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Overview
Things to Do

Fort Smith

Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center

Thursday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

We are closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Please call 501-710-6285 before you come unless you are planning a self-guided visit of the area.

  • Sunday: Closed
  • Monday: Closed
  • Tuesday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Thursday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Friday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Saturday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Nature Center Offerings

1,700-gallon Aquarium
Interactive Displays and Exhibits
Wildlife Watching Area
Wells Lake Fishing
Gift Shop
Hiking Trails

About Us

The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center is built on 170 acres of land that was part of Fort Chaffee. In addition to the spacious building surrounded by hickory and oak trees, the grounds are home to a series of trails and Wells Lake, a popular fishing destination. The Wells Lake is a part of the Family and Community Fishing Program so it’s stocked regularly with catfish and trout. The rear deck overlooking Wells Lake is an excellent place to take in the view and enjoy a quiet moment outdoors. The trails around the lake feature exhibit signs highlighting the lake, grounds and animals using the area. Visitors also can watch for wildlife attracted to feeders and a circulating stream near the corner of the building.

Exhibits play a large part in the nature center. Visitors will discover representations of the Ouachita and Ozark mountains, a life-sized oak tree exhibit crawling with game and nongame animal displays and a 1,200-gallon aquarium with native Arkansas fish. In addition to the interactive displays and exhibits, the center houses a classroom for educational programs such as the Hunting Safety and Boating Safety courses and a multipurpose room for community events.

Admission to the nature center is free thanks to your support of the Amendment 75 Conservation Fund.

Bring the Outdoors Into Your Community

Click here to request AGFC support for community events, education outreach in your school and more.

What’s Inside

Ozark Plateaus, Ouachita Mountains and Arkansas River Valley

On your way to the main exhibit area, you’ll walk between rock outcroppings. They represent the Ozark Plateaus and the Ouachita Mountains. Interactive displays teach about how the mountains and valley were formed.

Arkansas River Aquarium

A huge aquarium between the “mountains” contains fish and turtles from the Arkansas River. Models of fish and an information-filled display let guests try their hand at catching fish replicas and learning about the variety of fish swimming in our waters.

The Oak Forest

An enormous oak tree spreads its branches in the main exhibit area. Models of forest animals surround the woodland giant. Interactive displays let visitors press buttons and move levers to learn about different animals in the oak forest. The main exhibit floor also features live animals for guests to view.

Wildlife Watching Area

Large windows in this area offer a close-up view of native birds and wildlife. An artificial stream and feeders attract a wide variety of animals for visitors to enjoy from the comfort of the center.

Fishing

Wells Lake

Wells Lake is a twelve acre man-made lake. It was built in the 1940s. Its purpose was to collect water needed during the construction of Fort Chaffee. This type of lake is called an impoundment.

Visitors of all ages are welcome to fish in Wells Lake, which is stocked regularly with catfish in the warmer months and rainbow trout during the winter. Give it a try! Poles and tackle boxes are available as loaners at the front desk of the nature center building. You can bring your own bait or purchase some from the gift shop during operating hours.

Remember, if you are 16 or older, you need a valid Arkansas fishing license to fish at Wells Lake and in all Arkansas waters. You can purchase one at the nature center during regular hours.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass are one of the most sought after freshwater game fish in the U.S. These bass are found in nearly all Arkansas waters. Adult largemouth bass eat mostly fish, crayfish, and insects. They can be caught with a variety of natural and artificial baits.

The state record for largemouth bass stands at over sixteen pounds, but one to three-pounders are the most common catch.

Channel Catfish

Channel catfish are the most widespread and plentiful catfish in Arkansas. They do extremely well in lakes and ponds. Channel cats can weigh up to thirty pounds. These bottom dwellers eat fish, insects, mollusks, crayfish, and sometimes plants and debris. Some of the best baits for catching channel catfish are chicken livers, earthworms, and minnows.

Like the blue catfish, channel catfish have a deeply forked tail, but channel cats are smaller and less hump-backed than blue cats.

Redear sunfish

Redear sunfish often weigh one pound or more. These spunky fighters are bottom feeders who prefer deep water. Redear do better in lakes with vegetation because of the normally abundant aquatic insects available. Redear are often found in submerged log piles along dams and shoreline. You can catch these fish with either live bait – they prefer worms to crickets – or with tiny artificial baits.

Redear sunfish get their name from their red-tipped ear flaps.

