FREE BOAT RIDE

Peel's Ferry, north bank looking southIf you think a cheap thrill is a good thrill, then Bull Shoals Lake has the cruise for you. This is Peel's Ferry. It's operated by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, and if you can drive your car up the ramp and onto this barge, they'll cart you across Bull Shoals Lake and not ask you for any money.

When you take the cruise, the lake won't look like this. This is right in the middle of the winter drought of '99 and Bull Shoals was twelve feet below normal. The shore is much greener most of the year, too. Right here it looks more like Havasu or Mono Lake.

There used to be a lot of ferrys in the state. They had names like Spring Bank, Toad Suck, Guion, Moro Bay and Peel. This is the last one in operation. All the others have been replaced by bridges. This boat ride is about a 45 minute round trip. I spoke with Ralph Fulton, District 9 Engineer for the AHTD on the phone and asked him whether or not most people just ride across, then turn their cars around at the campground on the other side of the lake, board the ferry and ride back. He said a lot of that goes on in summer, when the campgrounds are full of tourists and people just use it for fun, but Bull Shoals is a big honkin' lake. Driving from the south side of the lake to the north side takes about an hour and a half if you have to drive around. The ferry is a necessity for the locals.

Peel's Ferry is also a nice leg-stretching side trip for people coming from or going to Branson, MO, a symbolic transition from the Missouri Ozarks to the Arkansas Ozarks. The necessity of loading your car onto a boat, Peel's Ferry, south bank looking northcruising across a body of water and debarking on the other side creates in the traveler's mind an exaggerated sense of transition. The ride creates the impression that Arkansas and Missouri are more widely separated than if you just drove across a line on a map. The sad irony is that if a lot of people read this article and start crossing the border here so they can take the boat ride, the increased traffic could be used to justify putting in a bridge and discontinuing ferry service. So if you alter your route because you want the boat ride, make sure the operators know you're there because the boat is there.

The ferry operates during daylight hours. A round trip takes 45 minutes and the barge can carry six cars. A little math, clickity clickity beep, that's about eighty cars north and eighty cars going south in a ten hour day.

Sam Peel was a storekeeper who got permission to operate a post office back in the late 1860's. The name of the town was Needmore, but Sam Peel named the post office after himself. The town changed its name to match that of the post office, which is just as well since there are two other towns in Arkansas named Needmore. There's a town in California named Needles. I wonder if it used to be spelled with two s's.

RTJ--7/1/2000


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