Williams Woods Nature Preserve is a tract of wooded land owned by the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, and located on a mountain overlooking St. Paul, Arkansas in Madison County. The land contains 563 acres and includes an original, hand-hewn log home, several other buildings, several ponds, a field or two, and a beautiful mountain covered with a lush hardwood forest of towering trees. There is also a three-mile loop trail that is open to foot traffic only. The property may be visited by OHTA members at their own risk.
This page contains some interesting historical facts about the kind and generous Ozark pioneer lady who donated the land to OHTA (Alphie Williams), and a complete trail guide to the loop trail with a map and elevation profile.
DIRECTIONS TO WILLIAMS WOODS: To get to Williams Woods from Fayetteville take Hwy. 16 East out of town to the community of St. Paul. Continue past St. Paul 1.5 mile and turn left onto a county road (gravel). Follow the road up the hill just over a half mile until you see the “William Woods Nature Preserve” sign—bear right at this sign and drive on around the log home to the end of the road and park there. The trail begins at the parking area.
HISTORY OF WILLIAMS WOODS
In 1992, a longtime resident of the St. Paul area and Ozark Pioneer named Alpha Williams (“Alphie”) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Alphie had spent a great deal of her life tromping around the forest lands where she grew up, and was very passionate about keeping them from being destroyed by loggers. Although she was not a wealthy person as far as money goes, she accumulated over 500 acres of prime mountain forest land, the same land that she grew up on and loved so dearly. It was her wish that this land be forever protected from the saw, and be kept in its natural state.
Alphie talked with a number of conservation organizations about donating her land to them – namely the Ozark Society, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, and the Ozark Regional Land Trust – none of them were interested in taking over her land. As a last resort, her good friend Lillian Howard suggested the Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA). Lillian arranged a meeting between Alphie and Tim Ernst, the President of the OHTA. Alphie really wanted to make sure her land would end up in capable hands, with someone who understood and valued her land as much as she did. OHTA was the right organization. Within a few months, an agreement was signed, and the land was deeded over to OHTA on April 12, 1993. The name Williams Woods Nature Preserve was given to the 563 acre tract, and a sign was erected.
With her land in safe hands, and knowing that she had done as much good as one human could do in a single lifetime, Alphie died quietly on June 7, 1993.
Alphie was born at War Eagle, Arkansas on April 15, 1907 (some of the large stones in front of the main log house are from War Eagle). Her family had come up from Alabama in wagons. The town of Huntsville, Arkansas was named after Huntsville, Alabama by her great grandfather Smith.
Alphie’s immediate family moved to the current property in 1911. She was the youngest of eight, and the only girl. Five of her brothers died as infants. Her parents separated, and her mother and brothers stayed on the original 20 acres (father lived “in town” somewhere).
As time went on, her surviving brothers Earl and Mack did most of the improvements on the property. A two room house was built in 1922 on the site of the current log house-the well in the kitchen was hand dug then, although the stone housing was added later. The main house which still stands was built in 1937. Earl cut the hand-hewn logs from the mountain in 1935. It is one of the finest log buildings around.
Alphie and her brothers acquired more land as others sold out. Earl died during World War II, and Mack in the 1960’s.
Alphie, a graduate of the University of Arkansas, also did graduate work at the University of Chicago in 1929-30. She worked most of her life as a rural social worker in Indiana, Missouri, and many parts of Arkansas. She was a proud, independent, rugged individualist. She never married, and lived her last years alone in the log house, spending a great deal of time walking on and exploring her beloved forest land.
OHTA is fortunate to have been given this great gift by Alphie. We are only the caretakers of the land, fields, and forest. We intend to keep it pretty much in as natural a state as possible, and restore what man-made structures we can. As you visit Williams Woods, please tread lightly, and lend a hand when needed. We also welcome suggestions!
Alphie’s original log home has been placed on the Register of National Historic Places, thanks to the tremendous efforts of OHTA member Bob Robinson.
WILLIAMS WOODS TRAIL IS CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. THE TRAIL IS NOT MAINTAINED. SINCE THE JANUARY 2009 EXTREME ICE STORM THE TRAIL IS NEARLY OBLITERATED AND THE ROUTE IS A BUSHWHACK AMONG TREES THAT ARE DAMAGED.
The trail is normally available all year (See Closure Notice Above) ), and no permits are required. This is a foot trail for hiking only – no pack stock (horses, mules, goats), mountain bikes, or motorized vehicles of any kind are allowed on the trail (four-wheelers may be used for club activities as needed). All of the plants and animals at William Woods are protected. Please do not pick flowers, cut trees, or collect natural or man-made artifacts.
