Dec. 9, 2020
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
SPRINGDALE — With its much-anticipated grand opening this Friday, the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center is sure to become another must-see venue in Northwest Arkansas. While the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission anticipates well over 100,000 visitors per year at the new center, social-distancing measures must be kept in place during the current pandemic.
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 throughout December and January to manage for any crowds,” said Tabbi Kinion, AGFC education chief. “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.”
The center is situated on 61 acres at 3400 North 40th Street in Springdale. Inside the main exhibit area, visitors will be taken through scenes depicting the four seasons in Arkansas with video panels above showing what it’s like to stand in some of Arkansas’s famous flooded timber during waterfowl season. Displays and interactive exhibits engage young and old audiences alike while teaching valuable lessons about the relationship between wildlife species and their preferred habitats.
A feature that is already a favorite of Schelly Corry, the center’s director, is a virtual creek with real and imagined elements.
“It looks like it’s flowing from outside toward our fish tank,” Corry said as she explained how it will work. Video screens set into the floor under glass will give the illusion of an Ozark stream running under visitors’ feet. Two sensors near the ceiling will detect people and trigger video and audio responses. “These camera sensors are going to sense where you’re standing – they’re even going to sense if you’re stepping so it will create an audio experience that helps you understand you’re splashing or there’s a ripple,” Corry said. The video features schools of fish, turtles and other life expected in a creek. A photograph of an Arkansas creek on an outside window will give the impression that the faux creek runs from outside, through the wall, under the floor and into a 2,000-gallon aquarium. “It will trick your eye a little bit,” Corry said. “With those three pieces, this is going to be a nice experience for the visitor once it’s all put in place.”
Young guests will enjoy a space at the east end of the hall where everything is sized down, except for some giant blades of grass – 7 or 8 feet tall – that will give preschoolers the sense that they’re small quail trying to survive in their natural habitat. “Those big blades of grass will separate the preschool room and the exhibit space,” Corry said. “It will be a fun spot for the little ones because it looks like you’re a bug or a quail in the grass.” Live reptiles, amphibians and quail will be the first thing visitors see when they walk past the front desk, and exhibits will line a hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows that face the front of the building. A replica“cave” connects the exhibit room and the hallway, complete with underground audio of dripping water and a hollow echo to enhance the illusion. “This is where we’re highlighting the karst geology of Arkansas,” Corry said. “This will have a number of educational features, some of them interactive.” The connected rooms create an interesting network of exhibits that beg to be explored.
Outdoor experiences are everywhere on the property – a 3D archery range, a northern bobwhite education pavilion, native plant gardens, a tallgrass prairie restoration project and trails. There’s also an indoor air gun and archery range on the grounds. A spur from the Razorback Regional Greenway, which runs east of the center, will border Spring Creek along the nature center’s northern boundary. The popular route will bring cyclists and walkers from Thunder Chicken Trail Head literally to the nature center’s back door. A concrete pad, which will feature a bicycle maintenance station and bike racks, already is in place.
Contact the center at 479-900-8137 or email email@example.com to plan your trip or speak with one of the staff on site.