Josephine Dodd: Queen of the Buffalo River

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Zoie Clift

ADPHT Writer

Wednesday, April 17th 2024
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The Buffalo National River has the monumental distinction of being the country’s first national river. This designation happened in 1972 and two Arkansas State Parks, including Buffalo River State Park, were incorporated into the land base of this new unit in the national park system.

Among those that have experiences tied to Buffalo River State Park is Josephine Dodd, known to her family as the Queen of the Buffalo River. 

Josephine Dodd in the kitchen at Buffalo River State ParkJosephine Dodd in the kitchen at Buffalo River State Park. Josephine Dodd image2
Josephine Dodd

Josephine Dodd was introduced to Buffalo River State Park, which was created in 1938, in 1955. Her father-in-law, Delos Dodd, was appointed to serve as superintendent of the park by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. Her mother-in-law, Winnie Dodd, was head of the kitchen that was in the old lodge building at the park. 

Leslie Dodd with Arkansas Governor Oval Faubus
Leslie Dodd with Arkansas Governor, Orval Faubus.

“The serving area was a screened in porch and when it rained everything got wet,” said Josephine Dodd. “Leon, my husband, worked in the park and took care of some wooden fishing boats. In later years they were placed with the aluminum and then fiberglass as we also offered guided fishing trips. I worked in up keeping the cabins and helping in the kitchen. My mother-in-law‘s health began to fail and I took over the dining room as manager for the state park. In 1955, everything was local and very remote in the area. There was a lodge building, six cottages and a pavilion that is still standing and being used today. They were built by the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] boys in the 30s. The bridge across Highway 14 was being completed. Until then a ferry was being used for transportation to cross the Buffalo.”

Dodd was witness to many changes at the state park during her time there.

“Things began to change for Buffalo River State Park in the 60s,” she said. “Duplex units were built, a new dining room, office building with living quarters, the campground was expanded, and running water as well as electrical hook ups were added. Highway 14 was improved and Highway 268, the road in the park and down to the river, was being laid with asphalt.”

development of campground in early 60’s
Development of campground in the early 60s.

The Dodd family history is not only tied to the state park, but also the river itself. Their family provided what would become the first canoe rental service on the Buffalo River. 

“A call came from the publicity director at the [Arkansas State Parks] Little Rock office” said Dodd. “They had been receiving many calls for canoe rentals and there were not any. He asked Leon and I to come down and he would go with us to Arkadelphia. So here we go with a homemade trailer and purchased six canoes for rental with transportation to and from put in and take out points.”

The Dodd’s worked for three Arkansas governors including Orval Faubus, Winthrop Rockefeller, and Dale Bumpers. In 1990 Josephine Dodd also did a project for the Clinton administration.

“When it was Bumpers turn as governor we saw many changes including losing the state park for it to become a part of the national river,” said Dodd. “Mr. Dodd was replaced. The Dodd canoe rental was relocated on to Highway 268 going into the park. The National Park Service was establishing service boundary lines and another move for the canoe rental. We had built a home store with gas pumps and a workshop. Our next location was on Highway 14 further from the river. Our first season at the highway 14 location was 1982.”

Further growth was also on the horizon.

“The 60s were big for the river,” said Dodd. “New operations were going into business. Canoe traffic was increasing rapidly when we were on highway 268. Leslie, my son, and Leon, my husband, were going often to get more canoes to meet the demand. Our fleet was close to 175 canoes with additional fishing boats. In 1990 a call came from Governor Clinton‘s office. He had appointed me to serve on a rural study commission that met once a month all over the state of Arkansas. It was a big challenge with no GPS then. Leon had passed away in 1989 and I hadn’t been further than the Buffalo River. I got my road map and I went on to big things for north Arkansas. The state was changing Arkansas State Highway 62 to federal Highway 412 to be completed as funds became available. You can still see that work still going on and it will extend all the way across north Arkansas, west to east.”
 Dodd's Sign on Hwy. 14Dodd's sign on Hwy. 14

The Dodd family history is tied to an impactful point in Arkansas history that included colossal change and growth to the Buffalo River area. 

“When we went to work in the park our children, Lana nine, Leslie seven, and Sue five, grew up there and graduated high school at Yellville,” said Dodd. “Leslie, my son grew up being part of the park. When an emergency call came in, he could take his grandpa Dodd right to the campsite. In 1995 I decided 40 years was enough and I was retiring. Leslie was a part owner by then and he took over the canoe rental business and later it was sold. Leslie passed away in 2006, Lana passed away in 2012. In our family now we have seven grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and now there are three great great grandchildren. I just celebrated my 93rd birthday and I am living in a cottage next to my daughter Sue in Ashland, Ohio. My family and I were honored to know the park when it belonged to the state of Arkansas and the people.”

floating skull bluff in the state park
Floating Skull Bluff in the state park. 

Leon Dodd
Leon Dodd 



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