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story.lead_photo.caption Illustration by EDG Fennell Purifoy Architects Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Nature and Education Center is under construction on 40th Street in Springdale. The Walton Family Foundation recently donated $980,000 to help fund the construction.

SPRINGDALE — The Walton Family Foundation on Friday announced a $980,000 grant to help build the Northwest Arkansas Nature and Education Center in Springdale.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is building the center. The 27,000-square-foot building in northwest Springdale will include an exhibit hall, a theater, classroom and meeting space, administrative offices, and an archery and maintenance building.

“A nature center in Spring-dale will offer Northwest Arkansas residents an educational resource that celebrates the importance of greenspace preservation,” said Jeremy Pate, Walton Family Foundation senior program officer. “It will also be a gathering place where communities can experience nature with trails connected to the rest of the city and region through the Razorback Regional Greenway.”

The donation will help the commission fill the center with educational exhibits, said Keith Stephens, chief of communications for the commission.

The commission plans to spend $14 million to build the center. Johnelle Hunt provided a $5 million matching grant in 2015.

Stephens said the commission and its foundation have raised about one-third of the money through Hunt’s and other private donations and federal and local grants.

The city and the Spring-dale Water and Sewer Commission donated two parcels of land for the center.

The center also will receive support through fees paid for hunting and fishing licenses and a sales tax passed by Arkansas voters in 1996. The tax dedicates one-eighth of 1% of the state’s general sales tax for conservation. The commission gets 45 percent of that amount.

“It’s certainly going to be a destination,” said Mayor Doug Sprouse. “Students from all over the region will come to learn about the outdoors. There will be a lot of great ways for the people of Arkansas to enjoy the areas outdoors.”

In addition to the center, the Game and Fish Commission will develop the 63 acres surrounding the education center with trails. The nature center also will connect to the Razorback Greenway through a trail spur planned by the city of Springdale.

The Springdale City Council recently approved contracts with engineering firms for the design of the trail and the improvement of North 40th Street from the bridge over Spring Creek south to Falcon Road, Sprouse noted. The street will provide residents access to the center.

The Game and Fish Commission oversees the protection, conservation and preservation of various species of fish and wildlife in Arkansas, according to its website. But most people probably recognize the agency for its role of issuing hunting and fishing licenses and enforcing laws related to those pastimes.

Construction of the center began in December but is moving slowly because of rain in the area, Stephens said. The commission expects the center to open in fall 2020.

Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at joenks@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.

Print Headline: Walton grant supports nature center

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