Bluegill

These small fish are plentiful, occurring throughout Arkansas. Bluegill average weights are less than half a pound although the state record is over 3 pounds. Bluegills will take live bait such as worms or crickets, or tiny artificials.

Bluegills are named for the bright blue gill covers and chin of breeding males.

Rainbow Trout

No trout are native to Arkansas, but millions are stocked today in colder waters. Rainbows are the most common trout stocked in Arkansas. They may reach over 15 pounds, but one-pounders are more common. They have pinkish stripes running along their sides.  They can be taken with artificials, as well as with baits such as canned corn, nightcrawlers, crayfish, and even cheese balls. These are stocked annually, usually in February, in Wells Lake.

Trails

The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center offers more than four miles of trails, two of which meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.

Don’t forget your binoculars and camera –you might see raccoons, beavers or even deer. The fishing piers around Wells Lake makes for some exciting angling. Keep your eyes and ears open for signs of wildlife. More than 140 species of birds have been spotted on these trails.

 

You may notice some areas on the trails that are affected by prescribed burning. Why do we burn? It stimulates native plants, improves wildlife habitat, controls tree diseases, and reduces fuel on the ground and unplanned fires.

Tips for the trails

Wildlife on the grounds is just that – wild.

  • Don’t chase or try to catch wildlife
  • If you want a closer look, please use binoculars
  • Don’t feed wildlife; this includes geese
  • All animals at the center, including snakes, are protected
  • Collecting wildlife, leaves, plants, rocks and fossils from the grounds is prohibited without a special permit

Watch where you place your hands, feet and seat in the outdoors.

  • Poison ivy isn’t the only plant that can give you a rash
  • Wasps, bees and other stinging insects don’t like their nests being trampled

Remember, you are sharing the trails with other visitors and the animals that live here.

Walk quietly – stomping or shuffling your feet will scare animals before you get the chance to see them.

Don’t forget drinking water and insect repellant.

Please help keep your trails free of litter.

Animals appreciate you not smoking on trails.

Beaver Creek Trail, 0.25 miles

This boardwalk skirts the edge of a braided stream. Signs of beavers often can be seen along the bank. Many wetland plants such as rose mallow thrive here.

Field and Forest Trail, 0.5 miles

Hike through remnants of farm fields and young oak-hickory forests. Watch for a variety of birds and look carefully for the rain lily that blooms after rains in September and October.

North Boundary Trail, 1.1 miles

A small creek crosses this scenic path during wet periods. The trail also enters a dry, upland region along the nature center’s boundary. Deer and many bird species may be found here year-round. Listen closely for snorting deer. The trail leads hikers to a road. Return on the road or the trail.

Oak Savannah Trail, 0.5 miles

Oak savannahs were once a common feature throughout the Ozarks. Prescribed fires have slowly returned some of the forests to this more open landscape with a few large oaks in a grass and shrub understory. Look carefully for an indigo bunting nest in the shrubs.

Upland Trail, 0.5 miles

A spur of the Oak Savannah Trail cuts through a shortleaf pine forest. Little bluestem is common, and look for evidence of coyote and deer.

Wells Lake Trail, 0.5 miles

Follow the edge of Wells Lake on a paved path that’s ADA-compliant. Watch for great blue herons fishing along the shore – bring your fishing rod and join them. Canada geese are year-round residents.

Teacher Resources

The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center offers recreational and educational programming for people of all ages. Along with daily, weekly and monthly events, the center offers specialized programs suitable for any nature enthusiast. One of many fun and informative sessions is sure to interest you.

We offer many special events, workshops, and special programs as well. Please go to our calendar for more information.

Scheduling a Field Trip

Conservation education comes easy at Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center. Programs in these six themes or “tracks” are offered to teachers and students.

  • Water Conservation
  • Geology/Natural History
  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Habitats/Adaptations
  • Outdoors Skills

For detailed information about the programs in each track, open the Teacher Program Guide.

To schedule a field trip, you need to send in the school group reservation request form. Please save the blank reservation form to your computer, fill it out, then send via email to Kendra Ingle.

Alternative Teacher Activities

Teachers, are you looking for something to do on your own at the nature center? Take a look below or ask the Education Staff for more suggestions.

Take a Hike

We have six different trails, each having a unique theme or focus. Our two most popular right now are the Field and Forest Trail and the Oak Savannah Trail. Click on the links below for scripts that include detailed educational information for each of these two trails, to enhance your visit to our site. We recommend 45 minutes for each hike.

