North Arkansas authorities investigate guide services after hiking death near Buffalo National River

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 4:58 PM CDT|Updated: May. 11, 2022 at 8:40 AM CDT
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COMPTON, Ark. (KY3) - Authorities in north Arkansas, including the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, are investigating illegal guide services along the Buffalo National River (BNR) after a hiker from Springfield, Mo., died from a fall in the Indian Creek drainage of the Buffalo National River.

Brad Thomas, 46, died Saturday afternoon after falling near the Eye of the Needle in the Ponca Wilderness Area. The death shook regular hikers in the area.

“It’s just really sad hearing that someone came out here to enjoy nature and see what Arkansas has to offer, and they lost their life,” said Landon Ballard, a frequent hiker in the area. “Just knowing the area is just so important—something I like to do. I have my map here. I like to study that before I go on the Trail and also take it with me.”

Information released by the Newton County Sheriff shows an investigation into the guide service escorting Thomas, which did not have proper permits or insurance.

“Just do due diligence to make sure they are what they say they are,” said Sheriff Glenn Wheeler. “Research the area before you come because we love people to come to visit the area, but it is serious business.”

That permit is what’s known as Commercial Use Authorizations (CUA). According to the National Park Service Website, a CUA is required if you provide any goods, actives, services, agreements, or other functions for park visitors.

“When you are in the park, you need a little extra help. You may want to rent a canoe or kayak or go with a crew,” said Cassie Brandstetter, public information officer with BNR. “Information on all of our trails, preparations, or permitted businesses to provide those services can be found on our website or by calling us.”

Some frequent hikers say they use services like All Trails or Trail Link to become more familiar before going out.

“Usually, I try to find out how difficult it is, how far, how strenuous; so I can decide if I am fit or not,” said Robert Fleischmann, who spent several years hiking the Bavarian Alps of Germany. “20 years ago, the difficulty of a hiking trail would not have been a concern of mine, but it becomes more important with age, and you can never be too prepared.”

BNR Rangers have responded to multiple hiking accidents in the Indian Creek drainage over the past month. It is described as an undeveloped backcountry area including extremely technical, loose and slippery footing, and steep terrain.

Click here to find out more on trails across north Arkansas.

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