Screenshot of cars parked at Buffalo River trailhead from the Our Buffalo River Facebook page.

Residents of Newton County are petitioning Governor Hutchinson to stop encouraging people to hike, go fishing or other outdoor activities to alleviate the tedium of social distancing during the spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas.

The petition, which has nearly 1,800 signatures and was begun over the weekend, says that there were 162 cars yesterday at the 2.2-mile Lost Valley trailhead on the Buffalo National River, some with six occupants. There is only one bathroom at the trailhead. There were another 75 at the Twin Falls trailhead, a trail that is only a half-mile long.

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As of noon today, the National Park Service is closing its campgrounds to overnight use. Day use is limited to 6 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sen. Breanne Davis of Russellville, who represents Newton County, said this morning that she and state Rep. Keith Slape “have been in pretty much constant communication with the governor’s office and Sen. [Tom] Cotton’s office,” as well as the National Park Service. She said that Newton County has not confirmed cases of COVID-19 yet and people up there want to keep it that way.

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County Judge Warren Campbell has been contacted by residents to see what he could do to keep people from overrunning Newton County, but said this morning that there was nothing he could do. He told the Times the crowds at the Buffalo were larger than are normal during spring break, which was last week, and that he wished the governor would quit promoting it.

The petition drive says:

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Due to the restrictions regarding social distancing in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid 19, visitors are taking to the Buffalo River and surrounding trails at the suggestion of state leaders to “get out and enjoy the outdoors.” Which would be fine in small numbers, but today alone, trails were PACKED with mainly tourists from other states and cities, putting our community and its resident at risk. 

We are calling upon Governor Asa Hutchinson to STOP telling people to visit, and to stop crowding the river and parks in a feeble attempt at social distancing. We need to be shut down to all visitors if we want to stop the spread of this virus.

Today, 162 cars at the Lost Valley trailhead today. 2:20 pm. Some with 6 occupants. 500+ people on the 2.2 mile RT trail. Using one small bathroom.

75+ cars at twin falls trailhead, that is only a 0.5 mile trail.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee sent state troopers to Gatlinburg after the mayor sought his help to stem the tide of people to the popular tourist destination.

Cassie Brandstetter, the public information officer for the Buffalo National River National Park, said the park is following federal guidelines on park use and will monitor the situation.