L.R. nature center approaches 250,000 visitors

LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – In just over three years, the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center is approaching the quarter million visitor mark. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Little Rock nature center opened on Dec. 17, 2008. It was the fourth and final nature center made possible by the 1/8th-Cent Conservation Sales Tax.
The center, at 602 President Clinton Ave., focuses on the wide variety of outdoor recreation, conservation issues and the state's fish and wildlife resources.

Witt Stephens Jr. of Little Rock is a long-time advocate for Arkansas wildlife and conservation. He served as an AGFC commissioner from 1993-2000 and helped champion the sales tax, which was approved by voters in 1996.

"I think I speak on behalf of many individuals when I say that the opening of this facility is a truly great event for Little Rock, this region and the entire state of Arkansas," Stephens said during the opening ceremony. "I am certainly proud and very honored to be associated with such a remarkable resource for our state."

Tourists from dozens of countries have spent some time at the facility, marveling at the wonders of Arkansas. School groups from all over the state, as well as several of the surrounding states, have shown their excitement and eagerness to learn while touring the center. By working with other educators in the Little Rock metropolitan area, the nature center has been able to coordinate a number of large school group visits.

Because of relationships built with other museums in the downtown Little Rock area, the nature center has acquired one of the largest collections of mounted birds found anywhere in the state, as well as several other museum-quality items now on display.

The 16,232-square-foot facility is on 3.4 acres on the bank of the Arkansas River in Little Rock's River Market District. The diversity of Arkansas's natural landscape, habitats and wildlife are featured through the six natural regions of the state: Ozark Plateau, Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas River Valley, Coastal Plain, Mississippi Delta and Crowley's Ridge.

A dynamic, 10-minute multimedia presentation filmed in high definition – is one of the center's highlights. Visitors follow water as it passes through a continuous series of living habitat exhibits – from a replicated mountain spring into the river's main channel cypress swamps, delta marshlands and a bottomland hardwood forest. Each segment has been isolated with flow-through barriers that contain each habitat's population of fish.

A lounge area offers visitors a chance to pick up a map, select brochures and sit down with a view of the Arkansas River. Outside is a variety of bird-feeding stations set among shrubbery and a gently flowing seep.

The center is open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and Sunday 1-5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.centralarkansasnaturecenter.com or call (501) 907-0636. The other three nature centers are the Gov. Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center, which opened in 2001 in Pine Bluff; the Forrest L. Wood Crowley's Ridge Nature Center, which opened in 2004 in Jonesboro, and the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, which opened in 2006 near Fort Smith.