South Fork Nature Center
South Fork Nature Center (SFNC), which opened in 2010, is the Gates Rogers Foundation’s premier conservancy project. Located in central Arkansas just east of Clinton (Van Buren County), it lies in the Boston Mountains range of the Ozark Mountains on the banks of the South Fork of the Little Red River section of Greers Ferry Lake. Featuring two miles of interpretive nature trails on the peninsula and a spectacular view of the lake, the center serves as a model to educate and inspire the public to be aware of the environment, to protect vulnerable plant and animal species, and to adopt practices that are ecologically sound. It seeks to preserve Arkansas’s native flora and fauna in a manner that ensures and encourages public access, aesthetic appreciation, and an understanding of the importance of biodiversity.
The Gates Rogers Foundation was established as planned upon the deaths of the benefactors of SFNC: Victor Clayton Gates (1930–2004) and Verne R. Rogers (1924–1999). They had often spoken of establishing a center to preserve the nature they had learned to appreciate. Funding from their estate and the bequest of sixty-five acres of their land surrounded by the Corps of Engineers’ Greers Ferry Lake right-of-way provided for the establishment of SFNC on the 125-acre peninsula known as South Fork.
Located on the grounds of SFNC is the log cabin birthplace of Almeda James Riddle, a.k.a. “Granny Riddle,” a prominent Ozark figure in the revival of folk music in America during the 1960s. Reconstructed at SFNC in 2007 by David and Donna Peterson, Don Culwell, and other volunteers, the cabin serves as a meeting place for groups at South Fork. Early architectural plans for the grounds included an outdoor classroom (pavilion), a restroom/storage lab building, an amphitheater, a maintenance shed, and an environmentally “green,” energy-efficient educational facility functioning on a self-sustaining basis; construction has begun on the first two of these structures.
Botanists Theo Witsell and Brent Baker performed a significant botanical study of the peninsula in 2006 during which they identified 582 plant taxa, a large percentage of the plant taxa found in the state of Arkansas; their findings were presented before the Arkansas Academy of Science. A set of plant specimens they collected to document their survey is housed in SFNC’s herbarium.
The center opened to the public in April 2010. SFNC serves as the site of all-day, docent-led nature activities for school groups as well as a wide variety of activities for the general public.
For additional information:
South Fork Nature Center. http://southforknaturecenter.org/ (accessed October 21, 2020).
Donald E. Culwell
South Fork Nature Center
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