Commission approves renovation to Lake Conway, Martin passes gavel to Jones
June 19, 2023
Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission heard and approved plans at Thursday’s regular meeting to begin the construction of a new spillway system at Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir and the subsequent renovation of the 6,700-acre lake in central Arkansas.
A new concrete weir offering increased capacity to manage water levels will replace the existing metal gates that have well exceeded their expected useful lifespan.
Silt and sediment have built up on the lake’s bottom since the lake was created in 1948. This natural byproduct of aging has taken away as much as 3 feet of depth in portions of the lake and much of the lake’s prime spawning habitat. Engineers and biologists estimate that 33 percent of the lake’s original 40,000-acre-foot volume has been replaced with sediment during the last 75 years, leaving many boat houses in the northern quarter of the lake inaccessible. An extended drawdown will let the silt dry and compact, regaining some lost depth.
Additionally, the AGFC plans to conduct many infrastructure projects to increase boating and angling access, including renovations to existing boat lanes, boat launching facilities, bank angling accesses and fish attractor locations.
In addition to authorizing AGFC Director Austin Booth to move forward with what will be the largest lake renovation in the agency’s 108-year history, Commissioners also heard the first reading of a regulations change to lift harvest and length limits on Lake Conway to allow anglers to keep as many fish as they want before the lake is drained. Most of the fish will exit the lake through the spillway and enter the Arkansas River through Palarm Creek, but staff and commissioners want to extend every opportunity for local anglers to enjoy the resource until it is drained. The Commission is expected to pass this regulation at the July 20 Commission meeting.
The renovation was one of three main points Booth focused on as “footholds” in his report to the Commission.
“In climbing a mountain, as you reach a foothold, you rest and use it to propel yourself forward,” Booth said. “It’s a point that you orient yourself off of.”
The first foothold Booth reported was the progress of the agency toward meeting goals in The Natural State Tomorrow, the agency’s 5-year strategic plan. The agency is poised to complete a goal of adding 5,000 acres of land to public opportunity and removing stream barriers, and has seen the renovation of the Jim Hinkle Spring River Fish Hatchery within the first year of the plan, along with many other accomplishments.
Booth’s second foothold was a nod to outgoing Commission Chairman Bobby Martin, whose seven-year term will expire June 30.
“We have to recognize what he has brought to the table during at least the last two years as chairman: energy, momentum, accountability, attention to detail and heart,” said Booth, who became director two years ago. “Just because Bobby is leaving doesn’t mean we are taking a break. As we look at The Natural State Tomorrow and where we are today, we have just begun to orient on where we want to be.
“We have reached a foothold, but we have not yet reached the summit.”
The Commission unanimously elected Commissioner Stan Jones of Alicia as chairman for the next fiscal year and chose Commissioner J.D. Neeley of Camden to serve as vice chairman.
“I wish more people sat in this seat, more people could be an Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioner,” Martin said during his closing address. “It’s people you’re most impacted by in this experience. In the last seven years, I’ve learned what the people of the AGFC do, and I’ve come to truly appreciate it. So often, the work they do is totally misunderstood or missed completely, but they continue doing this work with conviction that it’s the right thing to do.”
In other business, the Commission:
- Heard from Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation President Deke Whitbeck, who presented a specially commissioned knife and journal in memory of Marshall Hughes, a former AGFF board member, to Martin to be passed down to future Commission chairpersons as they assumed the leadership position [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Heard from Jimmy Harris, a representative from U.S. Sen. John Boozman’s office, who presented a commendation to Martin, which will be entered into the Congressional Record [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Amended language in the AGFC Code of Regulations to replace the wording “wildlife officer” with “game warden” in accordance with language passed during Arkansas’s 94th General Assembly [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Authorized Booth to sign an agreement with the AGFF to manage a lasting endowment from the MidwayUSA Foundation to fund the AGFC’s Youth Shooting Sports Program in the future [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Authorized Booth to enter into a lease agreement with the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation to manage a property donated to the AGFF for education and promotion of waterfowl conservation and outdoors recreation. The AGFC Simmons Outdoor Skills Farm comprises 237 acres on the Jefferson-Lincoln county line that was formerly a hunting property and lodge owned by the late John Andrew Nelson Simmons. The Simmons estate was donated to the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation to be used for outdoor education opportunities [LINK TO PRESENTATION].
- Approved an agreement with the Cooperative Ecosystem Study Unit to align with multiple partners to benefit natural resources management in the state [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Approved the AGFC’s 2024 Fiscal Year operating budget totaling $132,775,742 [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Approved the 2024 Fiscal Year Black River Restoration Fund budget totaling $1,197,964 [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Approved the 2024 Fiscal Year Gas Lease Funds budget totaling $120,000 [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Approved the agency’s 2024 Marine Fuel Tax Budget totaling $6 million [LINK TO PRESENTATION];
- Approved the transfer of an additional $11,469,173 from the Commission’s Stability and Enhancement Fund to the Fiscal Year 2024 budget to provide money for major construction projects in the coming year [LINK TO PRESENTATION], and
- Awarded Martin his service sidearm after seven years of voluntary service to the AGFC [LINK TO PRESENTATION].
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