Friday, March 16, 2012

Central Arkansas Nature Center---I finally found it!

I first heard about the Central Arkansas Nature Center when I was taking classes to become a certified Arkansas Master Naturalist ( ). I read that it had the address of 602 President Clinton Avenue, which puzzled me because I had been on that street many times, yet had never seen the Nature Center. But last month during a visit to Little Rock, I was determined to find the place, and used my handy-dandy GPS unit to assure I did not get lost. The bossy little ole lady talking out of my devise told me I had arrived at 602 President Clinton Avenue, but I thought she must be wrong, as all I could see from my car was the Clinton Museum Store, and a big empty space next to it. It wasn't until I lowered my line of sight, that I could see the somewhat smaller sign at a lower level that said "Will Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center".
But I still did not see a building that looked like a nature center. All I could see from my car, was this long pedestrian bridge that seemed to be leading into the wild blue yonder! So I parked my car nearby in the free parking area underneath the Interstate exit ramp just a block down the street. Paid parking is also available at the River Market parking deck on 2nd Street.
Once I got my car parked, and actually walked the pedestrian bridge, I saw that it led to an elevator, or a stairwell, that took you down several stories to the actual street entrance of the Nature Center, where there is a lovely sculpture of an iconic wildlife specimen seen in Arkansas.
There is a very nice covered picnic area between the east and west buildings of the nature center, with clean restrooms adjacent to the patio, as well. One has a clear view of the Arkansas River as they dine in this quiet spot, away from the hustle and bustle of the traffic, on the street above.
As you enter the nature center, there are things to see from floor to ceiling in the spacious interior. There are representations of Arkansas birds suspended from the ceiling; there are examples of Arkansas fish mounted between the windows; there are dioramas representing the five aquatic habitats found in Arkansas---a mountain spring, the main channel of a large river, a cypress swamp, a delta marsh, and a bottom land hardwood forest. The dioramas include an expansive aquarium that is filled with fish found in each habitat.
Displays across the room from the aquarium feature the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's three major divisions --Law Enforcement, Wildlife Management, and Fisheries. The displays have touch-screen displays to explain about each division, and there is also an interactive state map that highlights Arkansas's natural resources, using a laser projection system.
The nature center has animal mounts throughout it that teach visitors what this mammal found in Arkansas is called.
This animal mount reminds us that Arkansas was once called "The Bear State"!
This is not a preserved animal. It is a real, live reptile, kept behind glass, to protect visitors that might get too "friendly" with it! You can phone 501-907-0636 to find out when alligator feeding times are scheduled.
The nature center has a state-of-the-art theater that regularly shows a 10-minute movie that tells the story of conservation in The Natural State.
After the show, visitors will pass through a recreated old trapper's cabin, adorned with furs and the rustic tools used by settlers.
There is a HUGE display of antique fishing lures, with each one being a work of art, designed to snap "the big 'un"!
With built-in benches located the length of the aquarium, and additional padded benches in front of the aquarium, one could "stare away their worries" by observing the fish swimming all around their make-believe habitat.
There is a watchable wildlife lounge, that offers a relaxing area to read, as well as an excellent view of the center's bird-feeding station on the other side of the glass wall, and the Arkansas River beyond.
Of course there is a nature-inspired gift shop, where you can pick up a souvenir or field guide or gifts to enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors.
I especially liked this poster that used a new spin to the familiar political cry "No Child Left Behind"; instead, this poster implores "No Child Left Inside"!! The idea for children (and adults!) to get away from their TV or computer screen, and outside to enjoy all there is to see and do in the great Arkansas outdoors! The Bible tells us that God shows us his power and majesty through his creation of the earth and heavens: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Psalm 19:1) If we do not teach our kids to get outside and look at these creations, we are being negligent of our responsibilities to the next generation!
The nature center connects to the Arkansas River Trail, which has become even more popular for bicyclists with the opening of the new pedestrian bridge at the Clinton Presidential Center.
The River Trail is a great place to take an "Urban Hike" where you can enjoy the outdoors, but not have to worry about wading through weeds, mud, or low-water creek crossings! I am thankful to be able to agree with the T-shirt logo on the right that says "I hiked it---I liked it!!" If you would like to plan your visit to this great, FREE attraction in Little Rock, just log on to and take an Arkansas River Trail expedition that will give you miles of smiles! Tricia
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Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Heifer Expedition?

If you are exploring the Little Rock riverfront area, don't miss the opportunity to learn about this building and what it represents. This is the Heifer International Center, and no, it is not a new-fangled auction barn for marketing cattle. However, the association with cattle is partially correct, when you consider that the definition of the word "heifer" means young cow, and one that has not had a calf. I remember back in the 80's, I had a friend who said she was taking leadership development classes at the Heifer Ranch. This friend actually owned livestock, so I just assumed she was referring to classes related to her farm. It wasn't until twenty years later that I learned the true scope of the "Heifer International" organization. My education began in 2002, when I had the opportunity to visit Heifer Ranch, near Perryville, Arkansas. It was there that I learned that Heifer International was an international nonprofit organization. it was started back in the early 1900's as a result of one man's public service during the Spanish Civil War. That man was American farmer, Dan West, whose work as an overseas volunteer, demonstrated to him that simply supplying refugees with a cup of reconstituted milk was not enough to sustain them. These refugees needed their own cow---that is, a heifer cow. Out of that idea, a shipload of cows, accompanied by "seagoing cowboys" left the United States, bound for Puerto Rico, during World War II. Not long after that, Heifer International sent animals, training, and personnel to war-torn Germany and Japan, to help them recover from the devastation caused by fighting in their country. Then after that, Heifer International sent animals, training, and personnel to locations behind the Iron Curtain, in a gesture of peace.
As we ended our visit to Heifer Village, strolling alongside the recently-created cypress pond, I was once again thankful for those rare individuals who not only read the words of Jesus, but actually DO them! Matthew 25:40 quotes Jesus as saying "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Heifer International is helping our brothers and sisters around the world, and if you would like to learn more about visiting/touring any of their facilities, log onto . Find out how helping others can give you "miles of smiles"!! Tricia
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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Riverfront Memories

