Local philanthropist Johnelle Hunt helped kick off a $15 million capital campaign for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) with a $5 million contribution toward construction of a new nature center in Springdale.

Hunt, co-founder of J.B. Hunt Transport Services and long-time resident in Northwest Arkansas, made the presentation Friday (Nov. 20) in Springdale in the form a challenge grant for what will become the J.B. Hunt Family Northwest Arkansas Nature Center. The center is expected to be similar in design to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission’s nature center in Fort Smith and it will be fifth nature center in the state.

AGFC Director Mike Knoedl said outdoor hunting and fishing brings more than $2 billion in revenue to the state each year and he lauded Hunt and her family for their generosity in making a Northwest Arkansas nature center a reality.

The proposed center will be located on a 60-acre tract of land south of Spring Creek, east of Interstate 49 and 40th Street. The city has to extend its recently opened trail from Lake Springdale to the Springdale Mountain Bike Park westward to the new nature center and beyond I-49 in the future. Center plans also call for conference rooms suitable for educating children and adults. Trails and a watchable wildlife area as well as outdoor classrooms will be part of the new center. The site will also provide office space for the Commission’s regional staff.

Chuck Dicus, president of the Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation, said his goal is to have the $5 million challenge portion of the gift raised in the next 8 to 10 months. Once construction begins, the project is estimated to take a little more than two years to complete.

A site map of the planned nature center in Springdale.

Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said the likely reason Springdale was chosen for the regional center is because the land was provided by the city and logistically it’s in the middle of the region with good access from I-49 and close to several schools in the area.

“This is a tremendous use for this piece property and a great gift for the children and families of Springdale and the region. We are thankful to the Hunt family for this legacy gift,” Sprouse said.

Sprouse said the city will build an access trail of roughly 1,200 feet that will connect to the new regional center to the Razorback Greenway. He said the city would have that access trail ready by the time the center opens.

“Having it accessible to the Greenway, it will easy for bikers and pedestrians to take advantage of this regional amenity,” Sprouse said.