SPRINGDALE, Ark. (News release) — Exhibits are under construction and the landscaping is still underway, but when the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center opens this fall, it will already have 25 years of experience manning the helm. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission recently announced Schelly Corry, a transplant from Alabama with an extensive career in education and exhibit planning and management, to lead the team at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s newest nature center in Springdale.
Corry joins the AGFC from her most recent role as vice president of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where she oversaw teams that ran everything from museum operations and exhibits to membership, volunteers and food service. Before that, she led the charge in planning, designing and building the $32 million, 62,000 square-foot Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur, Alabama, and served as executive director of that museum for six years.
“I wanted to get back to my passion — introducing people to the outdoors,” Corry said. “And from the first visit, it’s easy to fall in love with Arkansas.”
Although she has accomplished a tremendous resume so far, Corry sees the next 10 to 15 years as being the best of her career.
“This next step seems like coming full-circle to me,” Corry said. “My first job was at a similar nature center in Texas, the Heard Natural Science Museum. Outdoor programming was a major component there and it fueled my passion. This nature center is the same, with both indoor and outdoor components to deliver our message.”
Corry says one of the biggest challenges she sees coming into the center is creating the bond that’s essential to becoming part of the community.
“It’s essential that people know about the center, but it’s also imperative that we find out what the public wants and blend that with the message of the center,” Corry said. “I’m really excited to meet that challenge.”
Thanks to the 1/8th Conservation Sales Fund derived by Amendment 75, Corry will be able to focus all of her attention on the mission of the center and the AGFC.
“It’s refreshing to see that this center is absolutely free and the public won’t have to buy a ticket to get in,” Corry said. “Many similar centers and museums have to spend a lot of energy and time dealing with ticket sales and focus on the gate to stay in operation. Because this center is free to the public, my team will be able to devote all of our energy to the agency’s message.”
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The J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center is located immediately east of Interstate 49, where Spring Creek flows under the highway. The 61-acre complex will include an outdoor 3-D archery range, a northern bobwhite education pavilion, walking and biking trails, a 25-acre native tallgrass prairie restoration project, native plant demonstration gardens and outdoor classrooms. Indoors, visitors will be able to take advantage of another archery range, participate in hands-on classes in one of three classrooms, and explore the state-of-the art exhibits featuring the wildlife and seasons of the Ozarks. A spur of the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Greenway will pass through the nature center site. Trail users will be able to take advantage of a bike plaza and fix-it station.
Chris Colclasure, deputy director of the AGFC, said the nature center will be an excellent addition to the fastest-growing region of Arkansas.
“There are more than 100,000 school-aged children within driving distance of the center, and that number increases every year,” Colclasure said. “The blend of indoor classrooms and outdoor learning will help us bridge that gap for many of today’s youth who spend much of their time indoors, further disconnecting them from the natural world.”
The project began in 2017 with the donation of 61 acres of land from the City of Springdale and a $5 million matching grant from Johnelle Hunt, wife of the late trucking magnate J.B. Hunt. To date, more than $11 million of private funding and grants have been secured by the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation and the Commission to help make the nature center a reality.
Visit www.agfc.com/naturecenters to learn more about the nine nature and conservation education centers managed by the AGFC.