The previous blog post talked about a visit inside the Clinton Presidential Library, but that is only a part of the 30 acres making up the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park ( ), located on the banks of the Arkansas River, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The park also is home to the completely renovated train depot, known as Choctaw Station, originally built in 1899. The building now houses the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. This is the first graduate school in the nation to offer a Master of Public Service degree.
It has been estimated that the development of the Clinton Presidential Park has been instrumental in bringing more than 2.5 billion in economic development to the area, including renovations of the nearby historic river market district. This artist seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to be creating paintings of the old railroad bridge, and selling them to one of the hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world, that visit the park each year. Considering this area used to be a neglected industrial wasteland, the benefits of the development of the park are visible wherever one looks!
Some of the landscaping between the library and the riverfront has been designed to create natural, grass-covered amphitheaters for visitors to use during the numerous family-friendly festivals held in the park throughout the year.
When one is down at the water level of the wetlands boardwalk area, there are some interesting reflections that can be captured on film or canvas.
The opening of this converted railroad bridge to pedestrians and bicyclists, completes a 17-mile loop between the Big Dam bridge, and the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock. Perhaps one of the cyclists doing training rides across the newly-opened Clinton Pedestrian Bridge will someday be a Tour De France competitor, as well! Although conversion of the former "Rock Island Bridge" was envisioned by Clinton and others from the very beginning, the actual work did not get started until May, 2010. Not surprisingly, construction costs skyrocketed this past decade, making the total cost far exceed the original 4 million dollar estimate. Here is roughly how it was funded: The Clinton Foundation provided $4 million; U.S. Department of Commerce, $2 million; Federal Stimulus money, $2.5 million; city of Little Rock, $1 million, and city of North Little Rock, $3/4 million. Therefore, since the project cost over $10 million----most of it from your tax money---I would recommend you get out there and use it!!
Being on the pedestrian bridge gives you an elevated perspective of the Clinton Library, and enables one to see some of its design features (solar panels, sunshades, "green" roof, etc.) that enabled it to receive a silver LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, for best practices in energy and environmental design. LEED stands for "leadership in energy and environmental design."
Being on top of the bridge also enables one to see the very pleasing-to-the-eye design of the board walk encircling the wetlands area.
This sculpture of a well-known Arkansas hunter/conservationist announces the section called the William Clark Presidential Wetlands area that showcases a restored wetlands habitat for the education and enjoyment of visitors. When I was there last week, a large beautiful swan was enjoying "posing" for those wanting to take its photo as it glided across the large pond.
One part of the board walk has been widened to form an outdoor "classroom" or picnic area, that would provide needed shade during the warmer months of the year.
The left side of this photo shows the outdoor patio of the "Forty-Two" Restaurant (Clinton was the 42nd U.S. President), that sits underneath the main floor of the Clinton Library. The large sidewalk on the right is a part of the 2,000 feet promenade that runs throughout the presidential park.
The mild climate of central Arkansas makes the presidential grounds a great place to walk your dog, on most days of the year. As one would expect, there are plastic bag dispensers strategically located around the park, so that owners can clean up after their pets.
March is known as "the Windy month", and this could definitely be felt when one was on top of the pedestrian bridge out in the middle over the Arkansas River on our visit there last week. There was some concern that the small dog might turn into a "flying kite" if the wind hit it just right!
The reflecting pool in front of the library appears to spill over into the Arkansas River, if you position your camera at just the proper angle!
At the front of the Library, one can jump aboard the free shuttle that runs frequently between the library and the official Museum Store, which is a couple of blocks down President Clinton Avenue (formerly Markham Avenue). There is free parking at the Clinton Library, so this is also a handy way to get down to the River Market, without having to pay downtown parking fees! Speaking of fees, there are several days each year where the admission fees to the Clinton Library are waived. These include: President's Day, 4th of July, President Clinton's birthday (August 13), and the anniversary of the library dedication (November 12).
The museum store carries a variety of Clinton memorabilia, plus crafts from around the world. There are frequent book signings held at the store, as well.
One of the most popular souvenirs of the Clinton Presidential Library is one that you make yourself---from smashing and imprinting a copper penny, with the Clinton design of your choice.
I called this blog entry "Riverfront Memories" because of all this river conjures up in my mind. The Bible verse from Psalm 46:4 says "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God...". My mom used to love to tell the story about how she would every day walk across the Broadway Bridge between Little Rock and North Little Rock, when she was pregnant with my sister, and she and my dad were living in Little Rock, so dad could work in a war-related manufacturing plant there. Reliving that time in her life always seemed to bring a smile to her face, and make her glad. A vivid memory for me is standing on the banks of the river with Fred, when he asked me to marry him. That brings a smile to my face, and makes my heart glad! Now I have a new memory of standing on the riverbank with my son, which brings a smile to my face and makes my heart glad! So get out there, and make YOUR heart glad, with miles of smiles at the Clinton Presidential Park! Tricia
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