Do you ever stand in a place and wonder what it would look like if you could turn back the clock? Watch the buildings fade away and the streets disappear. What did the developed areas that we see every day look like over 200 years ago? Located in Conway, Arkansas on the University of Central Arkansas campus, the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve is the last remaining piece of the original Conway prairie landscape that covered most of this region of the state.
The 18 acres of prairie and woodland on the southwest corner of the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) campus are all that remain of the undeveloped prairie that became Conway. In the late seventies, UCA Biology Professor, Dr. Jewel Moore began using the area (which was formerly the college farm during the 40’s) as a teaching tool and hands-on learning environment for her classes. In 1980 the Biology Department requested the UCA Board of Trustees to set aside an 8-acre tract and was expanded in 2004 to include the full 18 acres protected today.
I first became aware of the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve almost eight years ago after a presentation at the Faulkner County Library to raise awareness of the area which was in danger of becoming a parking lot for the University. We met the next morning and led by Biology Professor, Dr. Katherine Larson where we were introduced to the native species of plants and wildlife that inhabit the ecosystem of the reserve. There are over 235 identified species of flora and fauna that support a varied community of pollinators.
One of the obvious benefits of the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve is that of a beautiful natural setting where you can relax as seen by the number of students I saw swaying in their hammocks between the trees. There are trails for running, walking and biking and seating areas for taking a break or enjoying a picnic. Not so obvious is how the prairie benefits our local ecosystem. Originally the prairie acted as a sponge, soaking up the rainfall, storing it for the plants before recycling it back into the atmosphere. Now that the once vast grassland has disappeared, the water runs off our houses and down the streets unable to reach the soil. This leads to flooding around the lake and Downtown Conway. Areas like the reserve help slow down the water and put it to good use in the atmosphere.
And the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve can help you regain your own bit of prairie. Each fall students and volunteers collect seeds from the different species and create packets for the public. Prairie plants have developed a very deep root system making them a perfect low water/ drought tolerant option to the home garden. Also with more small patches of prairie around you can provide food for pollinators and deter runoff water. You can contact the JMNR to get your own seed packets or visit them at their Conway Ecofest display each year.
With a motto of “take only pictures, leave only footprints,” you will want to take note of the following rules during your visit.
- The trails are open from dawn to dusk
- Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.
- Take pictures instead of picking flowers and share them on social media (#jewelmoorenaturereserve #JMNR)
- Visitors are encouraged to stay on the trails as much as possible.
- For your safety and enjoyment, walking in pairs is recommended.
- Please, no littering.
I suggest making a trip to the reserve at any season but especially as we head into the summer months as the wildflowers bloom and sway. The adjacent woodlands make for a nice shady space to walk and enjoy nature in what can be brutal summertime temps in Arkansas. You can enjoy the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve as a self-guided tour and read the informative signs along the way. They also offer guided tours for school groups, boy scouts, master gardener/master naturalist associations, and anyone interested in learning more about the world around them. For more information on the reserve, tours, or volunteer opportunities visit their website or follow them on Facebook.