Arkansas Game & Fish Commission’s Potlatch Conservation Education Center
by Heather Baker
Nestled in between Stuttgart and Marianna is the tiny community of Casscoe, deep on the eastern edge of Arkansas. The White River is not the only thing flowing through this hidden refuge – hummingbirds are in abundance, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission hosts hummingbird summer programs here every year.
To get to Casscoe from central Arkansas you can take I-40 to Hazen, over to DeValls Bluff, then down AR-33 through Roe to Casscoe. On the way, bring your appetite because you conveniently drive past Carlisle and Nick’s Bar-B-Q & Catfish.
For an even more scenic route, head down Hwy-165 from I-440. You will drive through the flats of Scott and England, as well as the historic Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. It is the backroads. It is country. And what is a good road trip through Arkansas without a little bit of that? To satisfy your desire to shop, this way in leads right past Mack’s Prairie Wings in Stuttgart.
In Casscoe, on Cook’s Lake, you will find Arkansas Game and Fish’s Potlatch Conservation Education Center where the hummingbird programs are held on the first and third Saturday of every month (weather permitting) from the end of May through September. While there, Facility Manager Tana Beasley and Educational Program Specialist Wil Hafner break down everything you need to know about the center, which is located in a town of fewer than 300, and most importantly, their hummingbirds.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has been banding wild hummingbirds that come through the area since 2008 and have found that 30 to 40 percent of those banded birds return to Arkansas. And the birds are in terrific hands. Literally. Beasley holds a master permit from the U.S. Department of Interior for banding hummingbirds.
According to the Potlatch Center, Cook’s Lake lies along the hummingbird’s flyway, or migration path, as they travel up to the northeastern portion of the United States and Canada in the spring and down to Mexico in the winter.
During her powerpoint presentation at the class, Beasley runs through a number of fun facts about hummingbirds, including why they band them, the different types of species in our section of the globe, details about their biology, as well as suggestions to help attract the little birds to your yard at home.
The best part of the day was by far the hands-on experience.
After Beasley’s presentation, The Potlatch Conservation crew bands birds right in front of the day’s attendees, providing a truly unique and up-close-and-personal perspective to the work that they do.
Afterward, volunteers are then allowed to take the birds outside to release them into the wild from the palms of their own hands. Words cannot fully express just how powerful this experience is, feeling the delicate little birds in one’s fingers; the feathers, the rapid heartbeat – it is a remarkable opportunity for kids and adults alike. What’s more, the team at Potlatch will band birds until everyone who wishes to release one gets the chance to do so, and the only fear of missing out you will feel is if you do not make the drive down to Casscoe by the end of the summer.
The Potlatch Center also has a number of other conservation education classes, each highlighting plants and wildlife of the Delta and bottomland hardwood area of Arkansas. One of their newest classes revolves around wild game preparation – from processing the meat to cooking tips. The June class was called “Entertaining on the Wild Side” and was about preparing wild game meat for summer parties or backyard cookouts.
All of the classes offered at the Potlatch Conservation Education Center are free to attend; they only ask that you call (870) 241-3373, Tuesday through Saturday, to register in advance. Programs for groups can also be scheduled during the week, as their availability allows.