ARKANSAS WILD meet the 2021 members
LOWER DELTA & ARKANSAS RIVER VALLEY
HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE GET ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT
NOVEMBER 2021 ARKANSASWILD.COM
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NOVEMBER 2021 ARKANSASWILD.COM
10 2021 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
IDEAS FOR EVERYONE ON YOUR LIST.
29 CHAMPIONS OF THE WILD
MEET THIS YEAR’S IMPRESSIVE CLASS.
Meet Arkansas’s Queen of the Flys. See page 34.
30 BLAKE POND 32 HUSTON REAGAN 34 CHRISTY GRAHAM 36 BRIAN NALLEY
DEPARTMENTS 14 ARKANSAS MADE 18 EXPLORE 38 #ARKANSASWILD
ON THE COVER: Blake Pond. Photography by Novo Studio. 4 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
Find your joy this winter season in the Diamond Lakes Region! Shred some forest trails, fish where the water is always sparkling, experience unforgettable eagle watching tours, or summit that mountain you’ve always dreamed of. Then at night unwind by the campfire or in a cozy cabin in the woods. Come and experience winter like never before.
ARKADELPHIA • CADDO VALLEY • GLENWOOD • HOT SPRINGS MALVERN MURFREESBORO Not •allMOUNT rainbowsIDA are in• the sky. Check out our White River excursion on page 22.
Visit DiamondLakes.org to request a FREE Hot Springs/Diamond Lakes Guide. @HotSprings_DiamondLakes BikeHotSprings.org DiamondLakes.org
This ad is paid for with a combination of state funds and private regional association funds.
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EXPERIENCE. ADVENTURE. TOGETHER. Hot Springs Off-Road Park is a 1,242-acre trail system for 4-Wheel Drive Vehicles, UTVs, ATVs, and Dirt Bikes in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Campground includes Cabins, RV Spots, Overlanding, Tent Sites, Showers, Guided Side x Side Rentals, Event Pavilion, and Convenience Store. Open year round.
BROOKE WALLACE Publisher firstname.lastname@example.org DWAIN HEBDA Editor email@example.com MANDY KEENER Creative Director firstname.lastname@example.org KATIE HASSELL Art Director/Digital Manager
HotSpringsOffRoadPark.com • 501-625-3600
LESA THOMAS Senior Account Executive
WHITE STAR RIVER RETREAT Perfect For: • Family vacations • Fishing Trips • Family Reunions • Corporate Retreats • Honeymoons • Quiet Getaways
Located on the White River (between Gaston’s and Bull Shoals) Whitestarriverretreat.com/ 479-871-0682 (VRBO # 563445)
share your wild stories with us! Send to Dwain Hebda, editor at email@example.com 6 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
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©2021 Arkansas Times Limited Partnership 201 E. MARKHAM ST., SUITE 150 LITTLE ROCK, AR 72201 501-375-2985 All Contents © 2021 Arkansas Wild
THE PLACE TO STAY & PLAY THIS WINTER...
BEAR CREEK LOG CABINS
5 Minutes South of the Buffalo National River Swimming & Fishing Private ATV, Hiking & Cycling Trails Wildlife Watching Natural Dark Sky Accommodation (Arkansas Natural Sky Association)
New RV and campsite area coming soon!
If you are looking for a rustic retreat near the Buffalo National River at Tyler Bend, look no further than Bear Creek Log Cabins. There are six cabins scattered over hundreds of acres, all with access to the fishing holes of Bear Creek—a tributary to the Buffalo—right on the property. The ranch is about five minutes south of Middle Buffalo access areas, Ozark Highland Trail, and the Ozark Grinder Trail but you will also find plenty of trails right on the Bear Creek property for hiking, cycling or ATV use. It is a photographer’s paradise, with sweeping views of the buttresses that line the creek and wildlife on every adventure. The nearby private Lake House property, with a 22-acre stocked lake with dock and fishing boat right out the back door, is also a favorite location for all ages. The spacious cabins feature native rock fireplaces, outdoor fire pits, charcoal grills, full kitchens, linens, flat screen tvs with satellite reception (including SEC and ESPN channels), wi-fi and heat/air that will accommodate up to 52 guests. Bear Creek is open year-around, offers hunting in season, and is pet-friendly. Special winter discount rates are available in January and February. Bear Creek Log Cabins will quickly become your go-to getaway destination.
BEAR CREEK LOG CABINS
6403 N HWY 65 | ST. JOE, AR | 870.448.5926 BUFFALORIVERLOGCABINS.NET
FROM THE EDITOR
IT’S GO TIME! Welcome to our Winter issue and one of the best times of year in the Arkansas wilds! We know the sun-and-lake lovers out there might disagree, but there’s just so much to love about the closing months of the year, from the beautiful fall colors to the crackling campfires to duck gumbo. In this installment, we bring you our 2021 Champions of the Wild. These four individuals, nominated from the field, make a difference in the outdoors no matter what the season. We love giving kudos to those who work behind the scenes to improve things for all, and this year’s honorees definitely meet that criterion. We also help you get through your holiday shopping list with our annual gift guide, featuring plenty of gear and goodies for the outdoor enthusiasts in your life. And, we continue our tour of great places to visit in Arkansas, this time focusing on the Lower Delta and Arkansas River Valley regions. Take some time from the hustle and bustle this season to check out these great spots. Everyone has been through a lot since spring 2020, and while we are loathe to give COVID credit for anything positive, it has helped many families reconnect with the outdoors, and that’s a good thing. Arkansas’s wild spaces are a treasure not found in other states, so abundant we often forget how blessed we are to have them. As the end of the year draws nigh, consider making a donation to the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, The Nature Conservancy or your favorite conservation group working to keep our woods and waters clean and accessible to all. It’s a gift you can give to generations to come. From all of us at Arkansas Wild, may you and yours enjoy a safe and joyful holiday season.
