Arkansas River Valley Nature Center expansion announced

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,028 views 

Bill Jarboe, an employee with Fort Smith-based Pradco

Officials with the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center announced Thursday (March 30) a fundraising campaign that will help the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reimagine the Fort Smith-based center for the next generation.

Opened in 2005, the Nature Center was built on 170 acres of land that was part of Fort Chaffee. The center features Wells Lake, a popular fishing destination, trails, and a spacious nature center that features game and nongame animal displays, a 1,200-gallon aquarium with native Arkansas fish, other exhibits and a classroom for educational programs.

“If you think about the kids from 2005 and 2006 when this place opened. Those folks are having their own children now, and it is time to reimagine this place for a new generation,” said Tabbi Kinion, education division chief for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

About 75 people gathered at the nature center Thursday afternoon to learn of the initiative. To date the center has secured $350,000 from the Game and Fish Commission to fund the revamping. During Thursday’s event, Bruce Stanton, vice president and general manager of Pradco Outdoor Brands in Fort Smith, said Pradco was donating another $150,000 to kickstart a fundraiser to update the nature center.

“We want to get that to over $1 million. There are some interactive things we want to do where kids can bring their phones in and interact and it’s not just a dreary museum where you see pictures and stuffed animals. We obviously want to continue what we are doing with live animals.That’s very important for education. But we hope our money will help encourage other local companies to give and other local individuals to give. So we can make this something special for free,” Stanton said.

The plan for the nature center, according to Kinion, is to redo the exhibit halls, keeping some of the elements there but make the exhibits more interactive with more technology pieces. Officials will then take a look at the outdoor area and “improve an already great experience,” she said.

(from left) Bill Jarboe and Bruce Stanton

Fort Smith Mayor George McGill said the timing is right to reimagine the space as the region is getting ready to experience amazing growth and development.

“Our children and guests are going to come to this place, and they are going to go, ‘Wow. We have to go back.’ … It’s going to be right here,” McGill said.

With all the technology, they will experience something different each time they come, McGill said.

Bennie Westphal, who completed a two-year stint on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in December, said he hopes he can convince many to give to the project.

“I want more kids and families to get excited about the outdoors,” Westphal said. “We want to make this the crown jewel of our state. Fort Smith has got a great future. We’ve got great people. … We are blessed in this community, and we are blessed to have the nature around us. Let’s try to make it the very best that we can.”

Along with the announcement of the renovation of the nature center, Stanton unveiled a new sign naming the fishing pavilion on Wells Lake at the nature center, the Pradco Outdoor Brand’s Bill Jarboe Family Fishing Pavilion in honor of long-time Pradco employee Bill Jarboe.

Jarboe has worked at Pradco for 53 years as a toolmaker, fishing lure designer and design engineer for Pradco in Fort Smith. He has been designing commercial successful lures including the Heddon One Knocker Spook, the One Knocker and Hard Knocker Booyah and Booyah Pad Crasher and Booyah Poppin Pad Crasher lures.

“There are very few special people we have at Pradco who design fishing lures. Some carve them by wood. Bill is a modern fishing lure designer. He designs them on a computer,” Stanton said.

Pradco gave out samples of Jarboe’s lure, the Heddon Super Spook Boyo, commemorating the occasion.