ST. FRANCIS COUNTY, Ark. (KAIT) - After months of fighting, the Pine Tree Research Station land will stay open to the public.
HB1694 passed the Senate 31-3 this week, and heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk to be signed into law.
From there, it will take immediate effect, preventing the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture from selling the Pine Tree land to a private entity or individual.
The bill states the U of A can sell the land to a public organization or nonprofit that has been established for at least five years and will keep the land open for public use.
Local hunters like Jim Haynes said they can’t thank state leaders enough for all their hard work this session.
“It’s part of our heritage around here,” said Jim. “Everybody hunts at Pine Tree, everybody’s always hunted at Pine Tree or fished or whatever.”
HB1694 is a bill in response to the university’s attempt to sell the land to a private entity without public knowledge last summer.
That sale had locals worried about the negative economic and community impacts closing the land to the public would have.
“We’re just praising Jesus that this did not go through and we’re just so thankful,” said community member Clint Haynes.
Community members have been fighting to make sure the land stays public since finding out about the attempted sale last July.
The Pine Tree Research Station land is one of the only public hunting lands in Northeast Arkansas and provides a lot of revenue for local cities during hunting season.
“One of the main tools we have is hunting and fishing and not everybody has that private lake or that private big patch of woods,” said Clint.
Not only does the land staying public impact the local economy, it impacts the lives of those who live in St. Francis and Cross counties.
Steve Brown has been hunting the land since 1979.
“My thrill about not losing it is the kids,” said Brown. “I’ve had a good life, I hunted it all the time. The kids in this community need the same experiences that I had.”
Community members said they’re thankful to everyone who fought to prevent the sale of the land to a private entity, and it’s a relief to know the land will remain in public domain.
“It’s just part of my life and it’s part of everybody’s life around here and we’re just tickled that it’s going to stay that way,” said Jim Haynes.
A second bill regarding the Pine Tree land, SB447, passed the Senate Thursday.
The bill would appropriate funds for the purchase of the land by the state.
It moves on to the House Budget Calendar.