Dwain Hebda Editor, Arkansas Wild
8 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
THAT KEEPS 2021 OUTDOOR HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE ON GIVING
GOT A HUNTER, ANGLER OR HIKER ON YOUR LIST? CAMPING GEAR LOOKING A LITTLE RATTY? STUMPED FOR A STOCKING STUFFER? ARKANSAS WILD HAS YOU COVERED!
When you buy a hunting and fishing license, you are giving
Licenses and Permits
the gift of the great outdoors. Hunting and fishing licenses fund conservation, so that Bo Archer
wildlife and wild places are available for everyone to enjoy.
7 10 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
BUY A GIFT CERTIFICATE FOR A HUNTING OR FISHING LICENSE AT AGFC.COM
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF VENDORS
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1. FUN ON THE FLY
6. FIND YOUR SPOT
2. GET ‘EM OUTSIDE
7. PACK ATTACK
3. TREETOP THRILLS
8. TIME TO GET AWAY
Always wanted to fly-fish, but you don’t know where to start? Treat yourself or someone you love to an unforgettable trip with the expert guides at Woodard Fly Fishing. Book an outing on the White, North Fork, Kings or Little Red rivers and get ready to get hooked. (870) 260-1976, woodardflyfishing.com.
Give everyone in your camp an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Combination Sportsman’s License! For less than the price of most video games, you can open the Arkansas outdoors to your children or grandchildren. Plus, you’ll be keeping our wild areas clean and beautiful. (800) 364-4263, agfc.com
You might be cool, but are you loco? Find out with a day of thrilling treetop adventures at Loco Ropes! at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View. With ropes courses, climbing walls and zipline adventures, it’s an experience the whole family will love. (888) 669-6717, locoropes.com
4. LUG YOUR LOGS
Time was when you carried sticks with your bare hands but what are we, animals? Class things up a little with this twill log carrier by Filson. It’s tough enough to handle more than 1,400 pounds of firewood and look good doing it. filson.com
5. SURE SHOT
For ease of use and dependability, it’s hard to beat a solid revolver, and one model that stands out is the Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum. Use it with .38 Special ammo for lower-cost target practice or bring the heavy artillery for field use or home defense that will leave a mark. ruger.com
Wondering where your next adventure awaits? Check out Arkansas’s many campgrounds with a throwback map created by photographer-turnedentrepreneur Jacob Slaton. It’s a cool must-have, even if just for the exercise of folding an old-school roadmap. Visit camparkansas.co to find a retailer. Looking for a quality backpack as tough as the back country? Check out Mystery Ranch’s Sphinx 60. A long center-front zipper gets you to your gear in a flash and the harness is fully adjustable for a comfortable fit. Available at Ozark Outdoor Supply, Little Rock; (501) 664-4832, ozarkoutdoor.com
Treat the family to a relaxing weekend at Bear Creek Log Cabins in St. Joe. Fully equipped cabins, a guestsonly lake and pet-friendly atmosphere means you can do as much or as little as you like. Reconnect in one of the most stunning regions of the state. (870) 448-5926, buffaloriverlogcabins.net
9. CHASE THE CHILL
From the Ouachitas to the Ozarks, campers know one thing — it can get damn cold in Arkansas. Proudly made in the USA, Pendleton blankets feature wool and wool-cotton blends that are just the ticket in the tent or on the deck. pendleton-usa.com
10. HUNT IN STYLE
Experience one of the Grand Prairie’s grand old hunting lodges, The Elms Plantation. Located in the heart of Arkansas duck country, The Elms offers fishing, duck hunting and a variety of accommodations, overseen by The Duck Diva herself, Kim V. Freeman. (501) 690-0164, TheElmsLodge.com ARKANSASWILD.COM | 11
13 15 16
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11. GO ALL OUT
We’re betting someone on your list could use a new fishing boat. Thought so. Blow their minds this year with a new War Eagle 2170 Blackhawk that provides all the amenities to make an angler’s heart skip a beat. A smooth ride and easy cornering make this a holiday gift to remember. Visit wareagleboats.com to find a dealer near you.
12. PK = PRETTY KOOL
Arkansas grill masters all know the PK Grill as the last grill you’ll ever buy. Now, take that legendary quality with you anywhere with the PKGo grill and smoker. Whether camping or tailgating, you’ll be the center of attention, even in the middle of nowhere. pkgrills.com
13. GIFTS FOR EVERY TASTE
For that hard-to-shop-for person, check out Rhea Drug. The longtime independent drugstore features great gift ideas for the home, lodge or lake house. These duckthemed goodies are just the ticket after a morning in the blind. Drop by soon in Hillcrest location in Little Rock. (501) 663-4131, rheadrugstore.com.
