Fly-In Camping at River Bend Aero Ranch

The grass airstrip in Mena, Arkansas, is what attracted a married couple to purchase the property in 2002.

Tabitha Booher’s 1966 Beechcraft V35 Bonanza sits at River Bend Aero Ranch in Mena, Arkansas.[Courtesy: Tabitha Booher]

Greg and Tabitha Booher are both pilots living their dreams and sharing them with others in Mena, Arkansas. In September 2002, Tabitha purchased a 117-acre property 9 nm east of Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport (KMEZ). This property had a single-family home with an open hangar attached to a shop and nearly a quarter-mile of frontage on the Ouachita River.

What really drew her to the property, though, was its grass airstrip.  

In 2006, Tabitha met Greg, an aircraft mechanic and manager of Livingston Municipal Airport (8AD) in Tennessee, while she was vacationing in the area. Six weeks later, they were married in Tabitha’s Bonanza over Dale Hollow Lake. After a few years of living in north central Tennessee, the Boohers decided to return to Arkansas and open the airstrip for others to enjoy as well. So, River Bend Aero Ranch, a fly-in campground, was born. 

“There aren’t many grass strips like ours around, with 153 acres and only one home,” said Tabitha Booher. “There are lots of trails through the woods, and it is a great place to be. I love living here and enjoying nature, but we have always felt like it was too wonderful not to share.” 

Tabitha still has her Bonanza, and Greg has a Twin Comanche, as well as several other planes including a Great Lakes biplane that was the inspiration of the River Bend Aero Ranch logo. To safely accommodate these and visiting aircraft, the Boohers purchased two neighboring properties and extended the sole north-south runway several years ago. It is now 3,300 feet long by 75 feet wide at an estimated elevation of 910 feet msl. 

“We bought the property off the north end of the runway and took down a bunch of large trees and cleared a few acres to the south to open up the approaches and departures out of here,” Tabitha said. “Greg is an IA, as well as a pilot, and he says you are more likely to have a partial power failure than a full power failure, so eliminating those trees can really help. It’s a pretty long grass strip, as far as grass strips go, and it is very smooth.

“We are not on the sectional, so we have this out-of-sight, out-of-mind feeling. That probably keeps the random person from dropping in, but there are a lot of folks around here that know about us. We encourage people to come out here, especially pilot training and people wanting to practice approaches or an ‘emergency’ landing, that kind of thing.”

One of the other significant improvements the couple made to the land wasn’t related to aviation but rather their equestrian interests—primarily barrel racing. But even though the shelter was made for horses, airplanes can use it as well. 

“I asked Greg, ‘What do you think the biggest plane that could land here is?’” Tabitha said. ”Although he said a DC-3, at the time we didn’t know anybody with a DC-3. But we looked up the dimensions and built the building 120-foot-by-75-foot deep with a 19-foot side wall for my horse arena, which is just a dirt floor. We could always put an airplane in there if we need to. And it wasn’t long after that someone wanted to come to our fly-in with their C-47. They would end up flying a Luscombe in instead, but it was kind of funny that the other plane could have fit. So far, no DC-3 has flown here, although they could.”  

Large, certified twins aren’t the only aircraft that could fly into the airstrip, either. River Bend Aero Ranch is welcoming to drones, ultralights, and experimental aircraft. Tabitha provided a brief overview of the many recreational opportunities available in southwestern Arkansas. The Boohers, with advance scheduling, are available to drive fly-in guests to local attractions in the surrounding mountains.  

“The county we are in is 37 percent national forest and the counties to the north and east are both 65 percent national forest,” she said. ”So, there are a lot of areas to get out and enjoy nature. Wolf Pen Gap is one of the largest attractions with over 40 miles of ATV/UTV trails and rentals available. The Cherry Hill Store and Cafe is only a mile from the ranch and Little Missouri Falls is a nice day trip especially in late spring. Queen Wilhelmina State Park is at the top of Rich Mountain with beautiful overlooks along the Talimena National Scenic Byway.

“Downtown Mena has shopping and a restaurant that’s more than 100 years old. On the ranch there are miniature cattle (American Dexters) and horses. Additionally, many folks like walking the trails or fishing in the Ouachita River or one of the stocked ponds. If you like to swim, the river has a long, deep section, or take a kayak or canoe down it.”

The word has gotten around to some that River Bend Aero Ranch is a great place to stay. The Boohers used to host fly-ins regularly but haven’t in some time, though they are happy to do so in the future. They are still always glad to accommodate fly-in visitors (and campers), having converted the shop into a vacation rental space for pilots. 

“It’s more like flying out to the country and enjoying yourself alone than going where there is a crowd, like you have at an airshow,” Tabitha Booher said. “It’s not commercialized at all. We have an apartment in our barn, which used to be a hangar. We have also built a 50-by-100-foot hangar since moving here. So, we can usually put airplanes inside. We don’t charge anything for people to camp here but do take donations. We also have five or six RV hookups here and an RV park right next door.” 

Greg Booher said that the couple would love for more pilots to visit their airstrip and that most have heard about River Bend Aero Ranch through word of mouth. They suspect an upcoming solar eclipse on April 8 will be a significant draw for pilots from around the country. 

“We have the URL that we have had probably for 15 years,” Greg said. “That brings some traffic our way. We get a lot of flybys but not a lot of people that stop. We would like to have more activity but don’t know how to get people’s attention, I guess. We will treat you in so many ways, you will have to like one of ’em!

“We have a big thing coming up [in] April. The [solar] eclipse is coming through Mena, and I guess we are supposed to have some of the longest time of total eclipse, something like 4 minutes and 7 seconds of darkness. They are expecting 30,000 people to come to town and over 100 airplanes flying into Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport. So, if anyone was looking to avoid the traffic there, this would be a good place to land, hang out, and enjoy the eclipse.”

Grant Boyd is a private pilot with eight years of experience in aviation business, including marketing, writing, customer service, and sales. Boyd holds a Bachelor's and a Master's of Business Administration degree, both from Wichita State University, and a Doctor of Education degree from Oklahoma State University. He was chosen as a NBAA Business Aviation "Top 40 Under 40" award recipient in 2020.

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