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Northwest Arkansas Nature and Education Center Plans Taking Shape

BY Jim Harris

ON 08-17-2017


SPRINGDALE – Split Rock Studios, a Minneapolis-based company that focuses on exhibits and displays for facilities such as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s nature centers, will meet with AGFC officials Wednesday, April 26, to discuss ideas for the proposed Northwest Arkansas Nature and Education Center in Springdale.

Split Rock Studios was among the group of companies included in the overall bid selected by the AGFC’s Education Division to build the nature center, which is planned for a 61-acre plot north of downtown Springdale, between Interstate 49 and 40th Street. The main architecture firm for the project is Fennell and Purifoy of Little Rock. Ecological Design Group, which has offices in Rogers and Little Rock, is the landscape architecture firm.

The size of the new center is contingent on funding. As of now, the AGFC has $10 million committed to the project, which includes $5 million pledged by Johnelle Hunt of Springdale and matched by the AGFC and the AGFC Foundation. A targeted funding amount of $15 million would allow the construction of a 28,000-square-foot main complex with a variety of exhibits, three covered pavilion areas, nature trails, and a 3D archery and regular archery range, according to Doug Newcomb, interim division chief for Education at the AGFC.

Newcomb said, “We’ve had two [monthly] meetings with the architects and have told them what we want. They hope to have the master plan for the property and the facility by the end of July. During May they’ll be laying things out where the buildings are sited, where the trails are going in, where the pavilions would go for outdoor education classrooms, where the parking lot would be.”

Newcomb said the AGFC Education Division also has learned recently it has the opportunity for federal grant funding that would offset some of the cost of parking and the outdoor pavilions. As more money is raised for the projection, its completion could be accelerated, he added.

“If we stay on our current plan, we anticipate construction to begin in July 2018 and, if all goes well, a completion in July of 2020. It’s all contingent on funding,” Newcomb said.

The land that will house the center originally belonged to the Springdale water and sewer district, then was deeded to the City of Springdale, which in turn donated it to the AGFC, contingent on it being used for conservation and education. AGFC Commission Chairman Fred Brown revealed plans for the center when he took over as chairman in July 2016.

Newcomb said the planners are working with the City of Springdale to try to include a spur off the Razorback Greenway biking trail to Lake Springdale, the planned AGFC Nature Center and to a planned mountain bike park and city park west of Interstate 49. Newcomb said the concept would be for the spur to pass through the AGFC property, “and we want to take advantage of that, of being a destination of bikers as well,” he said. Wildlife trails would not allow biking, but a bike parking facility with air pumps and water fountains would be provided at the center, he said.

Among the exhibit plans, Newcomb said, would be a focus on quail habit with native grasses and vegetation, caves of northwest Arkansas and the Ozarks, a fisheries exhibit showing the impact on streams in the area, and an exhibit on native bears.

The April 26 meeting with Split Rock Studios will allow the agency and the design company to share ideas on how to build the center around the exhibits. “They do work all over the country. They’ve done work for some of our nature centers,” Newcomb said.

The AGFC entertained 10 different companies with bids for the project. Newcomb said that several of firms submitted bids including working with EDG as the landscape architect and Split Rock for the exhibits. “We were familiar with those firms,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what EDG comes up with in the landscape plans. They did the Lake Atalanta [project] in Rogers and some other really neat sites.”

For more information or for donating to the planned center, call the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation at (800) 364-4263.

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