News for Immediate Release
July 13, 2023
Contact: Katie McKalip, 406-240-9262, [email protected]
Volunteer-driven partnership with private landowner and Game and Fish 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 achieved a major public access win today, inking the deal on a land purchase that will provide permanent access to thousands of acres of public lands and waters located in Scott County in the western portion of the state.
The volunteer-led effort by members of AR BHA built a partnership with a private landowner and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, ultimately brokering a deal to purchase land from that willing seller that secures public access to adjacent public lands. By the purchase of a single acre, the public now will have guaranteed access to 103 acres of the Cedar Creek Wildlife Management Area and, from there, access to 150,000-plus acres of Muddy Creek Wildlife Management Area, a cooperatively managed portion of the Ouachita National Forest.
The access agreement arose during a series of meetings convened to improve public access to state-owned lands that currently have no fee title access. The opportunity to purchase the parcel was flagged for Arkansas BHA. Following its purchase of the critical acre, the Arkansas chapter of BHA donated the property to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which now will oversee its management.
BHA Arkansas chapter board member James Brandenburg acknowledged the importance of collaborative efforts in notching this public access win.
“Our chapter is grateful for the opportunity to partner with a willing seller and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to provide full and permanent legal access for Cedar Creek WMA,” said Brandenburg, who lives in Bentonville. “Securing this access shows what is possible when we put our minds to solving access problems here in Arkansas.
“Our chapter leaders began seeking opportunities to enhance 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 forward until we were able to get it done. Creating full, legal access to Cedar Creek WMA enhances opportunity for walk-in hunting on 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 pinpoint the acre in question. onX has prioritized identifying and helping resolve barriers to public access. After reviewing onX data, AGFC Region 5 Wildlife Biologist Jason Mitchell flagged the opportunity to purchase the parcel.
“I’ve seen this property change hands a couple of times over the years,” Mitchell explained. “Once I learned about this project with BHA, onX and our agency, I knew we had a chance to secure it for our sportsmen and women in the area.”
“This represents not only the first BHA land acquisition and transfer in Arkansas; it is the first for the organization nationally,” said Game and Fish Commission Director Austin Booth. “This may not seem like a large piece of land, but it is a very big deal as it opens much more access to our hunters, and we hope it’s the first step in a long relationship of increasing opportunity for Arkansans.”
“Never underestimate the power of grassroots individuals,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “Action matters. And in this instance, so do willing collaborative, creative partnerships and commitment to a shared vision. I’m proud of our volunteers in Arkansas, whose dedication and relentless efforts achieved a major win for hunters, anglers and others who enjoy our public lands and waters – and in so doing pioneered a new approach to opening public access.
“This is the first of its kind at BHA, and the chapter deserves a big, hearty thank you for their continued leadership,” Tawney emphasized. “You can only be first once. The future looks bright!”
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