In this new monthly series “Opt Outside,” we join our friends at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission on a campaign to get Arkansans outside to connect with nature and all the great things our state has to offer.
As the country shut down amid a pandemic, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) found ways to open up, providing the boredom-riddled people of our state with at least something to do during this time of social distancing. The agency made the last-minute decision to make the final week of March a “Free Fishing Week,” allowing anyone in Arkansas to fish without a license. Shortly after, the AGFC made another consequential pivot from the norm: Bringing the outdoors to the comfort of our homes.
The AGFC’s newly created Virtual Nature Center is one of the most inventive platforms conceived during our recent social secession. And, like the adaptations of curbside delivery services from restaurants, it is something we hope sticks around long after the current pandemic has subsided.
Hone Your Outdoor Prowess
The muscle of the Virtual Nature Center is, perhaps, the Outdoor Skills section. There, some of the Commission’s education specialists bring outdoor classes — that you might otherwise have attended at one of its nature centers — to you. To date, the online skills classes include: dove processing, how to skin and debone a deer, kayak fishing, fishing pole basics, how to catch crappie, knot tying and rigging a fishing pole. Each course is broken down in an easily understandable way, with some featuring step-by-step listings and all including video walkthroughs. It is a must-do for beginners and experts alike.
Cooking Your Catch
In the Wild Recipes section of the Virtual Nature Center, the Commission shares some of the most delicious ways to eat the state’s wild game. Education specialist Wil Hafner has a mouthwatering take on venison burgers. The AGFC assistant chief of communications and radio personality, Trey Reid, shares some of his unique preparations of walleye, specklebelly goose and bream. Cody Walker makes fish and chips, which you can mimic with any type of fish found in Arkansas. Flyway Brewery shares its trout nachos recipe.
One of the most delectable entries might just be the bluegill tacos, which are sliced-up fillets of the bream served inside corn tortillas, topped with a fantastic homemade slaw.
Arkansas’ Abundant Wildlife
We are fortunate to live in a state that is not only filled with aesthetic splendor but is also teeming with all sorts of different animal species — some of which you and your family’s understanding of may be in-name-only. Again fulfilling its educational promises that are usually kept at physical nature centers, the AGFC has tabbed a number of different animal profiles into the Animal Wildlife section of its Virtual Nature Center. Learn about the alligator gar’s increasing scarcity and why research on it is so important to the Commission. Take flight with the carnivorous yet majestic bald eagle and learn how the icon of America was threatened with extinction decades ago. Hideout with the state’s only flying mammal, the bat, and gain some insight on these curious creatures of the night. Slither under a thicket of brush with four of Arkansas’ venomous snake species, learning about their habitats, activity and more.
Like the outdoor skills entries, each of the posts in the Animal Wildlife section features engaging and entertaining videos on the subject at hand.
Look Behind the Curtain
The most humbling element of the Virtual Nature Center is the Meet AGFC section. There, the Commission posts highlights of the various ways its work keeps our Natural State prosperous and ensures we continue to live up to our moniker. There’s a behind-the-scenes look at the Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish Hatchery, showing how the agency raises and stocks more than one million trout in Arkansas’ waterways per year. The AGFC’s bear biologist teaches about the comeback of the black bear in Arkansas, thanks largely to the Commission’s conservation work, and shows an inside look at research conducted at a bear den in the Ozark National Forest. The film A Century of Conservation is also available to watch on the site, celebrating the agency’s 105-year history on the frontline of the state’s conservation mission.