Jan. 5, 2022
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
SPRINGDALE — The J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center and Split Rock Studios were honored by the National Association of Interpretation with a second-place national showing at the organization’s 2021 professional awards ceremony held in December.
The center, which opened December 2020, showcases the beauty of native habitat and wildlife, such as the northern bobwhite, in a variety of digital and traditional displays. In addition to fantastic video intermingled with traditional educational kiosks, interactive exhibits featuring live animals, the interior architecture of the center guides visitors through a learning experience with halls transformed into caves and a learning center wrapped in 6-foot tall “blades of grass” to offer a different sort of bird’s-eye view, that of a baby quail or turkey learning to hide from predators in the proper habitat.
That mix of overt and subtle educational elements and blending of technologies throughout the center earned the award for the exhibit designers and nature center.
“Everything seems to be going high-tech, and we wanted to satisfy that interest, but we also wanted people to come, see and have a more personal experience with the outdoors to learn,” Eric Maynard, AGFC assistant chief of education, said. “We also built on what has worked at other centers, like the laser shot game that combines an arcade experience with a more real-to-life hunting experience. It was a long process to refine the many concepts we had at the beginning to the finished product. You want to bring the outside in, but don’t want to go so far that it might as well be something they could do on a TV screen or phone. I think we accomplished that goal.”
The Ozark Highlands Nature Center is the ninth nature center developed by the AGFC with the help of the Amendment 75 Conservation Sales Fund. Private donors organized through the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation also played a large role in funding this latest nature center in the fastest growing portion of The Natural State.
Schelly Corry, AGFC facility director for the center, says these now “award-winning” educational displays are only a portion of what visitors can enjoy at the center.
“We’ve had a lot of people come visit us over the winter break from school to give their kids a chance to see something other than the four walls of their house,” Corry said. “There’s so much to do inside and out that you can enjoy.”
Visitors can participate in a variety of activities, including indoor BB-gun shooting and target archery in the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Marksmanship Center each Saturday from 2-4 p.m., or they can take a self-guided tour along the center’s nature trails, which connect to the Razorback Greenway.
“The outdoor 3D archery range has become extremely popular, and you can go shoot there even when the center is closed,” Corry said.
Three indoor classrooms and two outdoor pavilions are available to host school groups and other events.
“We also have some scheduled classes coming up that people may be interested in,” Corry said. “We have a Dutch oven cooking class coming in the next week or so, and a special class for teachers who want to get some educational credits and bring Project WILD back to their students. In February, we’ll also be hosting an outdoor photography class. Just visit the center’s events page to learn more.”
All AGFC nature centers are free and open to the public 8:30 a.m-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Visit www.ozarkhighlandsnaturecenter.com for more information.