14. GIVE GASTON’S
They’ll love the gift of adventure and relaxation on a weekend excursion to Gaston’s White River Resort in Lakeview. From riverside accommodations to an award-winning restaurant to the outstanding fishing guide staff, everything at Gaston’s is first class, all the way. (870) 431-5202, gastons.com
15. SHOOT LIKE A GIRL
A woman’s place is out in the woods, so go get your quarry with the Savage 111 Lady Hunter. Custom-tailored to a woman’s contours, it offers a shortened length of pull and slender grip and fore-end. Go show the bucks who’s boss. savagearms.com
16. GET OFF THE GRID AND GO OFF ROAD
HIS PLACE RESORT + CRANOR’S GUIDE SERVICE = THE BEST WHITE RIVER EXPERIENCE!
Plan your next off-roading adventure any time night or day! Book your RV site, tent camping spot or cabin online. You can also buy a trail pass, grab a membership, or reserve a guided side-by-side tour. Open 7 days a week, year round. Gifts for your off-roader as well as gift certificates are available in our store. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (501) 625-3600, HotSpringsOffRoadPark.com
17. CONQUER THE TRAIL
The Specialized Rockhopper Expert features a Premium A1 Aluminum frame and modern geometry. Pair that with a parts list that just doesn’t quit and you have a tubeless-ready, SRAM Eagle 1x12-equipped Rockhopper that’s absolutely prepared to fly. Arkansas Cycling & Fitness in Little Rock, (501)221-BIKE (2453) and Sherwood, (501)834-5787, arkansascycling.com.
18. SLEEP ON AIR
Here’s a new twist in camp lodging. The Tentsile Flite Plus combines the midair comfort of a hammock with the rain-defying enclosure of a tent. The Tentsile sleeps two, weighs just 7 pounds and gives you that treehouse feeling anywhere your adventures take you. tentsile.com
We have what YOU need to take Trout Addiction to the Next Level. LODGING • GUIDES • BOATS • CANOES • KAYAKS
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GIVE THE GIFT OF ADVENTURE THIS SEASON! An experience they will never forget
19. GO OLD-SCHOOL Lord, don’t it feel good to know some things never change? The Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle looks and feels just like you remember and performs as well, too, keeping beverages or soup hot or cold for hours and hours. Tote this steel baby and show the youngsters what’s cool. stanley1913.com
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Ad paid for using a combination of private and state matching funds. ARKANSASWILD.COM | 13
WILD THINGS, YOU MAKE EVERYTHING
WILD THINGS TAXIDERMY MAKES HUNTING MEMORIES. BY APRILLE HANSON SPIVEY PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRIAN CHILSON
Mounts decorate White Hall’s Wild Things Taxidermy. 14 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
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ARKANSASWILD.COM | 15
A prize pintail mount awaits its owner.
harles Brenke’s passion is all about preserving a memory. As co-owner of Wild Things Taxidermy in White Hall, Brenke and his business partner, Steven Robinson, help hunters capture a moment in time with shoulder- and life-size mounts of notable quarry. “It’s all in a memory,” Brenke said. “If you have a memorable hunt, a kid’s first duck or your biggest deer, every harvest of an animal has a story. By mounting that deer, that duck or that turkey, you’ve got a conversation piece for a lifetime.” Brenke, who has hunted since he was about 4 years old, dabbled in taxidermy ahead of opening his business in 2014. Robinson handles the bird mounts and Brenke takes on the rest, with a variety that touches multiple corners of the animal kingdom. “Our main (mounts) are deer and ducks,” Brenke said. “We do turkeys and squirrels, bobcats, fox. I’ve done grizzly bears. We’ve got a bison this year to do. I’ve done hogs, I’ve done a bunch of your exotics out in Texas … I’ve laid my hands on a lot of creatures.” Brenke has a background in nursing and works full time in quality assurance for the state prison system. In addition to that, he dedicates 25-30 hours a week to taxidermy. He averages about 150-200 customers annually. Talking to the customers is what the 40-year-old said he enjoys most. “Getting to see kids with their first deer, just getting to hear all the stories about the deer that they’re bringing in or the duck or the turkey, that’s what I like most,” he said. The shop’s busiest time of year is Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, coinciding with hunting season. It’s a hectic schedule, but making sure the customers’ questions are answered is always the priority. Brenke said a common trait among most taxidermists is their willingness to listen and educate. “When you got a hundred or something (mounts) you’re looking at, you can’t turn all of them out quickly,” he explained. “What I always tell everybody is if you bring in an animal on Nov. 12, you’ll have it before Nov.12 the next year. Usually it’s a lot quicker than that, but on average, the industry standard is about a one-year turnaround.” The process of assuring a successful mount starts with the hunter’s actions right after the kill shot. Brenke
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said field care is a top priority, meaning everything from not letting a hunting dog chew too much on a bird to transporting the animal properly. “Make sure that you’re taking care of your specimen in the field,” Brenke said. “Just for example, if you’ve got a deer and you’re gonna mount it, you don’t want to take and tie a rope to it and drag it three quarters of a mile back to camp on the shoulder, because you’re gonna damage all the hide on that side.” It’s also best to wait to pop open a cold one. “Don’t celebrate and drink ’til after you’ve skinned your animal,” he said. “I tell people that all the time; they’ll say, ‘Yeah, we had a few too many beers celebrating, can you fix this?’” In even the short time he’s worked in taxidermy, Brenke said the preservation process has evolved. “The techniques we have, people are steadily modifying and improving them just like in any industry … they’ve come a long way,” Brenke said. “Within the last decade, they’ve started infusing some of our