March 14, 2019

AGFC Outdoor Skills: Merit Badges for the Whole Family

Nothing demonstrates “The Natural State” motto of Arkansas better than thousands of residents who enjoy the region by engaging in outdoor sports and conservation. Calling on the beauty of the Ozarks and the desire to encourage family participation, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is prepped to reward residents for achievements in nature with a new Outdoor Skills program.

Participants of all ages, children and adults alike, can earn five levels of merit badges in 10 different skill areas. The AGFC is hoping you will bring your family out to one of their workshops this spring break as they fully launch this new merit badge program.

Photo provided by Aleia Safley who has already earned all levels of the trapping badge!

Eric Maynard, the Assistant Chief of Education who oversees the commission’s nature and education centers around the state, designed the outdoor skills program with his family in mind.

“My son was in Cub Scouts, and we also went through the NRA Winchester Marksmanship Program together. I wanted to develop a similar program that was set up for the parents to also take advantage of. They could do it together, not just helping their kids.”

Maynard realized that scouting often requires a rigid time requirement, deterring some families from participating. He took a closer look at programs already in place and realized it would be feasible to create a similar merit badge program encouraging whole families to get involved in hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities and allow them to do so at their own pace.

Photo provided by Aleia Safley.  A group of women gathered at Rick Even Grandview Prairie Education Center for a trapping workshop. 

The Outdoor Skills Program launched in January. It invites people of any age to earn a beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert or mentor level merit badge in the following areas: archery, conservation leadership, fishing, game-calling, hunting, shotgun marksmanship, paddle sports, rifle marksmanship, trapping and watchable wildlife. Each beginner level badge requires participants to attend one of the commission’s sponsored events, hosted year-round at various education and nature centers. Participants who complete the beginner level class will receive a voucher which they can cash in at one of the nature centers for a physical patch.

Each subsequent badge level can be attained by completing various tasks on the honor system. Evidence of completion such as a photograph, logbook, or certificate of participation in an event may be used to verify individual involvement, and each level has several options for completion.

“If you reach your goal and there isn’t a ‘next step,’ you will not be very inspired to continue. We want this program to encourage people to revisit skills they already have and also take on new ones they haven’t yet learned.”

Photo provided by AGFC.

Maynard said activity tends to be relatively slow around nature and education centers during January and February, so it was a good time to launch the program and work out any kinks. He says they have received positive feedback so far and expects that to continue as they move into the spring and summer months. He’s excited to see the involvement and believes about 25 percent of the participants so far have been adults.

“There are no age limits or restrictions. If you are able to complete the required tasks, you can earn a patch. So you can be three or 103!”

The four Arkansas Game and Fish Commission nature centers around the state expect to award a lot of merit badges during the week of spring break. Each center has a variety of activities planned to encourage families to come out and meet the skills requirements. Several of the education centers also have Outdoor Skills Week events planned. You can find a sampling of events below or click the name of your closest nature center to link to a complete list. All workshops are free but may require advanced registration. Additionally, while the merit badges are available for all, some classes do have age restrictions for the safety of all participants. Contact your local center for more information.

Photo provided by AGFC. 

Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center — Pine Bluff

Phone — (870) 534-0011

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Monday — Closed
Tuesday – Oh, Deer!, Tracks
Wednesday — Fishing 101, Basic Canoeing and Bayou Tour
Thursday — Best Nest, Wings over Arkansas
Friday — Shooting
Saturday — Area Cleanup
Sunday — Make a Turkey Call

Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center — Jonesboro

Phone — (870) 933-6787

Saturday –
Fishing Basics and Derby
Monday — Closed
Tuesday — Birding Hike, Talking Turkey, Mammals of Arkansas
Wednesday — Birding Hike, Snakes of Arkansas, Boating Education
Thursday — Owls of Arkansas, Jr. Fishing Clinic
Friday — Fishing Friday, Arkansas’ Largest Reptiles
Saturday — Fishing Basics and Derby

Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center — Fort Smith

(479) 452-3993

Each day, the center will focus on one of the outdoor skills badges and will have several classes available that meet the beginner requirement.

Saturday (16th) — Outdoor Skills Fair
Monday
 — Closed
Tuesday — Fishing
Wednesday — Watchable Wildlife
Thursday — Game-calling
Friday — Rifle Marksmanship
Saturday — Hunters Ed

Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center — Little Rock

Phone — (501) 907-0636

Monday — Closed
Tuesday — Leave No Trace
Wednesday — Wild and Wet
Thursday — Jr. Biologist
Friday — Fishy Friday
Saturday — All About Birds
Sunday — Reptile Rendezvous

Fred Berry Conservation Education Center — Yellville

Phone — (870) 449-3484

Tuesday — Watchable Wildlife, Home Tweet Home (Backyard Birds)
Thursday — Beginning Fishing, Beginning Wildlife
Saturday — Beginning Paddling

Ponca Elk Education Center — Ponca

Phone — (870) 861-2432

Saturday — Turkey Call
Sunday/Monday — Closed
Tuesday — Basic Archery
Wednesday — Canoe Basics
Saturday — Hunter Ed

Potlatch Conservation Education Center — Casscoe

Phone — (870) 241-3373

Monday — Closed
Tuesday — Fishing 101
Wednesday — Basic Archery
Thursday — Birding for Beginners
Friday — Canoeing for Beginners
Saturday — Shotgun Basics

For a comprehensive schedule and class descriptions visit the AGFC website or find each center on Facebook.

Julie Kohl

Julie Kohl works from home as a writer and virtual assistant while raising her young son. A former Yankee who was "converted" to the south by her husband, Julie has grasped on to rural life in a sleepy, blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it town in central Arkansas. Julie loves adventure. Not necessarily "scare-your-pants-off" adventure but the kind where you seek out new and exciting things. New foods, new places, new experiences. On her blog, Seek Adventures, Julie shares about the outdoor and travel adventures of her family as they camp and standup paddleboard across the South. You can also learn more about her writing on her site Seek Adventures Media.

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