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Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority contributes $500,000 to ‘Reimagine the River Valley’

BY Randy Zellers

ON 04-11-2024


FORT SMITH — The Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission along with community leaders met at Chaffee Crossing April 10 to announce a $500,000 contribution from Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority to help update and reinvent the vision of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center.

Daniel Mann, Executive Director and CEO, said, “The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Board of Trustees strongly supports the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center’s capital campaign. The nature center, along with Wells Lake, are critical amenities for not only Chaffee Crossing but all of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. This area serves as a cornerstone to enhance the quality of place for the public, current and prospective employees and their families to explore and learn about the outdoors and what Arkansas and Chaffee Crossing have to offer. We are excited about the progress made and look forward to working alongside the Commission and Foundation to bring their improvement plan to fruition.”

Jibbie Tyler, director of development and corporate partnerships for the AGFF said the contribution is the latest, and largest, to the “Reimagine the River Valley” campaign devoted to updating the 14,000-square-foot facility and 170 acres surrounding it.

“With this amazing contribution, we’ll pass the $1.5 million mark, which is roughly half of the campaign’s ultimate goal,” Tyler said. “We almost have enough money committed to allow the AGFC to do some of the more basic renovations, and the more money we raise, the more amazing the end product will be.”

The nature center, which opened Aug. 31, 2006, at 8300 Wells Lake Road, is loaded with interesting displays, although they’ve fallen behind the technological curve after 17 years. An effort to “reimagine” the possibilities at this nature center and others already has begun.

If the goal of $3 million is met from the AGFF’s efforts, many new exhibits will be made possible, including: live, indoor beehive exhibits, live camera feeds of watchable wildlife exhibits and a variety of virtual reality experiences to immerse visitors into the outdoors through modern technology. But the plans aren’t only for indoor activities; the AGFC is also committed to improving the outdoor facilities, paddling areas, angling areas and outdoor exhibits to offer new content that will appeal to all ages.

Chaffee Crossing is in good company with their contribution. The campaign to renovate and revitalize the nature center kicked off last March with outdoor recreation products giant PRADCO donating $150,000. Other major contributors include Arvest Foundation, the Boland family, First National Bank, the Rumsey family, the Westphal family and the Whitt family.

“We look forward to working with the community to really make this center the crown jewel that it is,” Deke Whitbeck, president of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, said. “Just as Chaffee Crossing is undergoing revitalization right where we’re standing, this nature center is going to follow suit and do the very same thing.”

Contact Tyler at 501-398-3612 for more information about “Reimagine the River Valley” and how to help support the effort to renovate the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center.

About Chaffee Crossing
Chaffee Crossing is Western Arkansas’ premiere economic development project located within the cities of Fort Smith and Barling. Under the direction and guidance of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Public Trust, approximately 5,500 acres, formerly part of Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center, are being developed. As the property is sold by FCRA, the land is being returned to the tax rolls for the first time since 1941, jobs are being created, the regional economy is being stimulated, and desirable quality of life amenities are materializing. Since its inception in 1995, the Chaffee Crossing economic development project has attracted $2.5 billion in industrial, commercial, residential, education, historical, and recreational development, boosting the western Arkansas regional economy.

About The Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation
The Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, formed in 1982, is a non-profit organization composed of men and women who are passionate about promoting hunting, fishing, and conservation education among the youth of Arkansas.

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