Volunteer-driven partnership with private landowners and the Fish and Game Commission provides full and permanent legal access to prime fish and wildlife habitat in western Arkansas
FORT SMITH, Ark. – The Arkansas chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers scored a major public access victory today, signing a land purchase agreement that will provide permanent access to thousands of acres of public land and water located in western Scott County portion of the state.
The volunteer-led effort of AR BHA members created a partnership with a private landowner and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, ultimately negotiating an agreement to purchase land from that willing seller that ensures public access to the land adjacent public. With the purchase of a single acre, the public will now have guaranteed access to 103 acres of the Cedar Creek Wildlife Management Area and, from there, access to more than 150,000 acres of the Muddy Creek Wildlife Management Area, a cooperatively managed part of the Ouachita Wildlife Management Area. National Forest.
The access agreement came about during a series of meetings convened to improve public access to state-owned land that currently does not have title access. The opportunity to purchase the parcel was marked for the Arkansas BHA. Following the purchase of the critical acre, the BHA’s Arkansas chapter donated the property to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which will now oversee its management.
BHA Arkansas chapter board member James Brandenburg recognized the importance of collaborative efforts in achieving this public access victory.
“Our chapter is grateful for the opportunity to partner with a willing seller and the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission to provide full and permanent legal access to the Cedar Creek WMA,” said Brandenburg, who lives in Bentonville. “Securing this access shows what is possible when we focus on solving access problems here in Arkansas.
“Our chapter leaders began looking for opportunities to improve legal access to public lands in early 2022,” Brandenburg continued. “By working with local public land managers, this parcel was identified as a prime candidate for acquisition. Board members Brad Green and Scott Knight took the lead on the project and kept it moving until we were able to finish it. Creating full legal access to the Cedar Creek WMA enhances the opportunity for walk-in hunting in this 103-acre area, and opens another point of entry for the Ouachita National Forest, which surrounds the WMA on three sides.”
onX mapping software was used to identify the acre in question. onX has made it a priority to identify and help resolve barriers to public access. After reviewing the onX data, AGFC Region 5 wildlife biologist Jason Mitchell flagged an opportunity to purchase the parcel.
“I’ve seen this property change hands a couple of times over the years,” Mitchell explained. “Once I heard about this project with the BHA, onX and our agency, I knew we had an opportunity to secure it for our athletes in the area.”
“This represents not only the BHA’s first land acquisition and transfer in Arkansas; it’s a first for the organization on a national level,” said Austin Booth, director of the Fish and Game Commission. “This may not sound like a lot of land, but it’s a big deal as it opens up much more access for our hunters, and we hope it’s the first step in a long line of increased opportunity for Arkansans.”
“Never underestimate the power of the grassroots,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “Action matters. And in this case, so do voluntary collaborations, creative partnerships, and a commitment to a shared vision. I am proud of our volunteers in Arkansas, whose dedication and tireless efforts achieved a great victory for hunters, fishermen, and others who enjoy our public lands and waters, and in doing so pioneered a new approach to opening up public access.
“This is the first of its kind at the BHA, and the chapter deserves a big thank you for their continued leadership,” Tawney emphasized. “You can only be first once. The future looks bright!”
Learn more about the Arkansas chapter of the BHA.
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