Our thanks to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Walton Family Foundation, corporate sponsors and over 140 individuals that established the Illinois River Watershed Sanctuary in 2012. Hear from guest blogger Randy Zellers, Assistant Chief of Communications, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission:

Join the Illinois River Watershed Partnership April 17 for a variety of outdoor activities, culminating in the dedication of the new North Shore Pavilion at the IRWP Watershed Sanctuary in Cave Springs.

Activities will begin with a community bike ride at 1 p.m. from two locations along the Razorback Greenway – Rogers Mercy Trailhead and the Lake Springdale Trailhead. Participants will ride from both locations to meet at the pavilion at 221 S. Main Street in Cave Springs at 2 p.m. for the dedication.

ArkansasWILD_Razorback Greenway

 Photo Credit: Arkansas WILD

To start at Mercy Trailhead, Rogers: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/985859577

To start at Lake Springdale Trailhead: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/985865555

The dedication coincides with the IRWP’s National Bat Appreciation Day celebration and will include free canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, nature hikes and bat box demonstrations. The pavilion is the latest enhancement to the Watershed Sanctuary and Learning Center. The beautiful lakeside retreat was made possible thanks to a Wildlife Recreation Facilities Grant of more than $542,000 from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The AGFC has contributed more than $880,000 in funds and manpower to the sanctuary since its establishment in 2012.

“Outdoor classrooms like this pavilion make the ideal setting for people to truly appreciate any environmental education efforts,” said AGFC Chief of Staff Jeff Crow. “These sorts of facilities and partnerships are excellent footholds as we continue to reach out and provide services for northwest Arkansas and other parts of the state.”

 

Pavilion CollagePavilion Construction completed August 2015

Delia Haak, executive director of the IRWP, said more than 4,600 people visited the watershed sanctuary and Watershed Sanctuary Learning Center to take part in outdoor education, conservation projects, public meetings and family activities last year. The addition of the pavilion will enhance their abilities to spread the message of conservation rain or shine. “It’s about 2,500 square feet, with a great space to conduct programs and even a small concession area to host outdoor gatherings for special events,” Haak said.

BatsAndBlueGrass3

Bats & Bluegrass, 2015 – Southern Tradition Band entertained over 600 guests at the IRWP annual event.

The 30-acre sanctuary is composed of a 6-acre reservoir and a 24-acre wooded section. But its small size belies its importance in northwest Arkansas, as it is home to two federally endangered species – the gray bat and Ozark cavefish. “Our colony of gray bats is a maternity colony,” Haak said. “They overwinter in caves around Boxley, then return here each spring to have their young. When the young emerged last July, ANRC counted approximately 4,700 bats using this cave property.” Those bats play an important role in the environment by reducing pests such as insects. “Each of adult gray bat can eat up to 3,000 insects per day,” said Haak. “The bats also benefit the Ozark cavefish, as their guano provides nutrients for the aquatic food web the cavefish use.”

GrayBat

 

Find out more about the Gray Bat:

http://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/mammals/grbat_fc.html

http://www.agfc.com/species/Pages/SpeciesEndangered.aspx

http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlifemgmt/endangered/gray_bat.htm

For more information about the IRWP, or to become a sponsor, please go to www.irwp.org or visit www.upstreammatters.com.