hide pastes with insecticides. They’ve started putting some insecticides and dry preservatives, just small things that help preserve the mounts over the life of them.” But what has never changed is the personal connection, the stories that are encapsulated in each animal. His favorite personal mount, one he finished this summer, was of a Rio Grande wild turkey he got last year. “It’s just a beautiful bird, it was the first Rio I ever killed. I killed it in Oklahoma,” he said. Brenke said it’s best to reach out to the taxidermist in advance with any questions or concerns. If a hunter has never had a mount made, he said pricing can fit most budgets. “I’ve mounted stuff for everyone from orthopedic surgeons to general laborers that work for a company who are 20 years old and making $12 an hour,” he said. “It’s all in what they budget for. Most taxidermists require a deposit, so you’re gonna pay a little bit down. And I have guys that want to come by and say, ‘Hey, can I bring you $100 here and a $100 there, that way it’s not so big at the end?’ Most people will work with you like that.” Hunters interested in a mount can visit Wild Things Taxidermy on Facebook. Inquires can be sent via Facebook messenger or by calling or texting Charles Brenke, 870692-5571, or Steven Robinson at 870-489-4846.
“You’ve got a conversation piece for a lifetime.” Owner Charles Brenke, above, has handled specimens from native whitetail (left) to exotics (right).
ARKANSASWILD.COM | 17
LONG GRIPPED BY DRUGS AND DECAY, PINE BLUFF IS MAKING A COMEBACK.
ARKANSAS DEPT OF PARKS HERITAGE AND TOURISM
See the Delta from a new angle via the Bayou Bartholomew Water Trail.
here was a time not long ago when it was difficult to write something positive about Pine Bluff. Once the center of culture and commerce, the city had become more known for crime and population loss than for its history or the surrounding natural amenities. Happily, those days are changing, and today Pine Bluff is a city on the comeback trail with hopeful signs of renewal that are allowing its attractions — both natural and manmade — to shine once more. If you love the water, Pine Bluff is your kind of place. Drop a line in the Arkansas River to catch bass, crappie, catfish and bream. The bass fishing is so good, in fact, the city bills itself Bass Capital of the World and attracts major fishing
18 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
tournaments, including Bassmaster and Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza. Kayakers will want to check out Bayou Bartholomew, a meandering wonder stretching 364 miles in the Arkansas Delta, offering cypress and tupelo swamps and a vast array of fish, bird and animal species. Launch into this designated Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Water Trail, the longest bayou in the world, at the Dr. Curtis Merrill Access. The city also boasts not one, but two lakes — Lake Saracen and Lake Langhofer — offering fishing, boating and general scenic beauty. And, the Gov. Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center provides families an educational and entertaining look at the region’s ecosystems and habitat.
LIVE RACING BEGINS DECEMBER 3!
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ARKANSAS’ ONLY CASINO RESORT The swamps around Bald Knob beg to be explored. No racing Christmas weekend or on Easter.
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R A C I N G • C A S I N O • H O T E L • S PA • E V E N T C E N T E R • D I N I N G L I V E R A C I N G D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 1 - M AY 2 0 2 2 • O A K L AW N .C O M
Gov. Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center is perfect for families. Mallards take flight near Stuttgart, epicenter for Arkansas duck hunting.
20 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
There’s no place like the Lower Delta in Arkansas and no time like fall to experience it. The following barely scratches the surface on everything to see and do in this beautiful and complex region. WINGS OVER THE PRAIRIE, Stuttgart The quack is back! One of Arkansas’s largest and most unique festivals makes its triumphant return Nov. 24-27, offering carnival rides, food and not one, but two championship events. First, the world’s best duck callers convene for the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest, and second, the World Championship Duck Gumbo Cook-Off brings out serious cooks and plenty of revelry. J’EET YET? Jones Bar-B-Que in Marianna is the state’s first James Beard Award-winning restaurant, a member of the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame and, per the Southern Foodways Alliance, is the oldest continuously operated, African American restaurant in the South. Recently damaged by fire, Jones is back up and running — but you still have to get there early to get a taste. ARKANSAS POST NATIONAL MEMORIAL, Arkansas County If you want to see where Arkansas began, visit Arkansas Post National Monument. The first European settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley region, Arkansas Post was established in 1686 and saw military action during the Revolutionary and Civil wars. From that humble ground rose the state we know and love. BLUES AND BOOZE, Helena-West Helena If you’re headed to Helena-West Helena, you’re headed to a landmark for the Delta Blues. Tune in to King Biscuit Time, the longest-running daily radio show in the U.S., promptly at 12:15 p.m. to hear the sounds and stories that immortalized this part of the country. Circle October 2022 for the return of the King Biscuit Blues Festival, after two years on COVID hiatus. And any time of year, snag a bottle of Delta Dirt vodka, made from locally grown sweet potatoes, at the downtown distillery. DELTA HERITAGE TRAIL, Desha County Take in the area’s natural beauty on the southern wing of the Delta Heritage Trail. This rails-to-trails conversion project will eventually run for nearly 90 miles north and south through the countryside, crossing the Arkansas and White rivers. The southernmost completed section offers nearly 25 miles of hiking and biking from Arkansas City to Watson, both in Desha County.