You are welcome to bring your dogs to hike with you-they will love the trail too.
A primitive campsite is located on top of Mack Mountain. A rock fire ring is provided-fires are allowed, but only in this single ring (use only dead and downed wood-cutting of any tree or bush is prohibited). Be sure to bring along a trash bag, and leave the camp area at least as clean as you found it. Camping in other areas is not allowed.
Be sure to bring plenty for your hike, or be prepared to purify water that you get from the couple of small streams that you pass along the way, or from the spring on top. The streams and the spring may be dry during the summer months.
There is an abundance of wildlife at Williams Woods, including deer, turkey, wild hogs, squirrels, fox, coyote, raccoon, armadillo, and even elk (rare, but documented). Bear are a possibility too. And, of course, there is a wide variety of birds, including hawks, woodpeckers, quail, meadow larks, other songbirds, and perhaps even an eagle or two during the winter. The best time to see wildlife is early in the morning and late in the evening. You will need to find a good spot, sit down, and be quiet and still for a while before the forest returns to normal and the animals come out.
Hunting is not allowed at any time on the Williams Woods property.
This will vary a great deal from hiker to hiker. Depending on how fast you hike, how many rest stops you take, and how much neat stuff you stop to look at, you should be able to average about a mile an hour. I’d plan to spend at least half a day doing the entire loop. It is, of course, possible to go much faster.
The trail is marked with blue paint blazes, and the chances of you getting lost are minimal. If you should happen to find yourself totally disoriented, remember that Williams Woods is generally higher than the rest of the world, so you would need to head downhill to find civilization.
To get to Williams Woods from Fayetteville: Take Hwy. 16 East out of town to the community of St. Paul. Continue past St. Paul 1.5 mile and turn left onto a county road (gravel). Follow the road up the hill just over a half mile until you see the “William Woods Nature Preserve” sign-bear right at this sign and drive on around the log home to the end of the road and park there. The trail begins at the parking area.
The Williams Woods Nature Trail makes a three-mile loop, plus there is an opportunity for a one-mile loop – this shorter loop is called the Lillian Loop (access it while hiking in the clockwise direction). The trail was constructed in 1995 by OHTA members. Part of it follows historic pioneer roads, and part is constructed trail tread. Since the parking area is located at about 1800 feet elevation, and the top of the trail on Mack Mountain is just above 2300 feet, you can guess the trail does climb up a bit!
Williams Woods Trail Map Click here for trail map pdf
TRAIL MILEAGE Trailhead 0.0 Split Bluff .1 Cistern .2 Lillian Falls .4 Hete’s Hollow .5 Langley Homesite .6 Mack Mtn. (S. End) 1.5 Spur to Spring 1.8 Spur to Campsite 2.0 The ‘Nars 2.5 Upper Pond 2.3 Lower Pond 2.8 Trailhead 3.0
From the parking lot (which used to be Alphie’s garden), the trail heads up through the fence, under the apple tree on the left-this is behind the old barn. It goes up the hill, ACROSS an old road (the end of the loop comes in here on the road from the right), steeply up the hill alongside the fence where it lands on another old road – TURN LEFT and continue on this road on the level. The old road curves to the right just a little, and you can see the log homesite down and to your left.
The trail leaves the road TO THE RIGHT and heads up into an SSS area at .1. The trail goes through a split in the small bluffline there. From the bluff, the trail heads downhill just a little, then levels off and comes to a historical SSS at .2. This is an old cistern and was probably used as a water holding tank for livestock. As you can see, it usually has water in it (plus a few little frogs). We have thought about planting something in it, like water lilies, or watercress. What do you think we should do with it?
The trail passes just above the cistern, then eases on down the hill a little away from it. You will begin to notice piles of rock out in the woods along the trail. Usually, folds would clear their fields of rocks and build walls with them. They needed to get the rocks out of the way so that they could plow the ground. I’m not exactly sure what happened here, but the rocks were simply put into piles instead of building walls with them. The trail does pass next to a small wall in this area, but most of the rocks are in piles. It certainly was easier to just pile them up, but I wonder if there was another reason. We will see some nice rock walls in a bit.
The trail eases up the hill just a little, then curves to the right and drops down across a steep hillside to a small creek at .4. During the wet season this SSS area of moss-covered boulders is really nice, and there is a waterfall just up to the right – this is Lillian Falls, named after Lillian Howard.
