Gates-Rogers Outdoor Classroom Dedication

On October 20th, 2017 The Nature Conservancy hosted an event to dedicate the Sustainable Rivers and Forests Initiative (SRFI) funded outdoor classroom at South Fork Nature Center. The event focused on engaging the community and thanking the partners for their commitment to conservation in the Greers Ferry watershed. Gates Rogers Foundation is very grateful for the support of BHP Billiton through their generous grant to build the beautiful, 70’ outdoor classroom. The native stone pillars and northwestern red cedar beams insure the “pavilion” blends beautifully into the native environment. The building of this outdoor classroom will ensure a safe and beneficial location for our classes and organizations to meet. South Fork Nature Center will now, more than ever, be able to work towards their mission of providing enhanced, outdoor educational opportunities to our surrounding communities and schools.

Faye Rodgers & Judge Hooper

The event started at 10:00 with remarks from Scott Simon and Joy Wasson from The Nature Conservancy. Judge Roger Hooper spoke on the community’s behalf. Doug Bannerman, Manager Community, Shale and Minerals, spoke for BHP Billiton and Janet Miron, President of Gates Rogers Foundation, spoke for South Fork Nature Center. The audience consisted for many community leaders and visitors from Texas and Louisiana. Jeff Weigal, Director of Strategic Initiatives Texas TNC, was present as were representatives from the Mayor’s office and Congressman Hill’s Office. After the informal outdoor ceremony, held in the outdoor classroom, the visitors participated in a ceremonial wildflower seed planting event.

At around 11:00 our visitors were invited to participate in an organized trail walk led by South Fork Nature Center’s Docents. There were approximately 30 hikers divided into three groups. They hiked to different glades and learned about our glade and woodland restoration project. At 11:30 the hikers returned to the pavilion to a beautifully decorated table of fried chicken and all the fixin’s offered by TNC. The visitors were encouraged to visit our information table, learn about SFNC and sign-up for membership and for the SFNC newsletter. The SRFI information was also available with maps and TNC employees available to answer questions. Docents, Marc and Suzanne Hirrel, also set up a “Conservation through Technology” display focusing on water resource conservation. After lunch, the event concluded.

Doug Bannerman, BHP & Joy Wasson, TNC
Faye Rogers & Don Richardson

We at South Fork Nature Center are so excited and grateful for our new partners The Nature Conservancy and BHP Billiton. The genuine care and expertise that they bring to our partnership is truly felt and appreciated. We strive to move forward in our mission knowing that we are working as a team to increase the awareness of the need to protect our natural environments!

South Fork Educational Pavilion Progress

We’re thrilled to watch the construction progress on the new outdoor classroom pavilion at South Fork Nature Center! The project has come a long way since groundbreaking in April of this year. This exciting collaboration with The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas and BHP Billiton will be a huge asset to the learning facilities at our Greers Ferry Lake nature center, and an excellent testament to the shared commitment in conservation! For updates on project completion, and more details about the impact of our nature partnership, stay tuned to our website and our Facebook page @SouthForkNatureCenter.

Photos courtesy of The Nature Conservancy & Joy Wasson.

Pavilion Update (August 2017)

There has been a flurry of activity on the outdoor classroom/pavilion build. We have made a lot of progress this month in completing the pavilion’s foundation in addition to starting the framing of the trusses. The Pavilion’s architect, Victor A. Mirontschuk, FAIA, with EDI International, visited the build site during the first week of July. He reviewed the work done so far with our building committee and conferred with our Builder, Kelly Gross. Victor also took aerial photos with his drone and documented the builds progress.

Our outdoor classroom build is moving forward after being delayed temporarily by a delay in the shipment of the large timbers from Canada. Our wet summer and the installation of utilities, such as electricity to the remote site, have also been challenges to our builder and building committee. We are now on track to finish the framing this next week and start the rock work before the middle of the month. Please enjoy our picture gallery below and stay tuned for updates on our project!


Piles & more piles of logs

From glade clearing, forest thinning, from road and site clearing…piles of logs ten feet to thirty feet long, mostly cedar. Logs, logs, and more logs in stacks here and there, everywhere! They must be moved out of the way, making room for parking, making room for construction of the new outdoor classroom/pavilion, they all must be moved to a site for storage and later use. And what is left over must be burned or hauled off.

With Chris Graham using the grapple on the front of his red tractor picking up 3-4 logs at a time, with Bob Hartmann manning the chain saw for logs that were too long to carry and Don Culwell assisting, headway was made…logs were moved. George Baker and Bob Hartmann were another log moving team several weeks ago as they hooked a log chain to drag yet more logs too big to lift to their proper place.

