All Posts Mike Mills (L) on a foggy 1970['s morning on the Buffalo National River. explore
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Reflections on the Buffalo River’s 50th Anniversary

A Video Series of Personal Memories with Mike Mills

It takes less than the fingers, on one hand, to count the number of original Buffalo National River outfitters still with us today.  Tough, resourceful types who were already eking out a living as river outfitters while the status of a national park was still a gleam in Ozark Society leaders’ eyes.

One of those original outfitters is Mike Mills, who began his Ponca outfitting career in 1974.  Mike moved to the upper river fresh out of graduate school to manage Lost Valley Lodge & Canoe Rental in 1974.  However, his dream was to someday have his own canoe operation, and in the fall of 1976, Mike made that dream come true:  Buffalo Outdoor Center opened for business with 66 shiny aluminum canoes.

Aluminum canoes at the Ponca Bridge 1976

On March 1, 2022, the Buffalo National River kicked off its 50th year as America’s first national river.  In honor of this milestone, we wanted to archive for future generations of Buffalo River fans important memories from those early formative years.  So, we sat down with the Canoe Operator—who remains the last living original outfitter in the upper district—and turned on the video camera.  The stories poured out, and we were reminded that not only is this river a treasure, but Mike’s vast, unique experiences with the Buffalo are as well.  Some of you were also here then, and Mike’s reflections will strike a familiar, heartwarming chord.  For those of you who weren’t, we’re delighted to offer you access to a wealth of irreplaceable memories of the river you love to paddle and hike so very much.

You can watch our first excerpt from that session with Mike below, but first, a little back-in-the-Buffalo-River-day preamble.

Off to a Rocky Start

When the Buffalo was designated on March 1, 1972, as a federally protected waterway, Mike says it didn’t instantly begin to function as the park it is today.  It took years, in fact, for things to come together.  For example, the National Park Service and landowners were not seeing eye to eye and were engaged in a lawsuit.   Outfitters had their own struggles trying to work out a reasonable operating plan with a park service that had never before administrated a national river.  In fact, it took until about 1979 for the park to begin to operate as it was intended and have formal outfitter permits in place.

But we don’t want to steal too much of Mike’s thunder in our blog post; it’s far more meaningful to hear the tale told by the Canoe Operator himself.

So, spend a few up-close-and-personal minutes with Mike Mills and catch a glimpse of what Buffalo National River outfitter life was like 50 years ago.  Also, be sure to check this blog post for new videos as we update it with more of Mike’s reflections in honor of the Buffalo National River’s 50th anniversary.

Grab BOC’s Official 50th Anniversary T-Shirt

ARRIVING MID-APRIL:  Our tribute to BOC being here when it all began!  This retro-vibe tee sports artwork of the original hand-painted Buffalo Outdoor Center sign from 1976.  Check back for how to grab one of your very own in our online store!

Buffalo River 50th Anniversary BOC Vintage Sign Shirt


Join an Official Buffalo National River 50th Anniversary Celebration

Want to celebrate the river’s 50th anniversary with a hike or a float trip?  There are several ways in 2022 for you to join in the fun!  The National Park Service / Buffalo National River has 50th-anniversary events slated throughout the spring, summer and fall, as does the Ozark Society.  Click on their respective links to learn more!

Plan Your Own Celebration

Why not plan your own way to honor the Buffalo’s 50th anniversary?  Perhaps with a canoe trip through Arkansas’s finest paddling scenery?  Or a day of hiking in upper Buffalo River country?  How about just kicking back in a beautiful, mountain-top log cabin with a sweeping view of the Ponca Wilderness?  There are many ways to celebrate all year long; just give our super friendly, knowledgable Adventure Staff a call for help with planning your custom 50th-anniversary event!

Group floating Buffalo National River

Kayaker on a river
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