The Nature of Eureka


We are Springs

The reason Eureka Springs exists is because Eureka is springs.

In Cutter’s Guide to the Eureka Springs of Arkansas (Cutter and Trump, St. Louis 1884) Charles Cutter writes “forty springs afford the residents pure, sparkling water, and within 2 miles of the city center, nearly 200 springs flow… they can hardly be deemed ‘mineral waters’… they are ‘medicinal waters’…” and, “Those afflicted with any of the following diseases have reasonable ground to hope.”

His list includes asthma, Bright’s disease, cancer, constipation, catarrh, diabetes, disease of the eye, dropsy, and dyspepsia. That is just A through D in an alphabet soup ranging from female complaints to solace for general debility. People flocked here to experience the miracle of hope in the face of intractable health issues. They traveled where roads were but trails. There was no railroad.

On July 4, 1879 a city was founded around the healing springs. Within a year, photos show that virtually all of the native vegetation was completely annihilated. Forested hillsides were transformed into naked mud. The demise of spring water quality began at that moment. Yet, the miracle of the healing waters rang true. If you were constipated, drinking water laden with a fresh influx of e-coli would predictably loosen one’s stool – constipation cured.

In February 1886 the city’s early leaders created at least 13 ordinances establishing spring reservations of the well-known healing springs. A century later, in the 1980s, the Springs Committee of the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission was created, and over the last few decades, the Springs Committee, now consisting of Jim Helwig, John Tarasuk, Jamie Froelich and Joe Scott, among others, carry on a tradition championed the Springs Committee founder, Barbara Harmony. According to the 2016 Annual State of the Springs Report, “The mission of the Springs Committee is to protect and enhance the Springs for the preservation of the natural environment and waters in our perturbed urban and tourist cityscape.”

That mission goes far beyond simply monitoring and testing water quality, which given our permeable karst geology means that what goes on top of the ground goes into the groundwater. The Springs Committee advocated for low-impact development policies to reduce runoff and allow natural processes to filter water before reaching the springs.

Now, 138 years on, we still need to create more awareness of the fact that the value of the place we live depends on the quality of the water that created this landscape.