At its monthly meeting on Jan. 18, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission signed an agreement with Central Arkansas Water to add about 2,400 acres to the Maumelle River Wildlife Management Area.
Maumelle River WMA borders Lake Maumelle, which provides drinking water to Central Arkansas. In 2010, Central Arkansas Water agreed to allow bowhunting and other recreational activities on its land surrounding the lake. It was a significant reversal of CAW's decades-old policy prohibiting any human activity on its land bordering the lake.
In July 2013 the two organizations signed a 99-year lease agreement for $1 million to ensure public hunting access on 18,861 acres around Lake Maumelle. The new addition expands the WMA acreage to about 20,000. Also, the organizations reset the clock to zero on the lease. It will now run through 2122.
Central Arkansas Water acquired the additional 2,395 acres since 2013. The Game and Fish Commission will pay Central Arkansas Water an additional $226,825 under the amended lease agreement.
"It equates to a cost of 54 cents per acre per year, which is an incredibly good value," said Ben Batten, the Game and Fish Commission's deputy director.
The amended lease agreement also will expand the portion of the WMA where small game hunting is allowed. Previously, small game hunters could only access 1,279 acres of the property. Now hunters may pursue small game on an additional 6,864 acres, most of which had been reserved for archery deer hunting only.
Austin Booth, the Game and Fish Commission's director, said that the commission's five-year strategic plan aims to provide public access to 5,000 additional acres. The Maumelle River WMA addition satisfies more than half of that objective.
"We will have reached roughly half of our five-year goal (5,000 additional acres of public access) within six months," Booth said.
Additionally, the commission approved buying 165 acres in Sebastian County to add to Frog Bayou Wildlife Management Area. The price for the acreage will not exceed $527,000. This will expand the amount of public access to wetland habitat in the Arkansas River Valley for both hunting and watchable wildlife.
My introduction to waterfowl hunting in the western Arkansas River Valley was on the area that is now Frog Bayou WMA. In the 1990s, my friends Lee Nigh and Jeff Belcher leased a big chunk of it. It offered some of the best hunting I had ever seen, attracting vast numbers of mallards, pintails, American wigeon and green-winged teal. I encountered even better hunting on the Petit Jean River near Booneville. I fell in love with duck hunting in Western Arkansas during the 1990s and frankly, I've never gotten over it.
Of course, nothing compares with calling mallards into flooded timber, but Arkansas duck hunting wears a lot of different faces. If you want a cool change of pace, Western Arkansas is worth a visit.
Waterfowler Hall of Fame
With a nod to our great duck hunting heritage, the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame will induct five new members into its hall of fame in a ceremony and banquet March 2 at the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie in Stuttgart.
This year's inductees are Dave Donaldson, Bill Byers, Kody Riggan, Gail Camp and Leonard Sitzer.
As the Game and Fish Commission's waterfowl program coordinator for 30 years, Donaldson helped design and create the green tree reservoirs in Northeast Arkansas. The biggest was on the Black River. It featured the most modern technology of that era, and it bears Donaldson's name. Donaldson also conducted the agency's first aerial waterfowl survey, a practice still used for counting waterfowl today.
In 1953, Byers established the Byers Hunting Club near Hunter, which still exists.
Gail Camp was a prominent competitive duck caller in a sport that was dominated by men. A protege of the great Chick Major, she competed in the World's Championship. She won the Tennessee State Championship, and she won the Womens World Championship in 1959-60.
Riggan, who helped establish Legacy Equipment, owned and operated Square Shooter Hunting Club. He is also a writer and pro staff member for Greenhead Magazine and Duck Hunter's Magazine.
Inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2010, Sitzer was recognized for his contributions to conservation by Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation. In 2008, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation honored Sitzer as its Conservationist of the Year.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Museum of the Grand Prairie. For more information visit www.waterfowlerhof.com.