The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has been awarded a $900,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration for exhibits at Crowley's Ridge Nature Center. The Jonesboro nature center received the grant because of its proximity to Arkansas' first National Scenic Byway, Crowley's Ridge Parkway.
The nature center will serve as a visitor and information center for travelers on the byway, as well as a place for area residents to learn more about the natural world around them. The grant will be applied to the permanent exhibits for the nature center's main building, which will include a high-definition film on the origins, history and characteristics of Crowley's Ridge, which is a unique geological formation; a 30-foot-long satellite photo of the ridge, which extends from St. Francis, Ark., near the Missouri border to Helena; three topographical models of specific places along the ridge; a diorama reflecting the impact of water on shaping the ridge, and two wildlife exhibits featuring many of the species native to northeast Arkansas.
According to the nature center's director, Jodi Morris, there also will be exhibits on duck hunting, the forces of nature such as tornadoes and ice storms, as well as a wildlife viewing area. "There will be outdoor exhibits as well as an accessible trail that loops around the nature center's pond and provides quite a view of the prairie being established in the basin of a former gravel quarry," Morris said.
Total cost of the Crowley's Ridge Nature Center is $4.3 million. It is the second of four nature centers the AGFC is building with money from the Conservation Sales Tax.
Byway grants are provided to projects nationwide, with the Crowley's Ridge facility receiving the third-highest grant award. U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said that 206 projects in 42 states received $24 million in FHWA scenic byways grants. "The funding is earmarked to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected scenic roads and highways throughout the United States," he said.
National scenic byways discretionary funds enable states to undertake eligible projects along highways designated as All-American Roads, National Scenic Byways and state-designated byways. Eligible under the program are planning projects to inventory, preserve and enhance the qualities of byways; safety improvements; construction of bike and pedestrian facilities; development of visitor information such as brochures and interpretive facilities and scenic overlooks; and resource protection such as scenic easements and byway marketing. These efforts serve as tools to boost local economies through tourism and create a sense of pride.
These projects are intended to help carry on a legacy of stewardship. Since 1992, the National Scenic Byways Program has provided $202 million for 1,488 projects in 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.