From the falls the trail goes to the left and follows alongside the stream for just a little, then levels off across the hillside away from the stream, past a number of large oak and hickory trees. It swings around the hill to the right, then back into Hete’s Hollow. If the sun is right, you can look out across the hollow and see a wonderful rock wall, which we will be visiting in a minute. The trail drops down to and across the stream at Hete’s Hollow at .5. This is another wonderful SSS, with moss-covered boulders and a tumbling creek. If you look carefully, during the wet season, you will see Heter Falls back up in the Hollow a ways.
There is a giant boulder just across the stream, and the trail heads to the left of it, uphill just a little, and runs along below that great rock wall. This marks the edge of several fields at the old Langley homesite, which we will visit in a minute. This is a fine example of the craftsmanship of the early settlers of the area. The trail runs below it for a short distance, then actually goes through the wall, turns left, and continues down the hill alongside the wall. Soon the trail leaves the wall and heads across the end of the now grown up field, and goes on over to the homesite. You might notice a number of big oak and walnut trees here. Up to the right you can see the old fields, now growing up with all sorts of brush and trees.
The trail turns left at the far corner of the Langley homesite at .6. This is a great historical SSS. You are welcome to look around all you want, but please use caution around the homesite-it may not be stable, so do not enter. It looks like this was actually a combination house and small attached barn. What do you think? Can you find any historical artifacts hiding in the brush? If you do find something, please set it out so that others can enjoy it in the future (i.e. don’t take it with you!).
There is not a lot of information known about the Langleys, except that they last lived in this building probably in the 1930’s. During really dry summers, they used to go over to Alphie’s house to borrow water. In later year, Alphie planted all of those fields above the house with tomatoes-she had tons of tomatoes!
From the Langley homesite, the trail intersects with a pioneer road. If you want to head back to the trailhead, turn left onto this road and follow it back to the trailhead (turn left when you reach the county road). It is about a half mile back, which will make this shorter loop just over a mile in total length. This shortened loop is called the Lillian Loop.
To continue with the longer loop from the Langley homesite, TURN RIGHT at the pioneer road. The trail heads over to a railroad tie building, or what is left of it. We think it might have been a smokehouse, because of the size, or perhaps just a small storage building. You might notice a part of a root cellar just to the left of it, dug into the hillside.
The trail continues on along the old pioneer road, following a rock wall. On the left at .7 you will come to an old loading ramp. It was used to load livestock into trucks. Just beyond this ramp, there is another great rock wall up on the right. By the way, you should get used to this pioneer road, because we will be following it all the way to the top of Mack Mountain.
The road curves to the right just a little, and heads uphill. It swings to the left, past a wet-weather mossy falls spot (an SSS during the wet season), and continues up the hill. The road soon swing back to the right, levels just a little, then uphill again. You will see lots of big trees around! The road turns sharply back to the left, still uphill, and a little steeper up now. I turns right again, and this is at the 1.0 mile mark. During leaf-off, you can see out to the right, up into the White River Valley (the lush green fields are complements of chicken litter!), and HWY. 16 and 23.
It continues up the hill at a pretty good clip, levels off just a little, then turns back to the left and uphill again at 1.2. Up and up and up at a steady grade it goes, then another sharp turn to the right at 1.4. From here there is one more uphill grade, mostly straight, and it finally levels off on top of Mack Mountain (2,312 foot elevation) at 1.5. Yea, you did it-a 500 foot climb-and survived!
Mack Mountain was named after Alphie’s brother Mack, and is the official name of the mountain and appears on the USGS quad map of the area (St. Paul quad). Mack (along with his brother Earl, who died in World War !!) is responsible for most of the improvements to the farmstead, and a mountain bearing his name is a fitting tribute to this hardy Ozark pioneer.
Once on top, the trail turns to the right, and heads out across the level ridgetop. It weaves left and right through the trees, and remains level. The drainage off to your left is Dog Branch, which eventually flows down near the community of St. Paul and into the White River.
The top of the ridge is fairly wide for awhile, then narrows down some, as the trail eases over to the right side of it. The trail is rather rocky through here some too, so watch your step! At 1.8 there is a trail intersection. If you turn left and head down the little rise into a gentle bowl you will come to the mountaintop spring that has been rocked in. You can find water here most of the year, except in the rally dry months.
This is a nice spot for a picnic lunch if you are just day hiking. After bubbling up from below and creating this spring, the water tumbles off the hillside and eventually runs into Dog Branch, where it empties into the White River. Then it goes on to Beaver, Table Rock, Tanyecomo, and Bull Shoals lakes, then on into the Mississippi River, and finally, to the Gulf of Mexico! Please be careful here that you don’t contaminate the water (no washing of dishes or body parts!!!), or leave any trash behind.
