An ambitious float trip along the White River in the summer of 1957 brought Gerald Garrison, along with his younger brother, their father Eskelle and his brother, to first discover their love of the Ozarks. Their journey began at Bull Shoals Dam, paddling day in and day out and camping on the rock bars along the way. As they followed the meandering waters, they fell in love with the region and its abundant natural beauty. Sixty miles later, they ended their journey at Cailco Rock and began their sixty year legacy at Thunder Ridge Ranch.
In the years following that fateful float trip, the Garrison family began purchasing property along the southeast shores of Bull Shoals, just north of Yellville. The remote getaway became their vacation home, an escape from their day to day life seven hours away in Greenville, MS. An old 35’ travel trailer with no electricity, no running water, no telephone service, and a self-built outhouse served the family for several years. They passed their days on the land hunting rabbits and squirrels in the woods, swimming in the lake, and watching summer thunderstorms roll past.
Following their youngest daughter’s graduation in early summer 1963, Eskelle Garrison and his wife Eddie made the decision to leave Mississippi and embark on life full time in the Ozarks. They began purchasing surrounding parcels, opening up the land for pasture and cattle farming, and expanding what would become known as Thunder Ridge Ranch. Gerald’s mother Eddie described the time building the ranch with her husband as the happiest of her life.
The elder Garrisons were deeply connected to the land. They worked closely with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, the US Forest Service, the local volunteer fire department and the Arkansas Farm Bureau to run their ranch, to protect and preserve the wildlife (including helping reintroduce wild turkey to the area) and fight wild fires. In 1975, Thunder Ridge Ranch, named for the numerous powerful thunderstorms that roll through the area, was divided into four main parcels which were eventually passed down to each of the Garrison children. Gerald and his wife Dwan began building their home on their 900-acre property in 2003 and took permanent residence in 2005.
The land’s natural, mostly undisturbed beauty, seclusion, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, many varieties of wildlife, and the magnificence of the clear night skies were just a few of the reasons that Gerald and Dwan made the choice to permanently protect their property through a conservation easement with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. Gerald stated “Dwan and I have established deep roots in this property and do not want to live with the thought that its beauty and natural state being eventually broken up.” The vision [we] have for this land is that it will have remained an island of safety, security and perpetuation for the wildlife, native flowers and fauna of the area and a joy to all who appreciate nature and its beauty and that my parents will be remembered for making it possible.”
Their property, known as Thunder Ridge Ranch East, is a mix of mostly forest with bluffs, springs, streams and glades. It’s the largest tract of land ever placed into protection with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, forever protecting water quality of Bull Shoals Lake, native flora and fauna, and preservation of the scenic landscape.
Executive Director Terri Lane commented on the donation of the easement, “Any time we can preserve such a large tract of pristine Ozark habitat, it is a true gift to the people and wildlife of Arkansas for many generations to come. We are excited to forever protect this amazing property and appreciate the Garrison family for establishing such an important conservation legacy.”
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is the region’s only local and accredited land trust, dedicated to enhancing quality of life through the permanent protection of land. By holding and managing donated land and providing conservation easement services, the land trust protects water quality, local farms, wildlife habitat, and places for outdoor recreation while enhancing quality of life for today and future generations. The service area of the land trust includes 13 counties in Northwest Arkansas, with a core focus on Benton and Washington counties.
Want to help the land trust save land in Northwest Arkansas? Become a member today!