The Strawberry River rises southwest of Salem (Fulton County) and flows southeast from there for approximately ninety miles before emptying into the Black River in northeastern Independence County. The town of Strawberry (Lawrence County) takes its name from the river. Forty-three miles of the river have been have been designated part of the Arkansas Natural and Scenic Rivers System. The Strawberry River is a popular stream for canoeists and fishers. In addition to the smallmouth bass, the river is home to thirty-nine species of freshwater mussel, many of them rare, as well as the Strawberry River orangethroat darter (Etheostoma fragi), which lives only in this river system.
The area around the Strawberry River has been the site of human habitation since approximately 10,000 BC. In the historic period, the Osage Indians claimed the river valley, along with most of north Arkansas, as their hunting grounds. The first known white settler along the river was Nathaniel McCarroll of Kentucky, who arrived in 1808. The river valley was part of an early Methodist circuit, and William Taylor, originally from New Madrid County, Missouri, built the first water mill on the river in 1833. Many farmers cleared land along the river and planted corn or other crops and grazed cattle.
The Flood Control Act of 1938 authorized a dam on the Strawberry River as part of measures affecting the whole White River basin. However, a federal review of the project in 1953 found the proposed dam not to be justified, and the project was moved to an “inactive” category. The multi-agency White River Basin Comprehensive Study, completed in 1968, authorized the construction of what was to be named the Bell Foley Dam along the river northeast of Poughkeepsie (Lawrence County), with a reservoir to cover approximately 12,000 acres. The project was funded, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers carried out some initial work on the dam but had to halt when President Richard M. Nixon put a temporary freeze on public works projects in 1970. Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposed the dam, citing adverse effects upon local fauna, the project did have significant support from Arkansas’s congressional delegation, as well as from numerous businessmen, especially speculators who had already bought land in the area in anticipation of the dam’s construction. Governor David Pryor came out against the project in June 1975 and, two years later, vetoed a bill that would have funded the state’s portion of recreation costs, thus killing the project.
In the late twentieth century, the water quality of the Strawberry River began to decline due to poorly managed cattle-grazing in the river’s watershed, as well the construction of rural roads releasing sediment into the stream. In response, the Nature Conservancy purchased land along the river and established the 950-acre Strawberry River Preserve and Demonstration Ranch in Sharp County. The ranch portion of the land showcases ecological grazing techniques. Volunteers also planted hardwood trees along part of the river to control erosion.
For additional information:
Brown, Robert L. Defining Moments: Historic Decisions by Arkansas Governors from McMath through Huckabee. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010.
Main, Jennifer Renea. “Fish Assemblage Dynamics in the Strawberry River, Arkansas, in Relation to Land Use Changes and Farm Pond Proximity within the Watershed.” MS thesis, University of Central Arkansas, 2019.
McLeod, Walter. “Early Lawrence County History.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 3 (Spring 1944): 37–52.
Poudel, Sujata. “Species Richness, Distribution and Relative Abundance of Freshwater Mussels (Unionidae) of the Strawberry River, Arkansas.” MS thesis, University of Massachusetts Boston, 2012.
Sanchez Gonzales, Irene. “Water Quality and Freshwater Mussel Assemblages in the Strawberry River Watershed, Arkansas” MS thesis, Arkansas State University, 2018.
“Strawberry River Preserve and Demonstration Ranch.” The Nature Conservancy. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/strawberry-river-preserve-and-demonstration-ranch/ (accessed February 16, 2022).
Taylor, Joseph G. “Early North Arkansas Settlers.” Arkansas Gazette, Sunday magazine section. November 6, 1938, p. 2.
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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