May 31, 2017
Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
Pepper’s Pond, on the Camp Robinson Special Use Area and owned by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, will play host to the fifth Arkansas Retriever Challenge Super Retriever Series Event Friday through Sunday, June 2-4.
The event, sponsored by the Pin Oak Hunter Retriever Dog Club, has drawn 77 top dogs from more than 15 states. Three pro teams and five amateur teams will qualify for the Super Retriever Series Crown Championship in Huntsville, Alabama.
A portion of the proceeds from the event’s registration fees will go to continuing the work and upkeep of Pepper’s Pond. Admission for the public is free.
Pepper’s Pond is a training facility for retrievers that was built by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Pin Oak HRDC in 2001. A second pond was added in 2014 after a tornado ravaged the area, according toMatt Mourot, AGFC field biologist and assistant regional supervisor over the Camp Robinson Special Use Area.
The Pepper’s Pond facility is open and free to the public.
“The tornado destroyed 26 acres around there,” said Shannon Nardi, director of the SRS series. “The whole [Pin Oak] club worked on it. It’s a very nice training facility that is one of a kind in the country. In our industry, a lot of people know about it. People who are traveling through Arkansas to events will stop and train their dog there.”
Retrievers are especially important to hunters in The Natural State in bringing back harvested game that otherwise might not be found. While bred for the job, retrievers such as American Labrador still require training before being sent out in the wild. That’s where a facility like Pepper’s Pond can help.
The pond is named for a dog that belonged to Larry McMurry, who is president of the Pin Oak club.
“He probably trained Pepper out there,” Nardi said. “She was a really well-trained, well-known retriever. Larry started the first part of the pond. The most recent work was phase 2, and we’re going to be working on phase 3.”
Nardi also notes that Pepper’s Pond is “the first area the [AGFC] has ever named after a dog.”
The Super Retriever Series event puts the dogs through a variety of field tests over three days, beginning each day at 8 a.m. and running until dusk. Nardi advises the public to bring lawn chairs and take in the trials. When entering the Special Use Area, she said, look for signs directing visitors to Pepper’s Pond, or look for a large white tent on the property, serving as event headquarters.
“The dogs that participate are very well trained and can do it all,” Nardi said. “They will be considered among the best retrievers in the country. You have to have a Master title or a Hunter Retriever title to participate.”
Meanwhile, Pepper’s Pond is open daily to anyone who wants to put their dog through retrieving tests. “You can join groups that are already training or go off by yourself,” Nardi said. “There is a technical pond with areas specifically built for training – open fields, big water, all designed for retriever training.”
Nardi will be busy this weekend. Along with the SRS event, she will have super retrievers performing in Rock the Dock at Riverfest, an open event throughout the weekend in Little Rock’s Riverfront Park. Fun jumps are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, with registration starting at noon.