I first heard about the Central Arkansas Nature Center when I was taking classes to become a certified Arkansas Master Naturalist (www.home.arkansasmasternaturalist.org ). 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 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 www.centralarkansasnaturecenter.com and take an Arkansas River Trail expedition that will give you miles of smiles! Tricia