FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Kent Bonar will appear at three events for this year’s Fayetteville Roots Festival, which runs from Aug. 22-26. Bonar’s events are rare opportunities for the public to meet and learn from one of the foremost experts on the flora of Arkansas, so dedicated to his pursuits that he has been called the “John Muir of the Ozarks.”
Jerrmy Gawthrop, co-founder of the Fayetteville Roots Festival, said, “I’ve been hearing about ‘this man in the woods’ for years, and we are so excited to have him. Our food and music festival is dedicated to showcasing what makes this region of the Ozarks unique, and this person, the way he lives, the way people feel about him, and the nature he knows so much about, are a wonderful example of this uniqueness.”
Bonar’s three scheduled events are:
- 24, noon to 2 p.m. — Live Ozarks at Large radio show at Fayetteville Public Library: Bonar will discuss his book with local musician Kelly Mullhollan of the folk duo Still on the Hill as part of a two-hour radio program that will include a live audience and live airing on KUAF. Free and open to the public.
- 24, 2 p.m. — Fayetteville Public Library: Bonar will discuss his book with Robert Cochran, who wrote the introduction to it, and will sign copies afterwards. Free and open to the public.
- 25, 10:30 a.m. — Bonar, hosted by Still on the Hill, will take guests on a guided nature walk into the woods surrounding Pratt Place, 2231 W Markham Rd, in Fayetteville. This is a ticketed event, and signed books will be available. Participation in the nature walks will be limited to 45 people, and ticket sales for the event are expected to be brisk. Visit therootsfest.org for ticket information.
Bonar lives alone — with his menagerie of dogs and cats — in the Newton County woods, shunning the conveniences and comforts most people consider essential. His home, which he refers to casually as a “hovel,” has neither electricity nor internet, and he doesn’t drive or own a car. He can be contacted through a phone arrangement with the Newton County Nature Society, which works – if the caller allows a few days to catch up with Kent.
Years ago, Bonar began drawing the plants he encountered in the woods alongside their descriptions in his copy of Edwin Smith’s Atlas and Annotated List of the Vascular Plants of Arkansas. Eventually, over 3,500 illustrations occupied the margins of Smith’s atlas. When Bonar’s weathered copy was discovered by a group of nature lovers, who were awed by the intricate beauty of Bonar’s additions, a campaign began to preserve the work. Bonar’s worn copy of Smith’s atlas was placed with the Special Collections department at the U of A, where it was expertly bound and scanned, and An Arkansas Florilegium, a reproduction of the pages of Bonar’s illustrated copy of Smith’s atlas, was published last December by the UA Press.
Bonar continues to devote his time to studying the natural world surrounding him and advocating for causes he believes in. Since his book’s publication, Northwest Arkansas’ most beloved recluse has been coaxed out of the woods for a scattering of events in Jasper, Fayetteville and Eureka Springs. The events attracted standing-room only crowds, with long lines of people buying books two and three at a time. A second printing of the book occurred within weeks of its release.