Skip to main content

Commission creates ‘treasure hunting permit’ to encourage responsible use of Lake Conway during renovation

BY Randy Zellers

ON 10-27-2023


Oct. 27, 2023

Randy Zellers

Assistant Chief of Communications

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission unanimously approved a special permit that outlines the rules for removing and collecting items from the lakebed of Lake Conway during its renovation.

According to AGFC Deputy Director Ben Batten removal of objects from Commission property is normally prohibited, but many people have expressed interest in collecting objects found on Lake Conway’s lakebed while it is drained. The new Item Removal Permit will enable curious Arkansans to enjoy this added benefit of the temporary drawdown without causing lasting damage to the property or disturbing historical artifacts.

“We’ve already seen a few people walking around on the lakebed since the water level has dropped and a Facebook group focused on the items people find during the renovation has gotten more than 4,000 members in a short amount of time,” Batten said. 

Presenter: AGFC Director Austin Booth celebrated the connection between people and conservation at today’s regularly scheduled Commission meeting.

The permit, which will be available at within the next few days, must be printed and carried by anyone on the lakebed and outlines the rules for removal of objects on the lakebed. Permit holders may only access the lakebed between sunrise and sunset and may not use any motorized vehicles. Metal detectors are allowed, but only hand tools may be used to dig and any holes must be less than 3 feet wide and no more than 12 inches deep. No property or possessions may be left overnight and all disturbed areas must be filled and returned to their natural state before sundown each day. Any archeological, cultural or historical artifacts, including Native American artifacts may not be removed or disturbed in accordance with federal and state laws.

AGFC Director Austin Booth also announced the recipients of this year’s AGFC Campbell Awards, which recognize three AGFC employees for their leadership, spirit and community service. Tara Bennett, an administrative assistant who started her career in the AGFC’s education division in 2018, was the first award recipient announced. Her role in supporting the agency’s hunter recruitment efforts, such as mentored hunts, the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, the Master Angler program and the agency’s new Grand Slam fishing program has proven invaluable to the mission of the AGFC.

Tara Bennett: Tara Bennett was one of three AGFC employees honored today with the AGFC’s Campbell Award.

“[Bennett] consistently goes to other people to move the agency forward in their job responsibilities,” Booth said. “As we think about an agency that is roughly 650 people strong, this is exactly what we need from people. Thinking not just about their responsibilities but where the agency is going as a whole.” 

The second recipient of today’s Campbell Awards was Jon Stein, AGFC fisheries supervisor in northwest Arkansas who initially began working with the agency in 2003. His contributions not only to conservation but to his community and church serve as a beacon of leadership and shine a light on the character of employees at the AGFC. 

Jon Stein: AGFC Fisheries Supervisor Jon Stein received the AGFC’s Campbell Award today for his valued contributions to the AGFC as well as his community.

“Jon is one of these names among the Commission that is well known, well respected; not just for holding fish, but for how much he loves his community,” Booth said. “To quote one of the [nominations] for one of Jon Stein’s Campbell Award, it is that , ‘He is the epitome of the Fisheries Division’s spirit and there is not a single employee that does not look up to Jon Stein.’”

Rob Willey: AGFC Habitat Program Coordinator Rob Willey was honored with the AGFC’s Campbell Award at today’s Commission meeting.

Rob Willey, AGFC Habitat Program coordinator, was the final Campbell Award winner recognized at today’s meeting. A 24-year employee of the AGFC, Willey has tackled some of the agency’s most challenging tasks, including the promotion of proper forest management techniques to benefit wildlife. Willey is at the forefront of the AGFC’s initiatives to properly measure and evaluate the agency’s bottomland hardwoods and uplands to make management decisions that are the most beneficial to wildlife today and in the future. 

“Two things stick out to me about Rob; the absolute passion he has in his eye that’s palpable for nature. But he also understands the people side of this. He understands what it means to people individually and culturally in Arkansas,” Booth said. “When I think about people who make this agency’s future the brightest, it’s people like Rob Willey.”

The Commission also took a moment to recognize the life of Steve Parish, who worked for the AGFC as a surveyor for 35 years and recently died.

In his monthly report to the Commission, Booth continued to praise the contributions of many people to conservation and explained how he and his family are personally affected by the efforts of conservationists past, present and future. He spoke about his recent opportunity to take his son along on an archery deer hunt and the memories that were made. He also spoke about Andy Simmons, who recently died and willed his duck-hunting property to the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation to be used to introduce new hunters and conservationists to the outdoors. And he talked about a soon-to-be-released opportunity for even more people to contribute to conservation through special tax reimbursements for valuable habitat work they complete on their property. 

“Whether we’re trying to educate the next generation on how to enjoy Arkansas’s outdoors; whether we’re trying to think about the future deer herd for the next generation of hunters or whether we’re recognizing our own [employees], I would encourage everyone listening today…to never forget that the most important part of conservation is people.”

In other business, the Commission:

  • Heard a report from AGFC Deer Program Coordinator Ralph Meeker on the status of Arkansas’s deer herd.

  • Approved a budget increase of $ 3.5 million for the renovation of Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery in Lonoke.

  • Formally elected all new game wardens and agency employees hired within the last two years to serve the AGFC and the people of Arkansas.

  • Awarded retiring game warden Sr. Cpl. Brad Brewer his service sidearm for more than 30 years of service to the AGFC.

  • Authorized the Director to execute a permanent easement with the City of Mountain Home for a sewer line easement on Commission property.

A recording of the meeting is available at on the AGFC’s YouTube channel at<wbr></wbr>RCU8I8-lo4w?si=<wbr></wbr>lkbP90iLdHZSZ0IK

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter E-mails

Don’t miss another issue. Sign up now to receive the AGFC Wildlife Weekly Newsletter in your mailbox every Wednesday afternoon (Waterfowl Reports are published weekly during waterfowl season and periodically outside the season). Fishing Reports arrive on Thursdays. Fill in the following fields and hit submit. Thanks, and welcome!