ARKANSAS DEPT OF PARKS HERITAGE AND TOURISM
Almost wherever you look downtown, you see signs of progress and community investment. A new aquatics center, new city library and a major streetscape project have positioned the long-decrepit downtown for bigger and better things to come. Visitors will want to check out attractions that demonstrate Pine Bluff’s collision of music, politics and history that has been its foundation. Visit the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission offices downtown, where you’ll find a number of exhibits tracing the area’s Black history from slavery through the blues to today. You can check out some of the exhibits virtually, at explorepinebluff.com. A trip to the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame reveals a vast collection of locals who became luminaries in film, music and theater. And no trip to Pine Bluff these days is complete without a visit to Saracen Casino Resort, which has contributed in no small way to the city’s continuing rebound. Even if you’re not a gambler, Saracen is worth a visit for the atmosphere alone. While there, grab a bite, enjoy a beverage from the on-site brewery or go all-out with a memorable (and wallet-lightening) evening at Red Oak Steakhouse, just off the casino floor. Granted, Pine Bluff is not yet all the way back. But spend some time in this proud Jefferson County city and you’ll feel the momentum moving in the right direction.
Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism
be you. be well. It takes strong lungs to call in the ducks.
Get the help you need quitting tobacco and nicotine, referrals to resources for managing diabetes, and educational information about high blood pressure. Learn more at BeWellArkansas.org.
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ALL ROADS LEAD TO RUSSELLVILLE POPE COUNTY COMMUNITY OFFERS ALL MANNER OF RECREATION.
ARKANSAS DEPT OF PARKS HERITAGE AND TOURISM
Lake Dardanelle shimmers at sundown.
ituated squarely in the heart of the Arkansas River Valley region, Russellville is a growing, vibrant community with a history of hospitality. Well before the community was incorporated in 1870, one of the earliest structures of the future town was a general store, serving westward travelers on the east-west trails between Little Rock and Fort Smith and nearby buffalo trails for fording the Arkansas River. The city’s history also follows the line of transportation advancements in Arkansas, enjoying sound jumps in growth with the completion of the railroad in 1870, the interstate highway in the 1960s and 1970s, and a lock and power dam on the river at nearby Dardanelle in 1965.
22 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
THINK TROUT... Think Stetson’s!
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WINTER DISCOUNTS! Call us for details.
Located on the White River • Flippin, Arkansas
Ad paid for using a combination of private and state matching funds.
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24 | Arkansas Wild | NOVEMBER 2021
ARKANSAS DEPT OF PARKS HERITAGE AND TOURISM
For the outdoor enthusiast, Russellville provides plenty of diversions, most notably Lake Dardanelle State Park, located on two areas of the 34,300-acre Lake Dardanelle reservoir. The main site in Russellville contains a fishing pier, boardwalk, trails and a visitor center hosting five aquariums. Lake Dardanelle also offers nearly 60 campgrounds in the Russellville area and 18 in the Dardanelle area, open all year. Boat ramps within the state park are also open all year and offered free of charge. Sport fishing is serious business on Lake Dardanelle, with several local, regional and even national-caliber fishing events held here each year. The weekend angler can easily catch a limit of crappie, bream and catfish here, but it’s the largemouth bass that attract anglers from all over the country. Balance your time on the water with a trip to some of Arkansas’s most famous mountains. The Tri-Peaks of Petit Jean Mountain, Mt. Nebo and Mt. Magazine are some of the most popular natural spots in the state, offering extensive hiking and biking trails and The Natural State’s most breathtaking views. Two of these areas — Petit Jean State Park and Mt. Nebo State Park — are each less than 20 miles from Russellville, making for an easy day trip. Back in town, hikers will want to check out the city’s multiple hiking trails carving through wetlands and wooded terrain. The Bona Dea Trails offer a glimpse of local landscapes, birds and wildlife with interconnecting loops that run from 0.5 to 6 miles in length. Mountain bikers should check out the local courses Ouita Coal Company Mountain Bike Trail, Old Post Park and nearby Moccasin Gap. In the future, entertainment of a different sort will be for the asking as Russellville will welcome its first casino resort. After months of legal wrangling over which company was actually awarded the project, a dispute that went all the way to an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling in October, Cherokee Nation Businesses of Oklahoma appears to be in the driver’s seat moving forward. Once final approvals are met, construction is expected to take 18-24 months.
Russellville and the surrounding Arkansas River Valley boast a little bit of everything from soaring Mt. Nebo (top) to tournament-quality fishing (center) to world class wines at Wiederkehr Village near Altus.
ell s t s u j t ’ We don or gear, outdo e it. we us The landmark Turner Bend Store awaits along the Pig Trail.
