Dangerous & Deadly: Trespassers still problem year after blue hole drowning

Josh Briggs
Managing Editor

It has been nearly one year since 18-year-old Benton resident Chance Armstrong leaped to his death from a 70-foot cliff overlooking water at a Bauxite blue hole on Mount Olive Road.

Today, despite the tragic events of last June, trespassers continue to take part in illegally gaining access to the popular swimming hole, despite one couple’s plea to not do so.

“We want to save lives,” said Shannon Morrison, of Bauxite, who owns property near the area where Armstrong drowned. “We are not trying to be mean, we just want to keep kids safe. We understand that your parents and grandparents used to swim in these holes, but they are not safe.”
Morrison said she and her husband made more than 10 calls to the Saline County Sheriff’s Office last year to report trespassers in hope of combatting the issue.

“If called to swimmers in these blue holes, the SCSO will have a zero-tolerance policy,” according to a release from the sheriff’s office. “The intent of the SCSO in arresting, citing or warning trespassers is based 100 percent on keeping the violators safe.
“By notifying the public through our SCSO website, our Facebook page, the media and through the schools, our hope is to deter young folks from exposing themselves to the dangers associated with swimming in unprotected waters.”

So far in 2018, the Morrisons have called authorities three times, including the most recent call last week where four individuals were swimming after allegedly hopping a fence to gain access to the hole.

“We have contacted Alcoa and others about this and are getting this in writing so we can press charges against trespassers,” Morrison added.
She said that she recently placed new signs along her property in hope of warding off would-be trespassers, along with spray painting trees so passersby know the area is off limits.

In an interview following Armstrong’s death, Gary Morrison said the trespassing problems became more noticeable about 10 years ago.
Two years ago, Shannon said that she and her husband heard someone let out a scream after leaping from a cliff, resulting in a severe ankle injury.

“She could have died,” Shannon said.
She added that trespassers have gone as far as to park in her yard in order to scale a property fence, all while someone was at home.
Shannon said that she will often walk back to the entrance of the hole to see if anyone is swimming, adding that there once was a group of trespassers ranging in age from 20 years old to fifth grade.

“They took off on four-wheelers when we called down to them,” Shannon added.
The many blue holes throughout Saline County are former aluminum mining pits that have been around for decades.

According to Patrick Keogh, on-site manager for Alcoa, the Mount Olive Road pit is about 65 to 70 feet deep from the surface of the water, but about 80 to 100 feet deeper if measured from the highest cliff that surrounds the hole.
According to Keogh, the Bauxite hole was owned by International Paper until 2006. It is now owned by Edward Ramos of Little Rock.

The paper company mined bauxite from the pit and sold the contents to Alcoa and Reynolds. The pit was mined as long ago as 1960, according to Keogh.
However, neither Alcoa nor Reynolds has ever owned the land.
Many mines in the area have been recovered and closed, including an Alcoa-owned pit that connects to the blue hole.

Keogh said about $3 million was used to fully recover the mine.
As for the dangers associated with these type of holes, Keogh said the water is not particularly healthy, especially since it contains a pH level of only 5.

Most lakes, rivers and streams measure at about 7. If levels are low, such as in the blue hole, wildlife and vegetation cannot live or grow.
Keogh added that the objects beneath the surface of the water are really dangerous because a person cannot see what they are jumping into or swimming around.

“I am a good swimmer and I wouldn’t swim in these holes,” he said.