Signs of Wildlife Outdoor Scavenger Hunt

Print and make copies of our scavenger hunt list, and bring them out to the nature center with you on your visit. Be sure to give your students plenty of time to search the trails on a hike, or nature center grounds for a variety of signs of wildlife. We recommend an hour for the scavenger hunt. This scavenger hunt is suitable for most grade levels.

Exhibit Hall Indoor Scavenger Hunt

Print and make copies of our exhibit scavenger hunt, and bring them out to the nature center with you on your visit. Students can use this list as a guide through the exhibit hall, which should take about an hour. The education staff has created two scavenger hunts. One is a simple search and find the animal hunt for younger students, and the other is a more detailed hunt for older students to look for information about the Arkansas River Valley.

Professional Development

Teachers and educators, click on the link below for a list of professional development classes or workshops currently scheduled around the state.

Planning Your Visit

Teachers and group leaders are requested to schedule their visit to the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center by filling out the School Group Reservation Form and emailing it to Kendra Ingle.

What Should We Wear?

Because the nature center includes a hiking trail and outdoors exhibits, it’s best to wear comfortable walking shoes and layered clothing appropriate for outdoor activities. Sunscreen and bug repellent are especially important during spring and summer.

Be prepared for rain. Programs are not cancelled unless there are severe weather conditions. We will not cancel your reservation because of inclement weather; please call the center if you prefer to reschedule. Alternate indoor activities can be planned in case of inclement weather.

Can We Shop?

All visitors are welcome to visit the gift shop. We offer a wide selection of gifts, books, and nature supplies. If you would like to allow your group time to shop, please plan for additional time beyond the scheduled programs. We can plan a shopping visit as part of your visit plan. Pre-priced and gift souvenir bags are available if you wish to skip the gift shop during your visit.

Can We Eat Lunch There?

You are welcome to bring a sack lunch and enjoy the day at Wells Lake. However, picnic tables are limited. The north side of the lake is recommended for picnics and group lunches.

What if it Rains?

Reservations are not cancelled because of rain. You must contact the park if you wish to cancel and reschedule. Many alternate indoor activities can be planned for your visit.

People with Disabilities

The nature center is designed to be as accessible as possible. The Wells Lake Trail (0.7 miles long) and the Beaver Creek Trail (0.3 miles) meet all Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The trail hub for these areas is accessible from either the nature center or the parking area. Doors and hallways meet ADA standards.

Please let us know if any members of your group have special physical or behavioral needs. This will enable our staff to plan the best experience.

Discipline of Your Group

Teachers and chaperones are responsible for maintaining discipline in the group. One adult chaperone for every 10 to 15 children is recommended. Chaperones are expected to aid in supervision of the group, and should be dispersed throughout the group. Please explain to your students that appropriate, orderly behavior is expected during their visit. Remind the students to have respect for the natural resources and courtesy toward each other. Keep in mind that other people may be visiting the nature center at the same time.

Rules and Regulations

To help protect your group and your nature center, please make sure all members of your group follow the following rules:

  • All plants, animals, minerals, artifacts and other features on the center’s grounds are protected. Please leave them for the next person to enjoy.
  • Please dispose of trash properly. Trash containers are near picnic tables and inside the building.
  • While touring the center, all members of the group should remain with the group.
  • A staff member will be your hiking guide. Groups must stay behind the staff member on the interpretive trails unless instructed otherwise.

Student Preparation

Research shows students retain more information from field trips if they have some knowledge about what they will see, hear and experience prior to their visit. Please share information with your students before their visit to the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center. A trip to the nature center is an excellent way to reward students for completing a lesson plan about natural resources or biology.

Nature Center Event Calendar

Have you ever wanted to try hunting or harvest your own food? The Outdoor Skills Network is your one-stop resource for events offered by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and a network of partners who conduct opportunities to engage your outdoor skills in hunting, fishing, trapping, safety, wildlife, marksmanship, and more!

Volunteer Opportunties

Like Arkansas’s outdoors, the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center depends on the support of people with a passion for the natural world. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our conservation efforts. They work with everything from computers and photography to trail building and canoe instruction. Everyone has something to contribute to the outdoors, and we encourage people from all walks of life to participate. Volunteerism benefits the center and its visitors, but there’s no feeling quite like sharing your passion for the outdoor world with a newcomer. Your time and enthusiasm are not only among the least-expensive ways to help, they’re the greatest and most appreciated donations you can give.

Get in Touch

For more information regarding the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, or to schedule a class or group field trip, give us a call at the phone number above, or send an email and we will contact you.