With the summer winding down and the mercury rising, it's time to go find an old fashioned swimming hole. If you have the time, head to Natural Dam. The tiny town on Highway 59 lies about 15 miles north of Van Buren, nestled along the highway by Lee Creek. There’s not much to what you see from the highway, except stretches of farmlands that spread out to the edge of the Boston Mountains.
You go to Natural Dam this time of year for the swimming. The 200 foot long dam spans the width of Mountain Fork Creek, just a short jaunt upriver from where it pours into Lee Creek. There’s a concrete ford that goes across what would normally be a steady stream of water below it. Thanks to the lack of rain, there’s barely a trickle anywhere below the stone break.
But above it is one of the most serene and cool spots in the county. The shelf that forms the top of Natural Dam angles down and back, making it just as accessible to swimmers as any wave pool at a swim park. The water is clean and clear, and you can wade in more than waist deep and still see your toes. It’s cool water, too, fresh from springs up the ridge.
There are a few places where the water still trickles over. On my latest trip I saw a couple catching fish and putting them in bags right there... little blue ear bream and minnows, for the most part. Below the dam face, there were pocket pools of water with darting minnows all about.
There is a generous parking area south of the dam, under the shade of trees. There’s also a few paths that have been worn into the woods on the east side. This is a great place for a picnic.
What, you didn’t pack provisions? No worries. Just on the other side of Highway 59 lies a little restaurant and convenience store. Inside, you’ll find all sorts of
supplies, cool beverages and a full service lunch counter. And there are restrooms, which is great if you have to pee or change, because there are no facilities out by the dam.
I suggest a slice of walnut pie -- they make theirs sweet and somehow miss the bitterness of a traditional walnut pie. It's served up on a hand-rolled crust, too.
The natural dam at Natural Dam is located on the west side of Highway 59. Heading north, look for the signs after you cross the Lee Creek bridge. Hazve a good swim, and be sure to wear your sunscreen.