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South Fork Nature Center completes new trails

By Caroline Zilk

This article was published November 24, 2011 at 12:47 a.m.

— Three recent grants recently helped the South Fork Nature Center develop and mark a new trail.

The South Fork Nature Center is a conservancy project on the banks of the South Fork of the Little Red River.

The center’s board began developing the 75 acres about six years ago and is always looking for grants to help develop the area.

The three most recent grants were two from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department for $58,571 and $44,500, used for new hiking trails, and a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department for $7,000, used to purchase signage for the trails.

Don Richardson, president of the board, said a new hiking trail starts at the front gate to the center and joins up with the original trail, but visitors will notice the changes to the Nature Center as soon as they pull up to the gate: A stone fence was built by property owners several years ago, and the grant helped finished the fence on the right side of the gate.

The grant paid for several new signs crafted by local artists.

The main South Fork Nature Center sign was crafted by stone artist Ryan Mays, who grew up in Clinton and now works from Vermont.

A new kiosk at the head of the new trail will greet visitors and display pictures of visitors on school trips and other events. A map of the trails is also featured prominently.

The new trail was completed by Eastin Outdoors, based in Northwest Arkansas.

“They did a great job,” Richardson said.

The trail construction took about six months, and the trail is now open to the public on every third Saturday of the month.

“The trails are handicap-accessible, and we want folks to come out here,” Richardson said.

Tours are available from volunteer interpreters such as Jim Solomon, a retired entomologist who spent 35 years working for the Forest Service.

“I enjoyed that job so much that if I had to do it over, I might still be working,” Solomon said.

Now he gets to use his expertise about insects at his volunteer position, and for the benefit of those who visit the Nature Center.

Executive Director Kathy Sherwood said she hopes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department will stay involved with the center because there is still work to be done.

Richardson said his eventual goal is to build a pavilion and amphitheater in order to better facilitate outdoor learning.

“We are pleased with how far we’ve come already, and we’re looking forward to the future,” Richardson said.

To coordinate a visit to the South Fork Nature Center, contact Sherwood at (501) 745-6444.

River Valley Ozark, Pages 89 on 11/24/2011

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