Deer, ducks dot Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita WMA

FELSENTHAL - Two of the most significant assets of Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita Wildlife Management Area aren't always apparent.

It is 7,020 acres of prime bottomland hardwoods, and this is the type land that makes Arkansas a national leader in management of wetlands wildlife habitat.

One of its strong points is location. Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita is a key link, the center piece, in the south Arkansas-north Louisiana wetlands chain along the Ouachita River. Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge joins it to the north. Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge joins it on the south, with the Louisiana state line separating the two tracts. Combined, the three provide major wintering grounds for ducks and other migrating birds.

Another feature of Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita is its aesthetics. Biologist Brady Baker of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission summed it up by saying, "This is a pristine area. It is just beautiful."

Bottomland oaks, tall pines and many old cypress trees lead the varied forests of the management area, which is on both sides of the Ouachita River. About half is in Union County and half in Ashley County. Nearest towns are Felsenthal and Huttig on the Union County side, and the northern boundary of the WMA is within a stone's throw of Felsenthal Dam.

The dam with its lock was one of several built on the Ouachita River to allow barge traffic. An effect of the dam was flooding of the lowlands to the north, the area where the Saline River joins the Ouachita at the three-way merger of Union, Ashley and Bradley counties.

When the need for a link between the two federal refuges was realized, the Game and Fish Commission stepped in and bought the land for a management area, paying it out over several years. The management area was named for Beryl Anthony Sr., a former AGFC commissioner and long-time leader in south Arkansas's lumber industry.

Deer and turkeys live on the WMA, along with squirrels, other small game plus raccoons and other furbearers. In late fall and winter, when water is backed into the hardwood bottoms, the ducks come in good numbers. If water isn't up, the ducks are virtually absent.

Management of hardwood timber is a focus for the AGFC. To sustain the habitat, the work protects the existing young hardwood forest from disease and from year-round inundation caused by beavers and their dams, Baker said.

Access to the WMA is limited. A gravel road runs south from Felsenthal Dam along the Ouachita River on the west half of the WMA. Visitors who have found ways to get around often go to Steep Bank Creek on the Union County side, an area of old cypress trees and some surprisingly productive fishing.

Because of the difficulty in travel, deer hunting is mostly by area residents. Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita is heavily used by waterfowl, so hunters going after squirrel and other small game are required to use only non-toxic loads, like steel, in their shotguns.

Songbirds, both resident and migrating, are abundant in the management area. Baker said a special attraction for bird enthusiasts is the large number of prothonotary warblers, the brilliant yellow and black wetland dwellers.

A boat launching ramp is at Felsenthal Dam on the Union County side, and small boats are launched on primitive dirt ramps at several other points on the river. There are two designated primitive camping areas along the access road on the west side of the WMA.