Bill Potter Shelter a waypoint to incredible scenery

Outdoor writer and photographer Corbet Deary is featured regularly in The Sentinel-Record. Today, Deary takes readers on a journey to the Bill Potter Shelter.

The 2022-23 archery deer hunt is no different from previous seasons, in the sense that it began in the fall and will pass all the way through February’s end. However, the annual gun season is pretty much behind us, in the zone where I hunt, excluding the Christmas hunt that lasts from Dec. 26-28 and a three-day private land antlerless-only season that stretches from Dec. 29-31.

That in mind, I am eager to cover a few destinations that I have purposely postponed until the odds of hikers and hunters accidentally crossing paths are minimal.

I actually spent a little time at the location we will cover in today’s article just before the beginning of the 2022 muzzleloader season, and although I have previously written about this particular spot a couple of times throughout the years, it has since seen its fair share of change. And with this change, the destination is even more inviting than it was before.

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I have actually backpacked along the Ouachita Trail and camped at the Bill Potter Shelter a few times, mostly during hunting season. And each stay was very enjoyable. Water is literally within a stone’s throw of the destination, as it is situated on the banks of the Irons Fork River. And as for the remainder of the setting, the shelter is nestled at the base of Blue Mountain and shaded by a predominantly hardwood canopy.

The Ouachita National Trail stretches in the neighborhood of 223 miles, beginning at Pinnacle Mountain and eventually ending at Talimena State Park in eastern Oklahoma. So, I suppose it would prove most helpful, for those who are interested in getting better acquainted with the Bill Potter Shelter, to be a little more specific with directions.

The destination is hardly located on the Oklahoma side of the designated path. In fact, it is located about halfway along the trail. Fortunately, access points along the trail are numerous. And it just so happens that one can access the trail within a couple of miles of the shelter.

From Hot Springs, head north on Park Avenue and turn left onto Highway 7 north at the roundabout just past Fountain Lake School. Remain on Highway 7 for 10.7 miles and make a left-hand turn onto Highway 298. Remain on 298 for 33.5 miles and take a right onto Whippoorwill Road, beside Prairie Grove Church.

Remain on Whippoorwill Road for about 3 miles and turn right onto Forest Road JO-8. Remain on the dirt road for about 6 miles, and park where it ends. From the parking spot, walk back up the road for maybe 0.1 miles and turn right on a dim dirt road at the intersection.

Remain on the dim road for approximately 0.1 miles and turn left onto the Ouachita Trail just before reaching Irons Fork Creek. The trail is marked via a blue blaze on a tree and, in turn, is easily identifiable. In fact, the entire Ouachita Trail is marked with blue blazes.

OK, we’re on the trail, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if you have already seen a whitetail or two during the journey. And the chances of seeing native wildlife going about their everyday rituals will remain as the walk continues. In fact, I have seen everything from coyotes to feral hogs. And even though I have yet to see a bear along this stretch of path, I have certainly seen my fair share of sign, indicating that they frequent the area.

From the dim road, the trail begins an ascent to atop Blue Mountain. And although it gains elevation throughout the next 0.6 miles, or so, a number of switchbacks deem the climb far easier than one might expect.

Once reaching the mountaintop, the trail will make an abrupt right-hand turn and continue along the contour of the ridgeline. I have always enjoyed a trek along this stretch of the beaten path as it makes its way through a beautiful setting, let alone an incredible view of distant mountains just before reaching the spur trail leading to the Bill Potter Shelter at 0.5 miles.

After taking in the beautiful scene, we’ll make a right-hand turn onto the spur trail and follow the white blazes, as they lead the hiker, a half-mile or so, down the hillside to our destination.

Again, the mountain is rather steep. But switchbacks deem the trek far less strenuous than it would be if one walked in a straight line to the shelter.

I would suspect that those who have not seen any of the shelters located along the Ouachita Trail will find themselves impressed upon seeing the log structure.

I’ve never went to the extent of carrying a measuring tape with me during previous excursions, but I would guess that the shelters are in the neighborhood of 8 to 10 feet wide and probably 12 feet long. And I was thoroughly impressed upon my most recent visit to the Bill Potter Shelter upon seeing that a covered porch has been added to the structure.

I suppose I could elaborate more in-depth about the picnic table, fire ring and the overall scene. However, I recently read an interesting story, on, pertaining to how the shelter got her name. And I suspect that you, too, will find the information of interest.

According to the website, it was an incident that transpired on the Bill Potter farm, located in close vicinity of Irons Fork Creek many years ago. As it is suggested, a fella by the name of Jack Daniel had some kind of a riff with Potter. And in turn, Daniel shot Potter.

Jack and his brother hid behind some pine logs nearby, atop Sandlick Mountain, which is also along the path of the present Ouachita Trail. The Yell County sheriff, his posse, and a pack of hounds unsuspectingly meandered within rifle range of the fugitives.

The two brothers opened fire. The group retreated. But when the dust had settled, two posse members had been killed while another was wounded.

The sheriff eventually arrested three friends of the brothers, in Garland County and transported them to the Danville Jail. But their incarceration was short-lived, as a mob of masked men broke into the jail and took the law into their own hands. In fact, they hung the inmates from the nearby Petit Jean River Bridge.

Although those who dangled from the bridge paid a hefty price for Potter’s death, it is believed that the Daniel Brothers managed to avoid the wrath of the vigilantes by escaping back to their original home in Georgia.

I am uncertain of the validity of the historic event that I just shared. But there is one thing for certain. The atmosphere in this particular neck of the woods is far more peaceful these days. And one can rest assured that I’ll be all about sharing a passion for the wonderful outdoors if we happen to cross paths at the Bill Potter Shelter.

  photo  Hikers along the Ouachta Trail from Forest Road JO-8 will be privy to an incredible scene of distant mountains along the way. – Photo by Corbet Deary of The Sentinel-Record

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