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER
The Arkansas River Valley yields multiple attractions to suit any taste. Here are a few to whet your appetite for this beautiful slice of Arkansas. ARKANSAS WINE COUNTRY, Altus Perched atop a mountain in Franklin County, Arkansas’s heritage wine country is a sight to behold. Vineyards stretch across the horizon in the fields surrounding tiny Altus, a settlement of Swiss-Germans who brought the art of the grape with them from their native homelands. Post Familie, Chateau Aux Arc, Mt. Bethel and Wiederkehr all operate up here, offering a pleasant afternoon’s sipping in the various tasting rooms. SUBIACO ABBEY, Subiaco When was the last time you strolled an actual Benedictine Abbey — in ARKANSAS? At Subiaco, you can chat with the friendly monks whose order has made its home in Logan County since 1878. The present-day abbey traces its roots to around 1900 and offers guests a fascinating look at monastic life, to say nothing of Arkansas history. And as any self-respecting abbey would, Subiaco also offers its own brewery, Country Monks, right on the premises. HISTORIC EATS, Russellville For a taste of Arkansas heritage, there are three Russellville establishments that should be on every pilgrim’s list. Visit Old South, an art deco diner built in the 1940s that, rumor has it, served none other than Elvis Presley on occasion. Feltner’s Whatta-Burger, not to be confused with the Texas chain, is a familyrun diner that’s been second home to generations of Arkansas Tech University students. And, CJ’s Butcher Boy Burgers serves up huge burgers, hand-cut fries and a side of 1950s nostalgia. WOOLVERTON MOUNTAIN, Conway County Most everyone has heard of Petit Jean Mountain and Mt. Magazine, but longtime country music fans will also remember Woolverton Mountain, immortalized in song as “Wolverton Mountain” by Claude King in 1962. The mountain, located 5 miles north of Center Ridge, was the real-life home to farmer Clifton Clowers of Center Ridge, who became a local celebrity with the song’s popularity. PIG TRAIL/TURNER BEND OUTFITTERS For 20 of the wildest miles in Arkansas, try the famed Pig Trail, perennially rated one of the best motorcycling routes in the nation. Exit Interstate 40 at Arkansas Highway 23 north, just past Ozark and hold on through a dizzying sequence of hairpin turns, tight switchbacks and indescribable scenic beauty. About a third of the way in, find the famous Turner Bend Store, an outfitter and general store that’s a great place to stretch your legs and settle your nerves on the famed route.
5514 Kavanaugh • In the Heights 501-664-4832 Shop our holiday gift guide at OzarkOutdoor.com Open Sundays noon to 5 pm during the holiday season.
HUNTING FOR THE PERFECT GIFT?
Rhea Drug Store PHARMACY • UNIQUE GIFTS ONE-STOP SHOP
SERVING LITTLE ROCK SINCE 1922 2801 KAVANAUGH | LITTLE ROCK | 501.663.4131
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THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING When you buy a hunting and
Licenses and Permits
fishing license, you are giving the gift of the great outdoors. Hunting and fishing licenses fund conservation, so that wildlife and wild places are available for everyone to enjoy.
Bo Archer CID: #000-000-001 HE Verified DOB: 05/24/1972
BUY A GIFT CERTIFICATE FOR A HUNTING OR FISHING LICENSE AT AGFC.COM
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Back 40 Trails
Bella Vista, AR
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Nothing of value in life comes easy; that’s especially true when it comes to our precious outdoors. It takes concerted effort and the selfless contribution of time and treasure from countless groups and individuals working behind the scenes to preserve and protect our woods, waters and mountains. Champions of the Wild salutes those individuals who have gone above and beyond to keep Arkansas’s wild places clean and accessible, develop the next generation of sporting Arkansans and conservationists, and improve the quality of life for us all. Congratulations to this year’s class.
BY DWAIN HEBDA PHOTOGRAPHY BY NOVO STUDIO
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“The best part of being outdoors is just getting together with others.”—Blake Pond, founder of Arkansas Outdoors Society.
