Potlatch Cook's Lake Nature Center

Potlatch Cook’s Lake Nature Center (originally the Potlatch Conservation Education Center at Cook’s Lake) is located near the small community of Casscoe (Arkansas County) approximately twenty miles southeast of Stuttgart (Arkansas County). The general purpose of the facility is conservation education, focusing on the bottomland hardwood forests and upland community of forests that surround the center. This is accomplished by introducing various audiences to hands-on outdoor learning activities. The property is recognized as an important wildlife sanctuary, especially for migrating waterfowl. In 1990, the forty-nine nations of the Ramsar Convention (an international treaty for conserving and sustainably utilizing wetlands) recognized the 200-acre Cook’s Lake and its surrounding property as a “wetland of international importance,” representing the diverse natural features of the Cache/Lower White River ecosystems.

In 2001, the Cook’s Lake Unit included twelve miles of roads used for walking trails, an oxbow lake approximately two miles long and a half mile wide, a seventy-acre green tree reservoir, and a state-of-the-art education classroom with conservation learning aids representative of the surrounding area’s flora and fauna. Several improvements over the years have helped the center meet the goals of the three-way partnership of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation (AGFF), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that oversees the center’s operations. These improvements include a 140-foot aluminum floating handicap-accessible dock, five hydraulic lift stands for the annual deer hunt for mobility impaired people, a screened-in pavilion for an “open-classroom” environment, several canoes and kayaks for the water-trail, and assorted storage areas for equipment and supplies.

Lion Oil Company owned the property from 1947 to 1967. The company purchased approximately 2,000 acres bordering the White River that are, today, part of the North Unit of the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). During its twenty years of ownership, the company built a 4,800-square-foot hunting lodge using local timber. The first lodge burned down in the late 1940s, and the one that exists in the twenty-first century was built in the early 1950s. The most notable people who have stayed at the lodge are actor John Wayne and President George H. W. Bush, both of whom reportedly were on hunting trips in the area. The lodge also served as a corporate retreat for Lion Oil Company.

Lion Oil Company sold the property, along with the lodge and various outbuildings, to Mark Townsend of Townsend Lumber Company in 1967, which, in turn, sold it to Potlatch Corporation in 1971. Potlatch owned the property in its entirety until 1999, when it entered into an agreement with the USFWS, the AGFC, and the AGFF whereby the USFWS purchased 1,850 acres of bottomland hardwoods (now a part of the North Unit of the Dale Bumpers White River NWR) for $3.5 million. The seventy-two acres that included the lodge, caretaker’s residence, maintenance shop, and other buildings were donated to the AGFF, a nonprofit organization that supports the AGFC’s mission, to be used for a conservation education center.

Thousands of people visit Potlatch center each year to participate in both classroom programs and outdoor activities. In April 2014, the Lion Oil Company Duck Hunting Lodge was listed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places to commemorate the property’s unique contribution to the state’s duck-hunting history and heritage.

For additional information:
Fellone, Frank. “Banding Birds.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 27, 2022, pp. 1D, 6D. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jun/27/arkansans-can-watch-hummingbirds-get-tiny-id/ (accessed June 27, 2022).

“Lion Oil Company Duck Hunting Lodge.” Arkansas Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/_search_nomination_popup.aspx?id=123&arkreg=1 (accessed September 28, 2021).

Potlatch Cook’s Lake Nature Center. https://www.agfc.com/en/explore-outdoors/nature-centers/pclnc/ (accessed June 27, 2022).

Marlon Mowdy
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission


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