Holy Water in the Ozarks
Of all the lakes on the legendary White River, Beaver Lake may be the last to be built, but this majestic body of water literally looks down upon the other lakes in the area. Nestled high in the Ozark Mountains at an elevation of 1,120 feet above sea level, this lake is positioned at the birthplace of the lake-spawning White River where streams and springs flow from the hills above and below. Total surface area is 28,370 acres with 487 miles of shoreline highlighted by glorious limestone. The high limestone cliffs and bluffs of this lake are mighty features area residents and visitors boast about often. Along with these towering structures, the limestone spawns an abundance of natural cliffs making a hike through this North-Arkansas lake an exciting exploration. Beaver Lake has 7 marinas, 12 campgrounds, 670 campsites (some with water and 50 amp service), as well as camping below the dam for world-class trout fishing.
The creation of the lake and the area’s history is one of a kind. The Flood Control Act of 1944 authorized the creation of Beaver Dam and the development of what would become the lake area. However, construction didn’t take place until 1960. When the dam was completed in 1966, it created a much-needed hydroelectric power plant, controlled flooding, and gave recreation and a steady water supply for area residents. The total cost of the dam was 46.2 million dollars, the loan to be paid off over fifty years with money generated from power sales. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) acts as steward of the dam and the lake’s blue waters to keep the area environmentally friendly and clean for the benefit of future generations.
Unfortunately, during construction the dam came under criticism. Nearly every lake made along the White River had problems with cemeteries. Whole blocks of graves dating back to the 19th century had to be dug up and moved from the area. The cemeteries themselves weren’t the problem, though, as that was an easy fix.
The problems came because, before the dam was to be built, an ancient Native American archeological site was discovered. Archeologists from the University of Arkansas were studying and removing artifacts as Beaver Dam built up. The researchers wanted to halt the operation. The dam builders wanted to finish the project that had been on the books since 1944. Eventually the contractors won out and the dam was completed. The area where the Native American artifacts were found was flooded as the lake filled. Although many pieces had been removed and the area studied, researchers were disappointed that they could not scan the entire ancient area. Currently, the lake is federal property and the removal of any Native American artifact carries a hefty penalty.
Hunters enjoy the Beaver Dam area as a place to both enjoy the scenic area and find wildlife within a short distance. Beaver Lake is near several population centers, mainly Eureka Springs, Arkansas, so is very accessible by driving. When these population areas stop, however, visitors can see the untamed forests of hardwood and evergreen pine full of wildlife. Remote areas are everywhere and offer great hunting for upland game such as deer, rabbits, and squirrels.
Whether you started with a tiny aluminum boat powered with an engine the size of a food processor, or it was zooming across the lake with an 80 horsepower bass boat, chances are if you grew up in Northern Arkansas you have memories of fishing on Beaver Lake. Everyone from the area is familiar with the fishing life of these waters. The lake began as a renowned place for bass fishing. It wasn’t uncommon for anglers to come home with a large-mouth bass ten pounds or bigger. No one is quite sure why the bass population currently isn’t what it was in the early days, but local legend attributes the introduction of the striper bass into the area in the 1970s to the large-mouth’s decline. You can still catch large-mouth and other bass in the area but locals like to say that you can either have stripers or you can have large-mouth; you can’t have both. This might have been a change for the better, though, as striper fishing is one of the biggest pastimes of Beaver Lake. Guide services take dozens of tours a day to catch the big one. Many of them boast an average fish weight of 15 pounds. The biggest striper caught on Beaver Lake weighed 57 pounds. Now that’s a big bass!
One popular way locals like to fish is spear fishing. Scuba divers go down with spear guns to hunt the big catch. Spear fishers are limited to one half the daily allotment reserved for normal fishing and must still abide by size regulations and seasons. It is also illegal to spear fish for regular bass but catfish and stripers are very popular spear fishing targets.
Every year, the Blackburn Creek Nursery Pond releases millions of fingerling game fish into Beaver Creek. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission heads this project to make sure that local fish populations stay stable and so that fisherman can continue to enjoy this sport.