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As a lifelong outdoorsman, Blake Pond has a firm appreciation for the quality of Arkansas’s wild spaces and the hunting, fishing and nonconsumptive sports that go with them. As founder of the Arkansas Outdoors Society, a group sponsored through the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, Pond seeks to engage his fellow 30-somethings — as well as young adults coming up after him — in these same natural adventures. “Here’s the thing for me: I think once you’re experienced in the outdoors, there is a common bond shared by hunters and anglers that I think transcends age, gender, race, ethnicity,” Pond said. “The best part of being outdoors is just getting together with others and talking about what you saw and did. Everybody’s got a story to tell.” Pond’s story came into focus during the 16 years he lived in Texas. There, he learned of a young adult group called Stewards of the Wild, sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, which was formed with the purpose of getting individuals who were new to outdoor activities into the open air. Upon returning to Arkansas, Pond saw potential for a similar group in The Natural State. “They were a group of young adults who were trying to get their peers involved in hunting and fishing; it was a great organization,” Pond said. “When we moved to Little Rock, I ran into (AGFF President) Deke Whitbeck, probably in early 2018. I brought that idea up to him.” Whitbeck loved the idea and the duo gathered together similarly minded individuals to sketch out AOS and comprise the first board of directors. By 2019, the member-driven organization was born, targeting 21- to 45-year-olds. “Our mission statement is to support the Game and Fish Foundation by initiating and maintaining interest
in hunting, fishing and the outdoors; raising awareness to wildlife conservation issues; respecting the future of the outdoors in Arkansas; and creating sustaining supporters of the preservation of our hunting, fishing and wildlife heritage,” Pond said. “We want to carry the torch for the generations before us to the generations after us so that all these things that we love, that we enjoy, are still there in the future.” The group accomplishes its mission through various outdoor events that help the uninitiated learn the finer points of a variety of consumptive and nonconsumptive activities. “Some of the events that we have hosted so far are dove hunts where we’ll bring someone who’s never been dove hunting before and pair them with someone to show them what to do,” Pond said. “We’ve done mentored deer hunts taking people who’ve never killed a deer before. During COVID, we hosted a virtual fishing tournament.” Despite an easing of events due to the pandemic, AOS has quickly grown its membership and now includes chapters in both Central and Northwest Arkansas. Pond said more activities are on the way that will allow more people to engage in the outdoors in new ways. “Being a part of that is so much fun,” he said. “When you take someone on their first hunt, whether it’s getting their first gobbler, a trout on the fly or their first mallard drake or their first buck, I mean, there is nothing like seeing that excitement. It’s an experience they will never forget. “By ushering them through that process, the hope is that they will take that with them and they’ll want to replicate that as many times as possible. And, hopefully, there will be a ripple effect where they’ll share that with more and more people and it just continues to snowball from there.”
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HUSTON REAGAN There aren’t a lot of people who can trace their environmental activism back to high school, but Huston Reagan is one of them. A longtime advocate of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commision’s Stream Team program, he’s been both participant and a seeder of new programs wherever he has gone. It started while attending North Pulaski High School, where he collaborated with his peers to clean up a nearby section of Bayou Meto, a stream that ran near the school that was little more than a horribly polluted dumping site. Amazingly, Reagan and his mates got the stream to management stage, then successfully petitioned the Jacksonville City Council for funds to build two launch ramps for kayaks and canoes. “All the way through high school and a little bit in college, I worked with that Stream Team project,” he said. “We created a relationship with the Arkansas Canoe Club to increase exposure of the program and it became a full-blown community thing. We would have, at times, 40 to 60 kids and parents out there working on the stream, pulling out washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, everything you can imagine.” During college, Reagan participated as a tutor and mentor in Upward Bound, where he proposed Stream Team activities as part of the curriculum, which was approved. “It was a great opportunity,” he said. “I loved the mission; it’s a program designed to work with underprivileged at-risk youth to prepare them to take the next steps after high school to go into college.” Reagan entered college intending to be an English literature teacher, but didn’t like what he saw out of the education industry. Instead, he took a position with ASU Beebe as an academic adviser and outreach specialist. “That wasn’t like a regular classroom. I was tasked with helping students with their core curriculum and
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exposing them to potential career options,” he said. “That’s where the Stream Team thing came into play again, along with a whole lot of technology and stuff like that. My job was to give students a sampler to match their interests and aptitude, and one of those areas was in conservation work.” COVID derailed a lot of the plans he had for that group, but even as he’s recently transitioned into a corporate job in Conway, he’s stayed in touch with ASU Beebe administrators and plans to volunteer with the Stream Team chapter he founded when campus restrictions are eased. He’s also sniffing around to get a similar group off the ground in Conway. “I’ve contacted the Conway Parks and Rec Department about creating a Stream Team initiative here,” he said. “I’m collaborating with Conway High School’s EAST program to maybe get something started. There’s a several-mile stretch of Tucker Creek that runs through several parks here in Conway, and that’s something that my wife and I both considered getting involved with as we’ve started getting more into kayaking.” Asked what continues to drive his passion for improving the outdoors, Reagan said it’s a way of paying back the joy the woods and streams brought him throughout an impoverished childhood. “I grew up in an incredibly low-income, singleparent household,” he said. “My typical day after I got home from school was grab a snack and go out into the woods. That was the routine. I would make a point to find turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, you name it. I also became an avid fisherman. “It was the best entertainment I could have as a kid to be outdoors, and that’s something that’s disappearing with today’s generation. They’re missing being outside and having that engagement, and it’s something that’s really priceless.”
