June 2, 2021
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
MOUNTAIN HOME — Mountain Home high schooler Duncan Conly still has one more year until he graduates, but he’s already begun to make his mark on the world. Friday, he unveiled a new outdoor learning area at Mountain Home Kindergarten at a special ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The project, a component of his journey to become an Eagle Scout, was to renovate an old preschool playground into an outdoor classroom teachers could use to offer outdoor instruction to their students.
Janet Wood, principal at the school, said the area had not been used in a long time but had excellent potential.
“It was a pre-K playground at one time when we had a pre-K program.” Wood said. “It had grown up and wasn’t enclosed, but it was right next to the library, so it was a great location. Conly’s mother works as a teacher here, so when he was looking for an Eagle Scout project, it all started to come together.”
Conly, a Life Scout, put together a plan for a new outdoor classroom and submitted the details of the project to the Boy Scout Council for approval. Then Wood used the project as a component of an outdoor classroom grant offered by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission through the Department of Rural Services. The project was issued a grant of just under $3,200 to assist in development.
Conly used part of the funds to build child-sized Adirondack chairs, picnic tables, teacher benches and a 10-foot-by-10-foot stage for teachers to present classes. A variety of cypress stumps also serve the sitting area for a natural touch during outdoor classes.
“We added a birdhouse and had a local Girl Scout paint it,” Conly said. “I had a lot of help from a bunch of people.”
In addition to maintenance staff at the school, Conly enlisted the help of volunteers totalling 70 community service hours.
“Leading a team of volunteers is a component of a successful Eagle Scout project, and we had other scouts and members of the National Honor Society who were looking for volunteer opportunities,” Conly said.
Wood said landscaping, complete with butterfly bushes, completed the outdoor classroom.
“We’ve already been using the new area, and the landscaping was complete in time to celebrate the project with a ribbon-cutting at the close of the school year,” Wood said.
Rob Finley, Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioner from Mountain Home, said Conly’s effort is a perfect example of how tomorrow’s conservation leaders can already begin making a difference.
“Duncan approached me last summer about his Eagle Scout project,” Finley said. “When Duncan explained to me the nature of his idea, I immediately referred him to the AGFC grants made possible through fines collected for Game and Fish violations in the county.”
The grants program Finley describes is an interesting departure from many states in regard to hunting and fishing violations. In Arkansas, fine money derived from tickets written by AGFC wildlife officers is never used by the agency; instead it is sent to the Department of Rural Services, which transforms those funds into grants for conservation education efforts in the county where they are collected.
Specific programs eligible for funding include, but are not limited to, the study of general fish and wildlife conservation issues, Project WILD Workshops, Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program, Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program, Fishing in the Natural State, Arkansas Stream Team, School Yard Habitat Site Development, and specialized AGFC conservation education/educator training workshops focused on the programs above. Funds also may be used by educators to take students on field trips to AGFC nature centers, conservation education centers and wildlife management areas.
Wood says she is very appreciative of the grants as well as Conly’s effort.
“We just appreciate the [Arkansas Game and Fish Commission] and Duncan being able to partner together to make this happen,” Wood said. “We couldn’t have had this great new addition to the school without it. Duncan even took the opportunity at the ribbon-cutting ceremony to use the new outdoor classroom’s stage to speak to the kindergarten class about the scout program and how it has benefited him. He’s so involved in his school and it’s great to see him use his leadership skills to help his community.”
Conly was very happy to see the reaction from his work.
“I just hope the kids get a lot of enjoyment out of being able to take their classes outside,” Conly said. “I hope they get a lot of use from the area.”
More information on the AGFC’s fine money grant program, a link to the application site and a county-by-county list of grant money are available at www.agfc.com/conservationgrants