Living in Arkansas, our state is chock full of natural wonders. It is truly perfection for those who enjoy the outdoors and wildlife. The Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center brings the elements of the outdoors to life inside their beautiful complex.
We have visited Little Rock’s Nature Center a few times, and we easily spend an hour or more browsing through the stunning exhibits. As I walk through the facility, I feel like I’m walking through a bountiful sampling of Arkansas. Each time we notice something we hadn’t before, like a squirrel perched on a tree branch, a fox hidden in the brush or, as my 3-year-old loved pointing out, the bear climbing amongst the tall trees!
Of all the many features, our kids love the aquarium the most. They can get up close to several types of fish like trout and catfish. Be sure that you talk to your children and let them know not to put their fingers in the water; the fish may want to nibble on them! The aquarium water passes through replicas of five aquatic habitats found in Arkansas: a mountain spring, the main channel of a large river, a cypress swamp, a delta marsh, and a bottomland hardwood forest. Each section of the aquarium is filled with fish found in each habitat. If you could grab several chunks of Arkansas and place it in a building undisturbed, this is how it would look!
There’s also three large display cases with touch-screen displays that feature AGFC’s three major divisions: Wildlife Management, Fisheries, and Law Enforcement. Words don’t do these exhibits justice; there is so much on display and so much to learn!
The touch and play station where the children can interact with is also a favorite among our children. It allows the kids to play with various toys and pieces of the environment. You can see three small bears in the exhibit and even touch a bear hide; you would be surprised how soft it is. Be sure to check the activities they have on their website as you might even be able to watch the fish or a small alligator being fed… another fun experience for kids.
Our oldest son loves learning about facts. His favorite books are nonfiction books full of bits and pieces of information. He noticed these fun facts about the Nature Center:
- It has been the only business that is surrounded by and open during the annual Riverfest events.
- The native plant gardens are maintained by the Pulaski County Master Gardeners.
- Wildlife sightings since the Nature Center opened have ranged from gray fox, armadillos, pelicans and roadrunners. A Cooper’s hawk even shut down the entrance doors to the center while it ate a pigeon.
- The trapper statue by the cabin exhibit was once part of the former “Wilderness Arkansas” exhibit at the Old State House Museum. Many of their large artificial trees are also from that same exhibit.
- The wildlife viewing area averages 25-30 bird species each month.
- One of the proposed plans for the center had a “green roof” concept of native grass and would have added a lot of weight to the roof support system. It was taken out of the design for cost savings.
- The aquarium has leaked before, but the design has a built-in drainage vault below the tanks to catch the water before it flows out into the center.
A fully decorated trapper’s cabin area allows you to go back in time and experience life as a settler did: No phones, internet, video games, shopping malls… just you and nature. Oh how good that sounds!
Admission is free, and it’s a very relaxed atmosphere. You can spend all the time you need to enjoy this wonderful nature center. There’s a sitting area in the lobby where you can read or take in the beauty of the Arkansas River, while watching the birds flock to the feeding stations outside. My 1-year-old took advantage of the peacefulness of the lobby this time and decided to take a long nap, and we were all-too-happy to oblige!
The Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center is a spectacular complex in the heart of the Little Rock River Market District. As one of four Arkansas Game & Fish Commission nature centers located throughout the state, the center tells an interactive story of conservation and the AGFC’s role in bringing back some of Arkansas’s most treasured natural resources.
If you live in Little Rock or anywhere else in Arkansas (we live over two hours away), be sure to visit this wonderful place! Go to http://www.centralarkansasnaturecenter.com/ for directions, hours, and anything else you need to know about the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center.