“It was the best entertainment I could have as a kid to be outdoors.”—-Huston Reagan, conservation activist
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“The balance is always, how [to] manage these important fisheries.”—Christy Graham, AGFC Trout Program Coordinator
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CHRISTY GRAHAM Growing up in Kansas, a state not generally thought of for trout fishing, Christy Graham was an unlikely candidate to become Arkansas’s First Lady of flies. But her love for being on the water and angling was there from the start. “I grew up by a small lake and went fishing with my mom and grandparents a lot when I was a kid,” she said. “So, I started out loving the outdoors.” Graham graduated from Kansas State University in her hometown of Manhattan. She then earned a master’s degree in biology at Tennessee Tech University. She landed in Arkansas as an assistant trout biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in 2009 and made her way steadily upstream to become Trout Program Coordinator in 2014. Improving and maintaining trout fishing in Arkansas is a multispoked effort, all connecting in the center with AGFC and Graham. During her tenure, coordination of and communication with various stakeholders has improved, and with that has come healthier fish, better streams and a burnished reputation among anglers. “The trout program has always been, since it was created in 1985, a really important part of Game and Fish, and lots of good steps have been taken to establish baseline information we need about the fisheries,” she said. “One of the biggest challenges for us is the diversity of the trout fisheries in the state, meaning we deal with a lot of different types of stakeholders. You get the folks that are 100 percent catch-and-release, whereas then you get to work with people who are more harvest-oriented. For us, the balance is always, how do you manage these important fisheries for multiple user groups? “Since I’ve been with the Commission, our program has become a lot better at communicating with the public and balancing those interests, and having a
supportive administration in Little Rock has been really key to that as well.” Graham has also proven adept at tending to and growing various partnerships that contribute to the efficacy and sustainability of trout fishing in Arkansas. Entities such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwestern Power Administration are critical to fish survival, as strategic release from these entities’ dams maintains optimal water temperature and quality. “Those agencies have started focusing more on the recreational aspect of the fishery,” Graham said. “They’re typically functioning as hydropower facilities or flood control reservoirs, but they recognize the importance of the trout fisheries recreationally as well. Continuing to work with these partners is really important to make sure that we’re continuing to meet the standards required of the trout fisheries. The actions that they take are equally important to the fisheries as what we do as biologists.” Graham’s goal one year to the next is the same — provide the best trout fishing of which the state is capable — but the challenges in accomplishing this task will vary each year. One looming issue on the horizon is the age and capacity of AGFC’s fish hatcheries, namely the Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish Hatchery, which is being renovated and paid for as a direct result of the quality of fishing that’s increased both angler interest and permit revenue on Graham’s watch. “Stocking facilities are really important to our program keeping up with the demand for trout and to meet our management objectives for all the fisheries,” she said. “I can’t do any one thing by myself, but the thing I have strived for in all aspects of what we do is improving the relationships we have with other agencies and stakeholder groups. I think we’re at a good place for that.”
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Brian Nalley doesn’t know where his boundless drive for conservation comes from. He just knows it’s been there, bubbling up from within, more vocation than hobby. “I believe we were put here in stewardship of our planet,” he said. “I was raised in church. They didn’t preach every Sunday on conservation of wildlife, but the Bible says the mountains and the hills declare My name. I think about that a lot.” Nalley grew up on a farm where connection to the land runs especially deep. When he wasn’t tending crops or farm animals, he was in the woods with his father and uncle. He also was big into scouting, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, which only deepened his attention to matters of land, water and creatures, as well as outdoor activities. “I’ve got really good memories of us squirrel hunting when I was just a little ol’ kid,” he said. “I got my first shotgun when I was in the fourth grade. I’ve just grown up outdoors doing that sort of thing.” As an adult, Nalley took his passion for the outdoors into overdrive, founding two projects that speak to the simple joy and grave responsibility of serving creation. In 1997, he bought the first of several plots of Saline County land that would become Buckhorn Ranch LLC. Now covering 261 acres, Buckhorn exists as a privately funded and managed land and aquatic wildlife sanctuary with about 1 mile of Alum Fork Saline River frontage. Over the years, Nalley has implemented various wildlife habitat improvement projects for quail and completed a streambank riparian restoration improvement project for erosion control and fishery improvements, in partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “Just kind of built it a little step at a time,” he said.
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“Wildlife biology and conservation are not a oneseason thing. I’ve been doing this for 20 years or more on this property. You’ve got to do a few little things at a time and they’ll start adding up.” Two years ago, he spearheaded the creation of the Saline River Watershed Alliance, a group dedicated to protecting the watershed’s varied habitats. The organization promotes responsible land development in relation to the environment as well as educates landowners through workshops and publications on ways to improve their properties for wildlife habitat, erosion control and recreational natural scenic beauty. “You don’t have to have a lot of money to do all this,” he said. “You just have to have the initiative to do this. And you need to have some perseverance. Things don’t happen overnight. Contact the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to get with a private land biologist and let them come out and do an evaluation and give you some recommendations or connect you to other resources.” Nalley doesn’t like the spotlight, but the work he’s done over the past two decades continues to earn acclaim. Most recently, the Buckhorn Ranch Alum Fork Saline River was selected one of 10 Waters to Watch nationally by the National Fish Habitat Partnership. He’s pleased if this inspires others to follow his lead, but as for the accolades themselves, he just shrugs. It’s enough to know his forefathers and his Lord would approve of what he’s doing. “You’re supposed to leave things better than you found them and that’s kind of my principle in life,” Nalley said. “I tell my wife, I’m the most insane person. I spend my time planting food plots and fixing this, that and the other, and I don’t really know why. I just get an internal satisfaction from knowing that I’m promoting and serving wildlife.”
“You’re supposed to leave things better than you found them.”—-Brian Nalley, Saline River Watershed founder
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CAPTURED BY NATURE OUR FAVORITE PHOTOS—SUBMITTED BY YOU. Tag Arkansas Wild in your outdoor adventure photos. Seasons Change by Carla Parra-Weimer
er Springs Sugarloaf in Heb e by Trish Lang
Deerly Beloved by Marilyn Bray Downing
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