Northark, UCA and Buffalo National River partner to establish learning center

Fri Dec 23, 2016 at 11:48 AM

river partnership signing

Shown signing the agreement are L to R: Kelley Erstine, Interim President of University of Central Arkansas, Kevin Cheri, Superintendent Buffalo National River and Dr. Randy Esters, President of North Arkansas College.

Thousands of people visit the Buffalo National River each year.  Tourists and residents alike are drawn to the river to enjoy canoeing, mountain biking, hiking and camping at the Park and are often treated to Elk herd sightings in Ponca. 

Leaders from North Arkansas College (Northark), the Buffalo National River and the University of Central Arkansas have joined together to turn a former ranger house at Steel Creek Campground into a Research Learning Center. 

Steel Creek is located about 3 miles east of Ponca, Arkansas off of Hwy. 74 and is home to Roark Bluff, access to the Buffalo National River and the Old River Trail.

Officials inked a five-year agreement that provides a unique partnership that fulfills each institutions educational Mission and is intended to educate and foster conservation and preservation of natural resources. 

The agreement states Northark students earning the Associate of Science in Liberal Arts and Sciences will be admitted to the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science (Biology or Planning and Administration) with full junior classification at UCA, subject to completing UCA general admissions requirements and having at least a 2.0 cumulative GPA.

College credit courses at the freshman and sophomore level will be offered by Northark.  Junior, senior and graduate level credit courses will be offered by UCA.  Either institution may offer continuing education, community education or non-credit classes. 

On an extremely cold day officials visited Steel Creek to sign the agreement.  Former UCA President Tom Courtway opened the ceremony with anticipation and gratitude.  "We appreciate the opportunity to work with the National Park Service and North Arkansas College in this project.  Utilizing Steel Creek and its facilities will provide unique opportunities for UCA students and faculty in areas such as biology, environmental science, history, geography, art and outdoor recreation, just to name a few.  We thank Kevin Cheri and his staff and Dr. Esters and Northark for this incredible opportunity."

UCA has a recognized commitment to environmental issues, establishing the first interdisciplinary Environmental Science Bachelor of Science degree in Arkansas in 1998. Over the years UCA students have participated in coursework and outreach at the Buffalo National River.  In addition, UCA has collaborated with the National Park Service over the past 20 years on projects that contribute data for park management and support for public outreach.

Outdoor programs are well-established in states such as Oregon, Montana, Colorado and California.  Dr. Randy Esters said “I want to begin by dedicating our portion of the signing of this important agreement to Northark’s founding President, Dr. Bill Baker.  He would be proud to see Northark provide this opportunity to students. This is a natural partnership that speaks to the beauty of our area by allowing students to explore, exercise and embark on adventures in an outdoor classroom.  This type of environment can dramatically improve academic performance and we’re fortunate to have this facility so close.  Steel Creek is such a beautiful and unique location to learn by experiencing the environment that I want to sign up for a class myself!”

President Esters said he was in awe of the beauty of Roark Bluff and sees the 135 mile Buffalo River as a destination for visitors across the nation.   

Northark plans to expand offerings to include art, photography and community education courses such as canoeing and hiking in the coming months.  Students are encouraged to check the College website regularly for notification of those classes.

Buffalo National River partnered with Northark last summer to offer a free Microbiology workshop to high school and college students and instructors.  A National Environmental Education Foundation grant will provide the workshop again in the summer of 2017.

Kevin Cheri, Buffalo National River Superintendent made comments before signing the agreement, “We are excited about this opportunity to partner with Northark and UCA to create a new Research Learning Center at Steel Creek.  Education is at the forefront of our Mission at Buffalo National River and we’re looking forward to working in this living laboratory with faculty and students to develop the next generation of stewards for this beautiful river.”

North Arkansas College is committed to providing an educational and work environment for its students, faculty, and staff that is free from sexual discrimination including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual violence. No form of sexual discrimination will be tolerated. See the full North Arkansas College Title IX Policy and Procedures for the specific definitions of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including examples of such conduct.