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Our spring fever always includes an itch for everyday adventures. And exploring our local Arkansas Game and Fish Nature Center is an easy yes. But, with centers all over the state, they also become a leisurely weekend day trip or a hybrid indoor/outdoor experience when we are in other parts of the state. Arkansas Nature Centers are part classroom, part museum, part playground and all natural!
In 1996, Arkansas voters passed a Conservation sales tax that made the Arkansas Nature Centers possible. One of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s goals is to preserve wildlife and fish resources. The Nature Centers focus on unique ecological environments in different state regions, highlight amazing regional wildlife and share how Arkansans can actively participate in conservation and protection. Additionally, many of these facilities offer on-site fishing, boating, animal feeding and educational courses for hunters, scientists, and budding wildlife managers.
Each nature center focuses on the ecosystem of that region of Arkansas, with particular emphasis on wildlife, conservation, and access to outdoor experiences unique to that location.
Delta Rivers Nature Center focuses on the ecology of the delta region with a 20,000-gallon aquarium. Learn about the first settlers of Arkansas and the environment they encountered when they arrived. Wetlands are a unique feature of this region of Arkansas and bring different settings for water plants and wildlife. Four walking-only trails weave you near two lakes, a bayou and bottomland forests.
Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center sits atop a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River delta. Typically known in the state as a unique farming ecosystem with wide-open prairie land and bottom wetlands, the quarter-mile trail system weaves through multiple environments meandering a pond and human-made levee. A butterfly garden, amphitheater, native plants garden and three-story facility are unique features of this location. And the rainfall experience inside teaches how the runoff process constantly changes the ridge formation.
River Valley Nature Center, along the Arkansas River, pulls a unique perspective of marine life in Arkansas. A fishing experience can keep children entertained for hours, learning responsible fishing techniques, then a space to practice in the on-site pond. Fishing equipment is available for rent on-site, and a state license can be purchased for the experience and used anywhere else in the state. An aquarium introduces different types of fish so children can see them up close, and Critter Crunch is a unique time to learn more about the circle of life.
Central Arkansas Nature Center focuses on interactive displays, with touch screens exploring Wildlife Management, Fisheries and Law Enforcement. In addition, a large aquarium demonstrates the five water environments of Arkansas under one roof. The center, among the River Market District, is within walking distance of other key locations like the Little Rock Public Library, Clinton Presidential Center, Museum of Discovery, Old Statehouse Museum and Historic Arkansas Museum. This location offers a unique experience to observe wildlife naturally in an urban area.
Ozark Highlands Nature Center is the newest Arkansas Nature Center and focuses on the unique opportunities in Northwest Arkansas. Amphibians and reptiles immediately greet you as you walk into the exhibition halls, and the access to experiences does not end until you return to your car. A cavern and bat experience, shooting practice and river wildlife interactions fill the halls of the Welcome Center. But, the archery range, pavilions, and walking trail are the unique features of this location. A new outdoor wooded playground opened in March; locals and visitors love it!
Grandview Prairie Nature Center was the first land acquisition in the Amendment 75 program, covering land protection and environmental rehabilitation commitments. An easy driving path and the auto tour take visitors through wildlife prairie fields, butterfly habitats, and understanding fire’s role in rejuvenating land. The Caddo Indians originally inhabited this area, setting a precedent for livestock and gardening native to the grounds. This site offers access to Archeology and Paleontology studies, observations of many animal species in their native environment, and a shooting range with educational courses in safety and skill.
Cook’s Lake Nature Center is 20 miles south of Stuttgart on the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. Originally constructed as a hunting lodge, the environment brings unique access to a bottomland hardwood forest and a green timber reservoir. As the climate changes throughout the year, this location is excellent for year-round landscape photography and birdwatching as a traditional location for annually returning, migrating bird flocks. The staff of the wildlife refuge coordinates annual youth dear hunts and hunts for the mobility impaired.
Ponca Nature Center is busier during the fall as folks seek interaction with the 600-elk herd in the Ponca Valley. But the animals are out year-round. This Nature Center educates guests on the region’s history and safety with wildlife around the Buffalo River area, offering a spot of respite with a walking trail and picnic tables.
Crooked Creek Nature Center is a joint effort of conservation and education. The acreage around the center was a dairy farm, but the 6 miles of trails throughout the grounds offer access to wildlife, birdwatching and fishing. Due to the location, call ahead to ensure the visitor center will be open for your visit, but the self-guided grounds are available any day of the week, including the 3D archery trail.
Many Nature Centers offer teacher resources and field trip planning guides with preparation tools and on-site experiences to help students get the most from their visit. These resources are great tools for home-school families looking to extend their educational experiences outside their traditional learning environments. In addition, each site offers unique tours, including trail excursions, animal encounters, photography and wildlife observation.
Professional Development is another way the Arkansas Nature Centers serve teachers. Summer courses include fishing, adding wildlife to Early childhood education, habitats, trees, flying animals and outdoor classroom workshops.
All images used with permission from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism.
Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.