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Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority donates $500,000 for nature center renovations | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FORT SMITH — The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority announced this month that it has awarded $500,000 to modernize and reinvent the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center.

Jibbie Tyler, director of development and corporate partnerships for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which owns the center, said this is the latest and largest contribution made to modernize the 150,000-square-foot facility and the 170 acres surrounding it.

A news release from the commission said the nature center opened in 2006 at 8300 Wells Lake Road and its exhibits are dated over the past 17 years. The $3 million goal will be enough to purchase live, indoor beehive exhibits; live camera feeds of wildlife exhibits; and a variety of virtual reality experiences to immerse visitors in the outdoors through modern technology, the release said.

Tyler said the Redevelopment Authority’s donation puts them halfway through the campaign, allowing the commission to make some basic renovations.

The press release states that these renovations include improving the outdoor facilities, paddling areas, fishing areas and outdoor exhibits to offer new content that will appeal to all ages.

“The more money we raise, the more amazing the end product will be,” he said.

Daniel Mann, executive director and CEO of the Redevelopment Authority, said the nature center, along with Wells Lake, are critical amenities for all of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.

“This area serves as a cornerstone to enhance the quality of place for the public, current and future employees and their families to explore and learn about the outdoors and what Arkansas and Chaffee Crossing have to offer,” he said. “We are excited about the progress made and look forward to working with the committee and the foundation to deliver their improvement plan.”

Other donations to the center have come from Pradco Outdoor Brands, the Arvest Foundation and First National Bank, as well as the Boland, Rumsey, Westphal and Whitt families.

“We look forward to working with the community to truly make this center the crown jewel that it is,” said Deke Whitbeck, president of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation. “Just as Chaffee Crossing is undergoing a revitalization where we stand today, this nature center will follow suit and do exactly the same.”

photo A school group visits the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith on Thursday. The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority recently announced a $500,000 contribution to help update and reinvent the vision of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s nature center. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Two hikers pass by the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith on Thursday. The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority recently announced a $500,000 contribution to help update and reinvent the vision of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s nature center. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Harley Wallis (right) and Christina Garcia, both of Fort Smith, browse an aquarium Thursday at the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith. The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority recently announced a $500,000 contribution to help update and reinvent the vision of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s nature center. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)