Aug. 12, 2020
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
SPRINGDALE — Teachers in northwest Arkansas will have a new resource available for class programming and field trips when the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center opens this fall, and some may recognize a familiar name when they call to ask about resources available to help them educate the next generation of hunters, anglers and other conservationists. Steve Dunlap, a 17-year veteran of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Education Division was recently chosen to lead educational programming for the center as well as outreach in the region.
Dunlap began working at the AGFC in 2003 in the Fayetteville area, having worked at Arkansas State Parks for eight years prior. With nearly 25 years of experience in introducing youth to the outdoors, he has a solid background in both the AGFC’s mission and the needs of the surrounding community. He’s also very excited about the opportunities and attention being focused in his area of the state.
“As a regional educator, I’ve worked closely with many teachers, schools and organizations in the area, but the demand for outdoors and conservation programs is far greater than staff in this area could handle,” Dunlap said. “Instead of giving a presentation to one or two classes, I’ve had to present to entire grade levels and schools at times to help spread the conservation message. It’s great to get that much exposure, but it left us with very few opportunities for followup. The new nature center and staff in this region will help make that followup happen.”
Dunlap said the combination of educating at the center and outreach is essential to helping teachers in the region. Not all schools can afford to take field trips and outdoor learning experiences, so going to the schools is still a high priority for the AGFC.
“We also just don’t know what form our educational efforts will need to take as things continue to change with the current social distancing needs,” Dunlap said. “Just as we’ve needed to adapt our outreach and offer virtual programming through the virtual nature center, we’ll need to be flexible to help teachers and help the community learn more about hunting, fishing and conservation.”
Introducing hunting and angling to people of all ages has been Dunlap’s main focus during his career, and is something he plans to make a priority at the nature center as well.
“The AGFC is the one agency to really take the lead in recruiting hunters and anglers in Arkansas,” Dunlap said. “There are many agencies that cover some aspects of conservation and natural resources, but conservation and the role of hunting and fishing is part of who we are at AGFC. Responsible, ethical hunters and anglers are the best tool in our toolbox, not only for funding and controlling animal populations at healthy levels, but evaluating whether our work is having a positive effect. Hunters and anglers are our eyes and ears in the outdoors, and everyone interested in wildlife needs to understand the important role they play.”
A native of Arkansas, Dunlap received his degree at Texas Tech University, where he and his wife met. His educational background includes studies in history, which he incorporates into his conservation programs.
“Understanding how hunting was done then versus how it’s done today is important to seeing how things could and have gone horribly wrong and why we manage wildlife like we do,” Dunlap said. “It’s amazing to see how far out of balance things were when we did not take care of our resources, and it’s even more amazing to see how those resources have bounced back once we focused on conserving them.”
Dunlap says his biggest challenge beyond adapting to the current issues caused by COVID-19 will be in hiring a staff that will be at the talent level the AGFC needs to complete this center’s mission.
“This center and this job require a specific skill set to recruit hunters and anglers,” Dunlap said. “They have to be knowledgeable with hunting and fishing, know the science and background of conservation and have excellent communication skills. We can teach some of that, and we expect to. But good verbal and nonverbal communications skills in multiple settings are harder to teach.”
With the combination of talents already forming at J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center, there’s no doubt it will quickly become a fixture in the community and a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the outdoors.