A state like Arkansas brings a diversity of activities from one border of the Natural State to the next, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission strives to educate and expose Arkansans to all that is available through its nature centers nestled throughout the state.
Each of the nine centers focuses on one region of Arkansas and the activities and wildlife available. As the Arkansas Game and Fish says, it’s part classroom, part museum and part playground.
“It’s a gateway introduction to the state and the outdoors,” said Eric Maynard, assistant chief of education for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “It’s a good way to get familiar with the habitat and animals in a particular area of the state, as well as outdoor activities in which you can partake.”
The nature centers stretch the length of the state, from the Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Nature Center in Columbus to the Fred Berry Crooked Creek Nature Center in Yellville, and everything in between.
“There’s a wide range of activities,” Maynard said. “Some offer nature trails out in the woods, or sit on a lake with water activities available, and then we have one in downtown Little Rock. They range from the very small to the very big, and from urban settings to remote places.”
The nature centers also offer a series of workshops and classes to teach outdoor skills. It can range from craft activities for kids to a birds of prey or alligator program. There are also classes taught on fishing and hunting skills, outdoor cooking and etiquette, and controlled burns.
“There are things for kids, adults and landowners,” Maynard said. “It ranges from the very basic and beginner to the advanced outdoorsman.”
The Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center
The closest nature center to Conway is located 30 minutes away in downtown Little Rock at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center. The 16,232-square-foot facility is located at 602 President Clinton Ave.
The center offers aquariums, wildlife exhibits, native gardens and more. Because of its central location and easy access to out-of-towners and tourists, it is not specific to any region of Arkansas, but more a broad overview of the Natural State’s outdoor offerings.
“You can learn about a variety of natural environments from all across the state,” Maynard said.
There are multiple aquariums with a host of fish species, including lake-, stream- and river-habitat. Housed on nearly 4 acres in the capital city’s bustling downtown, one of the hidden features of the center is a thriving outdoor animal exhibit.
“There’s a tremendous viewing window and lounge area that allows you to see birds, squirrels, and woodchucks,” Maynard said.
There are new attractions coming to the Stephens Nature Center in the late part of 2023. Some of the older exhibits will transform into an indoor children’s play area and more interactive features.
A Road Trip for the Spring
One of the state’s best kept secrets is the Grandview Prairie Nature Center near Columbus in southwest Arkansas in the springtime.
The center is located on nearly 5,000 acres of Blackland Prairie and includes hundreds of acres of wildflowers that bloom each spring.
“The time to go is April, May and June,” Maynard said. “It doesn’t get much visitation, but it’s a beautiful place. People are missing out.”