Poke Bayou

May 1, 2019
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Independence County

Streams flowing into the White River in Independence County include Lafferty Creek, Poke Bayou, Greenbriar Creek and Salado Creek.

Poke Bayou

On the divide between the Strawberry River and White River, Poke Bayou begins. Its watershed waters flow southward, entering the White River at Batesville (originally named Poke Bayou). The first trading post settlements of the historic city were on the banks of Poke Bayou as early as 1800. Records of one mercantile establishment are dated 1812.

In the last four and a half miles segment in the city of Batesville, Poke Bayou winds lazily through rolling hills and hardwood lined banks with occasional riffles. It passes adjacent to Batesville’s old downtown where canoers will soon be able to access the stream at a small water craft launch funded by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) and the city. The upper access for this stretch is at Highway 69 (White Drive) bridge near a city park. Paddlers going the entire distance may take out at the White River Bridge access one half mile downstream from the mouth of Poke Bayou.

Area Boy Scouts use the last two miles to train for the 150-mile National White River Canoe Race. This Explorer Scout race, held each August, begins on the White near Bull Shoals Dam and ends at Batesville city park at the White River bridge. Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers has been a supporter of this race for many years. The use of Poke Bayou for floaters and fishermen has brought attention to the beauty of the natural surroundings along the stream.

Stephen O’Neal, an AGFC biologist, has led BatesvilleWest Magnet elementary students in a Stream Team evaluation of Poke Bayou’swaters since 2010. Three times a year the team analyzes water chemistry and macroinvertebrate populations. O’Neal reports that “Water quality is very high. On the biological scale, many different species which are not tolerant of poor water quality are found.”

The Poke Bayou watershed encompasses 111, 800 acres in 172 square miles, including 290 miles of stream length, with an elevation change from 918 feet to 243 feet. Flowing through a rough karst landscape, the perennial stream is fed by numerous springs. Caves, fissures, and sinkholes are common in this watershed. Karst terrestrial and aquatic species are located here, as well as cave crayfish species. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, Ozarkbass, rock bass and bluegill are commonly found. Bluffs 200 to 400 feet linePoke Bayou above Batesville, where its upper waters have mostly class I and IIrapids, with an occasional class III rapid.

Poke Bayou cuts through St. Clair and Izard limestoneformations and often exposes Batesville and St. Peter sandstone layers. From the late 1800s until the early 1960s, manganese mining became a large industry in the watershed. The high-grade ore found here was used in the manufacture of steel. Ruins of wash mills and mine shafts dot the hills and tributaries today. The water of Poke Bayou at Batesville often was red with clay discharged from the ore washing during this time.

While the majority of the watershed is forested, urbanization and agricultural industry pressure have recently become threats to the normally high Poke Bayou water quality. County gravel roads comprise at least 50% of road miles in the watershed. Poultry and cattle farms are increasing in number. Two poultry processing plants in Batesville process a total of 3.5 million chickens weekly.

Poke Bayou feeds into the magnificent White River and is one of the Batesville area’s most historically important waterways. Aside from its prominent role in the establishment of the Batesville area, Poke Bayou has become a leading tourism draw. Poke Bayou offers visitors the chance to experience the natural beauty of the Batesville area whether it is through fishing, canoeing, kayaking, or birdwatch