After Rattlesnake Ridge, another private land conservation deal in the works

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 478 views 

Department of Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst lauded the collaborative effort to preserve natural land in western Pulaski County and says a north-central Arkansas project is also in the works.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Hurst described new public-private partnerships she’s been working on as director. She also warned that a looming deadline to decide the fate of the Clarendon Bridge is near.

A week ago, state officials announced the Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area. The 373-acre tract, located in Pulaski County just west of Pinnacle Mountain State Park, will protect several rare plant and animal species, and also offer to visitors rugged, low-impact activities such as hiking, mountain biking and climbing.

Hurst said projects like this protect natural and cultural resources and help in economic development efforts, appealing to millennials who are looking for quality of life to locate for work and family.

“We partnered with the Nature Conservancy, who took the lead on it, we had a private donor who was involved, there were some other quasi-governmental agencies, and we were able to put that 373 acres into conservation through that public-private partnership,” Hurst said. “It will now be forever protected for the public. The public has access, which is what we wanted, and it’s incredibly beautiful.”

“We have another opportunity up in north-central Arkansas, attractive land that’s privately owned, but the owner wants it to stay in conservation, so we’re working with some partners up in that area to protect that,” Hurst added. “We’ve also got some private interest in starting a foundation that supports the Department of Arkansas Heritage, so bringing in more private money to support our efforts.”

Rex Nelson, senior writer with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, also participated in the TB&P roundtable this week. He said the announcement that War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock would become the home game every other year with Missouri in SEC football beginning in 2019 was a smart decision and could lead to something bigger.

“Razorback football is about so much more than per-game revenue, and I think the previous athletic director, Jeff Long, couldn’t get to that point,” Nelson said. “It was all about per-game revenue to him. Well, the per-game revenue is always going to be more in Fayetteville, let’s admit. But it’s a bigger picture. It’s part of our Arkansas culture. It’s part of the university being a true statewide university. And I think, to their credit, the current chancellor, the current president, the system, and the new athletic director all get that.”

Nelson, who said the decision years ago to reduce games in Little Rock produced more comments during his time in the Huckabee administration than school consolidation, predicted that after the Missouri series runs its six-year course, the AT&T Stadium game with Texas A&M could also be affected.

“When it runs out, the contract to play A&M rolling every year at Jerry Jones’ stadium in Arlington will also run out. My sense is they’ll go back to home-and-home on that. And I think if Little Rock does a good job with these three Missouri games, they stand a very good chance — again, we’re six years away — but they stand a very good chance of going back to one game every year here in Little Rock at that point,” Nelson said.

Hurst and Nelson also discussed a variety of new tourism and heritage projects sprouting up in the Delta. Some of those projects include the Johnny Cash boyhood home in Dyess; the Sultana steamboat tragedy near Marion; new activity in Arkansas Post led by former House Speaker and current Highway Commissioner Robert Moore; and bike trails near Memphis and the Mississippi River.

“I think we’re becoming more interested as a state in our heritage. And obviously, with the western expansion of the United States, going east to west, that is the oldest part of the state as far as European settlers. And there is so much heritage there,” Nelson said.

Hurst said food culture is one area she has been promoting for Arkansas through new programs like the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. She said a phone app is about to launch to help travelers find unique restaurants in the Delta.

She also said that saving the Clarendon Bridge, which is slated for tear-down, could be crucial as a bike trail for Arkansas’ efforts to enhance Delta tourism.

“It’s looking pretty bleak,” she said. “Judge [Chris] Piazza gave us until the end of May to find a political solution and we’re still working on it. But $11 million to tear it down versus $5 million to refurbish it and repurpose it just doesn’t make sense to me, so we’re still trying.”

Watch Nelson’s and Hurst’s full interview below.

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