Dec. 2, 2020
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
SPRINGDALE — After more than four years of planning, preparation and construction, the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center will open its doors to the public this month.
The center, situated at 3400 North 40th Street in Springdale will open to the public beginning Friday, Dec. 11, but a special ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Thursday, Dec. 10, following the AGFC’s December Commission meeting scheduled at the facility. Because of social-distancing guidelines advised by the Arkansas Department of Health, the Commission meeting and ceremony will only be open to media and invited guests, but the ribbon-cutting will be streamed live on the nature center’s Facebook page and the meeting will be hosted on the AGFC’s YouTube channel.
“We have a lot of interest from the community about the center and field calls and emails daily about when it will open, so we’re excited about the event,” Tabbi Kinion, AGFC chief of education, said. “We want to invite everyone we can to be a part of the new center, but with COVID-19, we need to make sure we do it in a way that is safe and comfortable for everyone.”
Visiting the Ozark Highlands Nature Center is free, thanks to Amendment 75 and the 1/8th-Cent Conservation Fund, but reserved entry tickets will be required to coordinate visits and manage attendance in accordance with social-distancing guidelines. Guests may reserve tickets at www.agfc.com/ozarkhighlands in advance of their trip. Up to 10 tickets may be reserved per party.
“We have scheduled 30-minute blocks every day throughout December and January to manage for any crowds,” Kinion said. “We may adjust that schedule in the future, but just like the rest of our education programming and facilities we have to remain flexible in the light of the current pandemic.”
The center will be open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sundays.
“This is the only nature center that will have the ticket process or the longer hours,” Kinion said. “All other nature centers are open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday only.”
As more teachers and educators begin to plan for possible field trips and outings, the new nature center also will offer some limited small group experiences in its outdoor facilities. Recently named program coordinator, Steven Dunlap, who has worked with educators in Northwest Arkansas for years, will head up programming at the center as well as manage the educational opportunities from the center through teleconferencing applications and site visits within social-distancing procedures.
According to Chris Colclasure, Deputy Director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, this nature center relied much more heavily on partnerships with private individuals and organizations than most other AGFC projects.
“Infrastructure and habitat management to benefit the fish and wildlife resources of Arkansas remain the priority for the agency,” Colclasure said. “But we must continue to make investments in the education and engagement of current and future hunters, anglers and other outdoors enthusiasts who must pick up the torch of conservation. We needed to have a greater presence in northwest Arkansas and the community really responded and helped us. With increasing demands on conservation funding, the Commission and the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation had to rely on a new network of partners to make the center a reality.”
A $5 million matching pledge from Johnelle Hunt of Springdale was answered by many organizations working through the Foundation. The land where the center stands originally belonged to the Springdale water and sewer district, who deeded it to the City of Springdale, which in turn donated it to the AGFC, contingent on it being used for conservation and education. More than $14 million in private funding, land donations and federal grants were secured to create a 32,000-square foot facility on nearly 62 acres in Northwest Arkansas.
Along with the main exhibit hall, the center offers three indoor classrooms, an indoor archery and BB gun marksmanship center, staff offices and a maintenance facility. Two pavilions serve as outdoor classroom spaces and an extensive outdoor 3-D archery range challenges visitors with a variety of shot angles along the center’s 25-acre restored prairie. The center also features an extensive trail system, which will connect to the Razorback Greenway in 2021, making it a must-see stop along the route.
Contact the center at 479-900-8137 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to plan your trip or speak with one of the staff on site.