Along with fishing, recreational scuba diving is a big part of Beaver Lake. The waters of the lake are deep, clean, and clear. Beaver lake is one of the clearest in the four-state area! This makes the water optimal for scuba diving as visibility is great and the deep water (300 feet in areas) makes for interesting finds. Many like to travel to the North side to view the submerged expanse of the lake. Some divers have worked long and hard to leave their mark on the area. There are sunken boats and old cars, objects that always end up in lakes. But in some areas there are sunken statues, placed by residents. You can take a compass course to navigate the lake and find these underwater monuments.
The most prominent use of scuba diving is for schools. Many groups come to Beaver Lake to practice their scuba diving in order to get a license or simply brush up on their skills before heading out to the Bahamas or Hawaii. The Lost Bridge Marina, located in Garfield, Arkansas, has a large boat it rents out specifically designed for scuba diving excursions. The marina can refill air tanks and take tours out to the interesting spots where divers love to go in the lake’s many coves. The Ozark Scuba Center, located in Rogers, Arkansas, services scuba enthusiasts. They also offer special classes on scuba diving and have events. Their big yearly event is to have a pumpkin-carving contest. Participants dawn scuba gear, carving implements, and the pumpkin of their choice and dive into the blue waters of Beaver Lake. They then carve out whatever they can on their pumpkins, timed only by the air in their tanks. Once finished, the pumpkins are brought to shore and judged.
Although it’s not in a very visible spot for divers, due to its proximity near the silt-spewing rivers, one place in Beaver Lake was once very popular. It was called Monte Ne, a world-class resort built in the 1800s that had the world’s two biggest hotels at the time. Wealthy guests would disembark a train and ride gondolas (imported from Venice) through streams to stay at the luxurious hotels. When the Great Depression hit, the resort fell into decay, despite the efforts of its founder William Coin Harvey (who became famous for being the oldest person to ever run for president. He ran under the Liberty Party against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On days when the lake is low, visitors can still see the foundations of the resort and even the large bridges the gondolas passed under. The biggest sight is when the lake is low enough to reveal the resort’s glorious amphitheatre, preserved under Beaver Lake’s waters.
Visitors to the area can also catch a cruise on the Belle of the Ozarks. The Belle takes visitors on a tour of the lake’s most fantastic visual sights and even shows the location of the Indian burial ground the lake enclosed. On a tour, the guides like to show guests just how clear Beaver Lake’s water is. They take a bottle of purified water. Then they take an empty bottle and collect lake water in it and place the two bottles side by side. It always astounds tourists that the two bottles look nearly exactly alike. It makes sense, though, for Beaver Lake gets a lot of its water from springs.
Beaver Lake has a very strong connection with the Eureka Springs area. The town is a big tourist attraction as visitors come from all around to see the Victorian-style buildings, architectural works, and wonderful traditions the town has become known for. The biggest attraction to the area is the biblical imagery of the famous Great Passion Play. This fantastic show has a cast of hundreds and has become America’s most watched outdoor biblical theatre. The play chronicles the last days of Jesus Christ in an enormous amphitheatre complete with fabulous sights and sounds in a realistic set. Near the amphitheatre is an even more fantastic sight. The town boasts a 67-foot statue of Jesus. The simple, modernist statue was built by Emmet Sullivan, who worked on Mount Rushmore. Near these are the Bible Museum and the Sacred Arts Center. The Bible Museum houses over 6,000 bibles, manuscripts, and artifacts. The Sacred Arts Center is an art-critic-renowned museum with over 1000 works of religious and inspirational art dating back to the 17th century. Another religiously themed note of interest is the Thorn Crown Chapel. This award-winning piece of architecture is a wonder to see tucked into the woods of Eureka Springs. But Eureka Springs isn’t just about religion. It has an amazingly artistic culture all its own that is a haven for creative minds across the country. Check their calendar often for area events and festivals and try to be there in May for the city’s month long Festival of the Arts.
Always a tourist attraction whether you’re looking for entertainment, old-world arts, or lake fun, the Beaver Lake area offers a wealth of interests. Its proximity to Branson means a lot of the commercialism in that area floats down to Eureka Springs. With Beaver Lake still a marginally non-commercialized lake many Branson and Springfield lake-goers are finding its blue waters and hundreds of coves to be a cleaner, quieter, somewhat holier lake to spend the weekend.
For contact information on lodging, camping, boating, gear, and other area recreation please check:
Army Corp of Engineers
Beaver Lake Project Office
2260 North 2nd Street
Rogers, AR 72756
Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce
Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 551
516 Village Circle Drive
Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632