Cedar logs being piled and saved will be used for projects such as building a maintenance shed, building benches for use in the new outdoor classroom/pavilion, milling boards for construction use, etc.

Thanks to all workers dealing with the South Fork timbers!

Announcement! Outdoor Pavilion Groundbreaking

We have some exciting news to share! As part of the Sustainable Rivers and Forest Initiative with BHP Billiton announced last October, a new outdoor classroom pavilion is under construction at the South Fork Nature Center for the community to use.

Builders broke ground this week and expect to complete the project by this fall. The Nature Conservancy and BHP Billiton are both committed to identifying large-scale conservation opportunities and business strategies that enhance the resilience of our natural environment and improve community livelihood. Stay tuned for details about a dedication when the pavilion is complete this fall!

Read more: “Cheers for Greers” & the BHP Initiative →

“Cheers for Greers”

That was the headline of a recent feature in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, highlighting a Nature Conservancy banquet held in honor of a new partnership with BHP Billiton. Representatives of the Nature Center & the Greers Ferry Lake area were present to commemorate the $14mil conservation grant that will help preserve water quality & habitat in critical areas of Arkansas and Texas. Stay tuned for more exciting news from the hard working Nature Conservancy team!


Press Release

$14 Million BHP Billiton Donation Protects Rivers and Forestlands in Texas and Arkansas

Joint initiative with The Nature Conservancy targets globally important conservation priorities.
Little Rock, AR | September 29, 2016

Today The Nature Conservancy and BHP Billiton announced the joint Sustainable Rivers and Forests Initiative, which has led to the protection of nearly 3,700 acres of critical riverfront property and forestland in Texas and Arkansas.

Funded by a $14 million donation from BHP Billiton, the program has helped the Conservancy renew conservation efforts near Houston, the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States, and will enable nearly a dozen restoration and water quality improvement projects to benefit drinking water, fishing habitat and rare species in Arkansas.

“BHP Billiton is excited to partner with The Nature Conservancy on this critical conservation initiative. We look beyond our operations to identify opportunities that enhance the resilience of our natural environment because we recognize that watershed protection through critical habitat conservation has a far reaching impact,” said Steve Pastor, president Petroleum Operations, BHP Billiton.

In 2013, BHP Billiton approached The Nature Conservancy about making a lasting commitment to conservation in the two states. The selected sites, the Columbia Bottomlands in Texas and Arkansas’ Greers Ferry Lake watershed, were natural choices—each area is considered a national conservation priority and the work will benefit both people and nature.

“For decades, The Nature Conservancy has recognized that the private sector has an important role to play in advancing conservation,” said Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy. “We applaud BHP Billiton’s leadership for pursuing conservation as a business strategy and for a level of investment that will make a lasting difference in both states. We have a shared commitment to improving our communities and protecting the natural systems that we all depend on.”

In Texas, the Conservancy has purchased close to 1,900 acres of forestland on the Brazos and San Bernard rivers, in a region southwest of Houston known as the Columbia Bottomlands.

Protecting and restoring the old-growth forests in this region protects water quality in the Brazos, San Bernard, and other important rivers and streams. The Columbia Bottomlands are also one of the largest and most important migratory bird stopovers in North America, supporting more than 200 species of birds.

In Arkansas, BHP Billiton’s investment has enabled the Conservancy to purchase 1,840 acres along the upper Little Red River. Located in the scenic Ozark Mountains, Arkansas’ upper Little Red River is home to more than 80 native fish and aquatic species; more than a dozen of them are rare, and some are found nowhere else on Earth. The river also supports Arkansas’ robust tourism industry and is a tributary of Greers Ferry Lake, a source of drinking water for more than 150,000 people and a recreational area for millions.

“The health of Arkansas’ rivers, lakes and streams are dependent on good water quality,” said Scott Simon, Arkansas state director for The Nature Conservancy. “BHP Billiton’s investment will play a critical role in shaping the future of Greers Ferry Lake and the rivers that feed it, not only through the initial land purchases, but through the planned water quality improvement projects in the watershed.”

The initiative will fund nearly a dozen water quality improvement projects ranging from reforestation, stream restoration and unpaved road improvement, which will ultimately serve as demonstration sites. The properties will also offer people from neighboring cities and communities, researchers, partner organizations and schools opportunities to spend time in nature and learn about conservation in these important landscapes.

“Working with The Nature Conservancy ensures that BHP Billiton’s contribution will create long-term value for the community and the environment in these areas of national conservation significance. These investments in Arkansas and Texas provide benefits that will outlast our operations for generations to come,” said Pastor.

In addition to funding important conservation work in North America, BHP Billiton has invested in Conservancy programs in Australia and Chile.

Read more from The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas: →