Ozarks volunteers help in restoration project for wildlife habitat

Release Date: 10/3/2012

A contingent of faculty members and students from University of the Ozarks joined several state and national organizations last weekend in a refreshing display of cooperation to restore Bearcat Hollow, a huge parcel of national forest in northern Arkansas dedicated for habitat restoration.

Made up of several thousand acres of the Ozark National Forest, Bearcat Hollow is part a massive habitat restoration project involving several organizations including Arkansas Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Heritage Commission, the National Forest Foundation, and now University of the Ozarks.

Last weekend, a group of students and faculty from Ozarks spent the weekend camping at Bearcat Hollow and working to show their support of the project.

Lauren Ray, senior environmental studies major from Fayetteville, Ark., and activities coordinator for Ozarks Outdoors, organized the work day for Ozarks.

Bearcat Hollow project

A group from Ozarks recently spent the weekend working on the Bearcat Hollow restoration project.

"This project has been going on for three or four years. They have several workdays throughout the year, but this was the first year that we were able to participate," Ray explained. "We are excited about opportunity to work more closely with Arkansas Wildlife Federation."

Despite so much cooperation, the project still has a long way to go.

"One of the biologists with the Forest Service explained the phases of the Bearcat Hollow project," Ray said. "It's a three-phase project. After three years, they are still on phase one, so it will be an ongoing effort for some time. While we were there, we were responsible for planting seeds for native grasses and other vegetation to grow around ponds that had been dug out for use by native species of elk, deer, wild turkey, and other wildlife."

Apart from benefiting native Arkansas wildlife, the project also gave a group of Ozarks freshman the chance to explore their new surroundings.

"We had workers from Ozarks Outdoors and Planet Club, but the bulk of our workers came from Dr. Kim Van Scoy's Critical Inquiry class," Ray explained. Critical Inquiry classes are required classes for all Ozarks freshmen and are designed to help students transition into campus life.  

"I'm glad that we had freshmen working with us. A lot of the students in Dr. Van Scoy's class are studying biology, so this was the perfect experience for them. Many of the students are eager to return next year. They want to make working at Bearcat Hollow a tradition for Ozarks until the project is completed," Ray said.

During their free time, the students were able to take full advantage of their location and the opportunity to network with so many organizations.

"Friday evening, we took a short night hike to listen to elk bugling," Ray said. "There were also a lot of educational lessons that different organization leaders were teaching. Mostly, they were wilderness skills, like how to boil water in a paper cup. Those were a lot of fun."

Ray feels that everyone got a lot of good out their time at Bearcat Hollow.

"As involved as I am with outdoor activities and conservation efforts, this is different than anything I've ever done. Working with the Forest Service and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation opened my eyes to how many strategies are out there for protecting and restoring our wildlife areas."