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Sixth graders, teachers, parents and high-school volunteers from Vilonia all enjoyed a day of outdoor learning at the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower Tuesday, May 10.

Sixth graders, teachers, parents and high-school volunteers from Vilonia all enjoyed a day of outdoor learning at the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower Tuesday, May 10.

Nearly 270 sixth-grade students from Frank Mitchell Intermediate School in Vilonia were the first anglers to enjoy the latest improvement to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s shooting range in Mayflower at their annual fishing derby Tuesday.

Jodi Brewer, a sixth grade teacher at the school who coordinates the derby with the AGFC’s Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs program, said the derby continues to improve each year.

“I remember fishing in a derby when I went to Vilonia, but it went away for a while,” Brewer said. “We started it back up about five years ago and have had the event ever since.”

Brewer says restarting the event took a lot of trial and error.

“The first two years, we brought the kids out and just fished with some cane poles,” Brewer said. “During our second year, the kids fished all day and caught maybe four fish and a stick. Some even mentioned that they would have rather been in school. That’s when we called Dawn Cook with HOFNOD to learn how to do it better.”

Cook, HOFNOD coordinator for the AGFC, said she has a lot of schools come to workshops and learn how to keep their students interested during these all day events.

“You have to have a lot of different activities to keep them interested,” Cook said. “But that takes a lot of people and commitment from volunteers.”

Coach Will Black gave students some last-minute reminders about casting before they hit the water.

Coach Will Black gave students some last-minute reminders about casting before they hit the water.

In addition to teachers from the school, close to 100 parents and 25 high school students volunteered to help with the many stations needed to put on the huge event. Some led fun exercises such as scavenger hunts and fish bingo, while others baited hooks, untangled lines and helped release fish. Some parents even set up a cleaning station to filet fish if the students wanted to bring home their catch.

Cook says one of the best things about setting up fishing derbies like this is that all the students stay busy having a good time while they’re learning about different subjects. Those stations disguised as bingo and scavenger hunts actually are teaching the students fish anatomy and regulations. Other stations have more obvious subjects, such as smoking prevention and alcohol and drug abuse awareness.

“All of our HOFNOD materials are aligned with state education frameworks,” Cook said. “So it makes it easier for teachers to meet their needs while letting the kids have some fun.”

The lessons aren’t only crammed into a one-day derby. Teachers at Frank Mitchell Intermediate School present materials from HOFNOD trainings throughout the school year to teach many subjects. Before the students load up on the bus, they’ve had at least a few basic casting lessons in their Physical Education class.

“We have a set of rods and reels for the class to learn on in PE class,” said Will Black, physical education teacher for fifth and sixth grade at Frank Mitchell. “We also spend a lot of time playing a backyard bass game, where students cast at and catch fish-shaped targets to collect points.”

Brewer says the derby also is an excellent team-building exercise for most students.

“We have some kids that have ponds in their backyard at home and fish all the time, and then we have some who have never learned to cast a rod and reel,” Brewer said. “What’s really neat is that here, you’ll see some kids that never really interact with each other at school work together to help each other out catching fish.”

The pond where the students spent their time also is the result of an ongoing work in progress. While the range has always had one pond that hosted derbies, the new pond features a central island, dozens of artificial fish habitats and a clean shoreline ringed with soft grass.

“The pond actually is the borrow area from when the range’s berms needed to be rebuilt years ago,” said Grant Tomlin, range development program coordinator for the AGFC. “Clifton Jackson, former Family and Community Fishing Program Coordinator wanted to make it a location for that program, but it was surrounded by a thicket and a lot of people didn’t even know it was here.”

This was the first derby held at the new pond and the first class to attend Vilonia's new middle school after the school was demolished by a tornado in April 2014.

This was the first derby held at the new pond and the first class to attend Vilonia’s new middle school after the school was demolished by a tornado in April 2014.

AGFC staff worked to clear all the thick brush away and establish a more inviting shoreline. They also moved a culvert to build up a walkway around a low section of the pond that was always too swampy to walk around. But the pond still had a few problems.

“Each summer, the pond would just about evaporate away,” Tomlin said. “We’d get a dry spell and the water would just seep out, but at the end of last year, it was still holding a little water.”

Thanks to an extremely wet early spring, the new pond is actually a foot or two above its target level. Tomlin hopes the pond has established a firm enough bottom and will continue to be a great attraction to the range.

“It is open to youth 16 and younger whenever the shooting range is not operating,” Tomlin said. “Mondays, Tuesdays and any time after 4:30 p.m. the rest of the week.”

Visit http://www.agfc.com/hofnod for more information about Hooked on Fishing — Not on Drugs.

For information on the Camp Robinson Firing Range in Mayflower, visit www.agfc.com/aboutagfc/Pages/AboutFacilitiesRobinsonFR.aspx.

High school students volunteered to help bait hooks and teach about conservation at the derby.

High school students volunteered to help bait hooks and teach about conservation at the derby.

 

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Controlled burn at Scott Henderson Gulf Mountain WMA

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s private lands biologists have scheduled a series of free workshops offered to teach landowners the proper and safe use of prescribed fire to improve wildlife habitat.

Throughout history, humans have used fire to shape their landscape, including upland forests and fields in Arkansas that have a long history with fire. Fire is still a driving force in the state’s landscape. Fire improves habitat for wildlife by encouraging germination of beneficial plants, controlling undesirable plants, reducing wildfire danger, and opening forests to allow growth of grasses and forbs in the understory.

According to AGFC Central Arkansas Regional Private Land Biologist Clint Johnson, wildlife species such as deer, turkey, quail, and a host of nongame species benefit from and thrive on habitats maintained by fire. “Fire is the most cost effective method for restoring and maintaining upland habitats and many landowners are already using this valuable tool in Arkansas. Properly managed habitat using the proper burning methods can increase available high quality food and cover for game animals twice that of planting food plots and at much-reduced cost,”, Johnson says.

We strongly believe in the benefits properly-used fire can have on our wildlife and want to train landowners in its use, Johnson noted. “These workshops are available to all who are interested in learning about using prescribed fire on private property. The purpose of the workshops is to educate participants about the benefits and mechanics of prescribed burning, allow them to communicate with and hire professionals to burn their property, and/or begin the training process for landowners to conduct burning themselves,” he explained. “We will cover planning, firing strategy and equipment, fire weather, proper safety considerations, Arkansas fire laws and more to give landowners the tools they need to use fire on small burn units on their property. We will also have a demonstration of a prescribed burn by AGFC personnel, weather permitting.”

To enroll in one of the free workshops, simply use the links below up to a week before each event. The links will provide specific times, directions and other information. Seating is limited and landowners much register to attend. For more information, contact Clint Johnson at: clint.johnson@agfc.ar.gov or 877-470-3650. These workshops have been made possible through partnerships with Arkansas Forestry Association, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Arkansas Forestry Commission and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Wednesday, Feb. 18
Desoto Boy Scout Camp
319 Camp Desoto Rd, Junction City
http://junctioncityburnclass.eventbrite.com

Thursday, Feb. 19
Marmaduke Housing Authority
957 West Lillian, Marmaduke
http://marmadukeburnclass.eventbrite.com

Saturday, March 21
U of A Research Station
362 Hwy 174 N, Hope
http://hopeburnclass.eventbrite.com

Saturday, March 28
Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center
8300 Wells Lake Road, Fort Smith
https://fortsmithburnclass.eventbrite.com

Saturday, March 28
Wylie Cox Clubhouse on Ed Gordon Point Remove WMA
349 Lake Loop, Hattieville
https://morriltonburnclass.eventbrite.com

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