The main trail continues STRAIGHT AHEAD, along the ridgetop. It rises up just a little, then levels off and comes to another intersection at 2.0. To the left is the spur to the campground (only a hundred yards away), which then continues on out the ridge to The ‘Nars. (The main trail does not go to the campground or The ‘Nars-it continues STRAIGHT AHEAD at the intersection).
The campground is a primitive one, with no facilities of any kind, except for a stone fire ring and a picnic table or two. There is quite a bit of level forest for you to set up your tent on.
A couple of things to keep in mind when camping here: if you build a fire, keep it in the existing fire ring (don’t build any new ones), and make sure it is dead out before you leave; leave the area at least as clean as when you arrived; do your woods toilet duties well away from the camp area and the spring-in fact, it would be best if you went across the main trail and part way down the hillside for this.
The spur trail on out to The’ Nars is an easy half-mile hike that continues on from the campsite. It basically follows the top of the ridge, which get very narrow and roller-coaster a bit. You will know when you have arrive at The ‘Nars when you come to a lot of rock outcrops. Also, the trail pretty much ends there. It is an SSS, with a great view and interesting rock formations-well worth a side trip to visit if you are dayhiking or spending the night.
The high point on Mack Mountain is 2,330 feet, and is located on a small rise near the campsite-can you find it? The trailhead/homesite area is about 500 feet below.
Back out again to the main trail-it continues STRAIGHT AHEAD at the campground spur, then curves around to the right some and begins to drop on down, leaving the ridgetop. The drainage off on the left along here (visible during leaf-off) is Hawkins Hollow. This stream crosses Hwy. 16/23 east of St. Paul, and then flows into the White River.
The trail makes a quick little run on down to a cedar thicket, where the trail levels. Soon you will come to the edge of a pond at 2.3, a man-made SSS. I know that you may find this hard to believe, but this little pond is home of a couple of very large bass! This was once an open area, and the cedars are growing in quite nicely.
The trail comes to a corner of the pond, then turns to the LEFT and leaves the pond. It crosses a level area, then connects with an old road at the edge of the hillside. The trail follows the old road down the hill and to the right some. It gets steep in a spot or two. Soon the trail turns to the left, then back to the right and steeply downhill for a short distance. At the bottom of this steep run, the trail leaves the old road TO THE LEFT at 2.5.
It goes across a small level field that is growing up with sumac and other brush. At the far end of the field, just as the trail enters woods again, it makes a sharp turn TO THE RIGHT, back onto an old log road. This takes you around to the right and back downhill at a gentle grade. Soon it swings to the left and levels off past the end of another small field (on the left) and continues straight ahead. It intersects with another old road and TURNS RIGHT onto the road and heads on downhill again and to the right.
The old road levels off and straightens out as it enters an open area at 2.8, then runs along the left bank of the largest pond on the property, another man-made SSS! There are some really nice fish in this one, and the water is deep and pretty.
Towards the end of the pond you will see the Greenquist homesite down and to the left, a historical SSS, and one of the best preserved building on the property. The original house was built by the Greenquist family in the 1890’s (it burned down and was replaced by the current building, which was built in the 1930’s). The family was proud to be the first in the area with “running” water-a spring (that is now the pond) ran down the hill to their house! They last lived there around 1950. There is also an old, fallen-in building just beyond the pond and up to the right-ma nature is reclaiming this one.
From the end of the pond, continue straight ahead across a wet, seepy area, staying on the old roadbed. There are large, open fields on the left-great places to see wildlife early and late in the day (and red-tailed hawks anytime). These are the field where Alphie saw a herd of Elk one winter!
Although domestic livestock is no longer allowed to graze here, we do allow a local resident to cut hay off of the fields a couple of times a year. As you have seen with some of the other field that the trail has gone through, if left alone, old fields will eventually grow up with sumac, briars, cedar trees, and all kinds of growth, and finally return to natural forest. By mowing the hay twice a year, the fields will remain field, which provide lots of food for wildlife, and cover for small critters of all kinds. The native American Indians used to maintain their fields by burning them off every year.
There are several old roads that take off here and there, but you want to remain on the straight and basically level. Before long the buildings of the main homesite area come into view, and you intersect with the beginning of the trail and TURN LEFT, down the hill past the apple tree, back to the trailhead parking lot at 3.0 miles