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It comes as no surprise to those of us who know and love Arkansas that its nickname, The Natural State, isn’t just a tagline, it’s a legitimate description. The fields, forests, wetlands and mountains situated within its borders are as diverse and breathtaking as you can get in a state the size of ours, and our tourism agencies rightly promote the heck out of everything from hiking to fishing to kayaking to birding and everything in between on a regular basis.
As a state agency that is all about the wildlife and wide range of flora and fauna in the state, the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission is on the forefront of bringing education and awareness to the people of our state and visitors from around the world. One of the ways they do that is by managing four nature centers in different parts of the state. In 2020, they’ll be opening the doors of their newest center, located in Springdale.
Educating and Inspiring
Like the existing centers located in Fort Smith, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pine Bluff, the new facility will focus its efforts on educating visitors about the natural wonders of the region where it’s located. Eric Maynard, Assistant Chief for the Education Division at AGFC shared some information about nature centers, and what role they play in the mission of the Commission.
“We have so much interesting wildlife and habitat in Arkansas that many residents are not aware of. In what other state can you travel from mountain habitat with herds of elk to a delta habitat to see alligators? We talk to visitors all the time who are familiar with elephants and tigers and monkeys but don’t realize they have black bears, armadillos, groundhogs and more right in their own backyard. Not only do we want them to learn what we have here but how the AGFC manages and protects it, and the importance of habitat to all wildlife.”
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s mission is to conserve and enhance Arkansas’s fish and wildlife and their habitats while promoting sustainable use, public understanding and support.
What You’ll See
Concrete is currently being poured on the 61-acre site in northern Washington County, and the completion date is pegged at October 2020. The land, just off Interstate 49 at the Wagon Wheel Road exit, was donated by the city of Springdale. Johnelle Hunt, widow of trucking industry pioneer, JB Hunt, kicked off the fundraising efforts for the center with a $5 million gift and the center will be named The J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center. As with all AGFC nature centers, admission will be free thanks to your support of the 1/8 Cent Conservation Sales Fund.
Plans for the center include exhibits and information that highlight the natural resources, outdoor activities, and ecosystems that are native to the Ozark Plateau region. Visitors will be able to spend hours taking in an exciting number of displays and activities. In addition to the 28,000-square-foot educational building and indoor and outdoor classrooms, there will be a watchable-wildlife walking trail that includes educational pavilions to enhance the experience.
Native plant gardens and wildlife habitat areas will be created and preserved thanks to the efforts of Ecological Design Group, a landscaping firm with an office in nearby Rogers.
In keeping with the regional focus, these exhibits will include a quail habitat in a 25-acre native tallgrass prairie restoration project, a cave area highlighting the region’s unique karst geology, an area about native bears, and a fisheries exhibit detailing the importance of and human impact on streams in the area.
Unique features planned for Springdale that are not available in the other centers include a building that will house an airgun shooting range and archery range for traditional archery as well as a 15-acre 3D archery course on the property. The city of Springdale has committed to building trail spurs to connect the center with the Razorback Greenway, making access easy for folks out for a ride.
In May of this year, a $980,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation was announced, adding momentum to the fundraising efforts the AGFC has been involved in for the facility. Thanks to this latest grant, cyclists using the trail spur to visit the center will be able to take advantage of the bike plaza and fix-it station that have been added to the construction plans.
If you’re interested in supporting the center with your own donation, gifts can be made through the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation. Maynard explained that donations can help offset the costs of construction. Or, once the center is open, they can allow for additions to be made to exhibits or other amenities on the property. They also welcome donations of taxidermy mounts, hunting or fishing artifacts or outdoor-related artwork, all of which can be used as displays in a nature center.
You’re welcome to visit Northwest Arkansas anytime, of course. But make sure you have some time blocked on your family’s calendar in a couple of years to experience this new home for all things Ozarks. You can keep up with plans for the Springdale center on the AGFC website in this special section.
We look forward to seeing you!
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