Shirley and a number that were abandoned after the flood of 1982. This railroad bed has many uses from ATV trail riding to being the bottom end of the Ozark Grinder Trail (a mountain bike trail stretching 125+ miles from Tyler bend north of Marshall to Shirley).
The Middle Fork of Little Red River floats have different stages of floating and each one provides a unique trip.
Low level floatable. This stage is from the lowest point floatable to about ¾ of a foot above its lowest point on the USGS gauge. During this stage floaters can expect numerous bends, rapids, and fishing holes. Through the rapids at this stage floaters at times will have to determine the best way through the rapids as to not drag but is still challenging enough to enjoy. The holes at this level will have less current than at high levels making for a little more paddling. This and the second stage are the best stage for fishing and the low current allows you to maintain position in fishing holes and the ability to paddle up stream.
Approximately ¾ of a foot above low floating level to approximately 1.5 feet above low floating level. This level keeps the same path as the first stage but with a significant amount more current making the rapids larger and more exciting. At this level the holes have moderate current making for less paddling thorough the holes and at this level the sedimentation is starting to clear making it ideal for fishing.
Approximately 1.5 feet above low floating level and above. At this stage the river begins to go over the sand bars instead of around them providing a straightening of the river. At this level you will still have access to an abundance of rapids but they are with high current and increased risk. This level is not ideal for fishing due to the high sedimentation levels in the water.
We have identified two public launch points on the Middle Fork of the Little Red River. The first launch point is the Shirley City Park: this site perceived to be the epicenter of the traffic for floating on this river. The city park offers one downstream float that is 7.2 miles and has about four hours of paddle time but groups can expect to spend five hours or more. This float is the lowest rated due it being the last float before the river dumps into Greers Ferry Lake. This float provides a number of large holes and can have no current on the bottom of the float if the levels are high on Greers Ferry Lake backing the lake up into the river. This float ends at the Corps of Engineers parking lot and boat launch at Sandiff.
There are three readily available floats up stream, but due to public parking still being established, they are only accessible through shuttle.
Alberg to Shirley is a 15 mile float and has a paddle time of 9 hours. This float offers an abundance of rapids, scenic beauty, swimming, fishing, and a number of photo opportunities. This floats launch is also the western entry to Meadow Creek (an old architectural college from the 70’s).
Lydalisk to Shirley is a 9.7 mile float and has a paddle time of 4.5 hours. This float offers a number of exciting rapids, scenic beauty, fish, and swimming.
River Road to Shirley is a 5.1 mile float and has a paddle time of 3 hours but floaters can expect to spend 4 hours on this float. This float offers a number of exciting rapids, scenic beauty, fish, and swimming.
The Bluffton Preserve
The Bluffton site is located at end of Watergate Road, just 6.5 miles north of Clinton. Take Highway 65 North to Watergate Rd on your left. Continue on Watergate Road for 3.8 miles staying right at both intersections.
NOTE TO VISITORS: Please be respectful of your natural surroundings, and the landowners of the surrounding properties. When you visit the site, make sure to leave it as you found it. Clean up any trash and be sure to collect any sporting/camping equipment you bring.
Notes on Float VBC
Float VBC is an effort to educate the public on the floatable rivers and the proper times to use such rivers in Van Buren County and Clinton AR. This edition will be covering the Archey Fork of the Little Red River from The Nature Conservancy at Bluffton to Archey Fork Park in Clinton AR.
The float from The Nature Conservancy at Bluffton to Archey Fork Park in Clinton AR is approximately a 9 mile float. This float is seasonal and it is important to check river levels before attempting to float the Archey Fork. To check river levels Google USGS Arkansas river levels, once on that site chose statewide steam flow table or visit http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ar/nwis/current/?type=flow this is a site that monitors the water levels daily. Once on the USGS site locate the South Fork of the Little Red River at Clinton. When the corresponding numbers for this monitoring station reads 5 feet the river is low flow floatable and should take approximately 4 ½ hours any readings above that and up to 6.5 feet is perfect for floating. When the river is at 6.5 feet this float should take approximately 2 ½ hours. River levels from 6.5 to 9 feet produce quite a bit of white water and are not suited for anyone that is not an experienced paddler. River levels above 9 feet or below 5 feet are not advisable.
The Clinton Chamber of Commerce in an effort to increase tourism and make Van Buren County more of a destination has been working with public and private organizations to develop our infrastructure for floating in Van Buren County. Through this process we have found that there is more usage of the rivers for floating than was commonly known about. This floating is being done with limited access to launch and take out points so with an infrastructure in place and proper promotion it is the Chambers belief that floating can be an instrumental piece of economic stability for our area. In addition to working with the county, city and private parties to secure launch points the chamber has cataloged river conditions to better promote the rivers when it is optimal for floating. The rivers in our area are monitored multiple times a day through http://waterdata.usgs.gov and with the rivers cataloged for floating conditions we can educate potential floaters and provide them with the information they need to insure they have a good experience.
At this point in time we are concentrating on the Archey River and the Middle Fork of the Little Red River. Each of these rivers have different characteristics that will give Van Buren County the diversity to have two uniquely different float trips that coupled with Van Buren County’s proximity to Conway and the Little Rock Metro Area it is the Chambers belief that we can cultivate this natural resource into an economic producing tool.