The Great Outdoors for Kids
River Valley Nature Center rivervalleynaturecenter.com
8300 Wells Lake Road, Fort Smith,
The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center offers visitors the chance to learn, explore and appreciate the great outdoors. Trained experts and skills volunteers offer a number of informative courses throughout the summer, and provide unique programs specifically designed to bring nature to life. Daily activities include the 2 p.m. Critter Crunch feedings. Weekly activities include a Nature Break for children ages 3-7 on Friday afternoons, Saturday morning guided hikes, canoe/kayak programs, laser shot and archery instruction. Canoe and kayak check-outs are available from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. All activities are free.
Multi-County Canoe/Kayak/Fishing Programs
Who: Ages 10 and up. Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a participating adult.
What: AGFC staff will instruct participants in canoe/kayak fishing at local fishing holes. Try one or all in Scott, Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Pope, Yell, Logan and Polk counties. Canoes and kayaks, life jackets, fishing poles and tackle or bait are provided. Registration is required.
When: Call the nature center for locations, dates and times. 479-452-3993
Summer Programs Offered June 7-Aug. 10
What: Join educators at Wells Lake for fishing tips. Cane poles or rod and reel, tackle and bait will be supplied.
When: 9 a.m. Thursdays
What: Learn about native animals from experts, who will focus on a different animal-based program each week.
When: 11 a.m. Thursdays
Outdoor Shooting Skills
What: Learn basic safety and shooting techniques. All equipment is provided. Individual activities are staff and weather permitting.
When: 9 a.m. Fridays
Canoe and Kayak Program
What: Staff members will assist boaters on Wells Lake. A parent or guardian must accompany children. Participants are required to wear life jackets, which will be provided.
When: 10 a.m.-noon Fridays
Summer Youth Workshops
Who: Ages 8-12
What: Students will take part in nature crafting workshops. All supplies are provided. Registration is required. 479-452-3993
When: 10 a.m.-noon June 12, July 10, Aug. 8
Who: Ages 4-7
What: Little ones are invited for a two-hour mini-day camp that will include special age-appropriate activities. A responsible parent or adult is required to stay on the premises. Registration is required. 479-452-3993
When: 9-11 a.m.
June 13 – “F” is for Fish
July 11 – “M” is for Mammals
Aug. 1 – “S” is for Snakes
Visitors will have the opportunity to take part in unique evening activities focused on specific nature themes and activities.
June 8, 7 p.m. – Archery Palooza
July 13, 6:30 p.m. – Evening Canoe on the Arkansas River Trail
July 17, 6 p.m. – Wild Edibles
Aug. 10, 6 p.m. – Back to School Bash
Aug. 21, 6 p.m. – Flying High over AGFC (Arkansas Game & Fish Commission)
Programs are open to all ages, unless otherwise noted.
Animal Rehab: When Worlds Collide June 16, 1 p.m.
Snakes of Arkansas June 23 & Aug. 4, 1 p.m.
Tree Stand Safety Demo July 5, 10 a.m.
Family Recreational Day on the River July 10, 9 a.m.
Beginning Lure Craft Ages 10 & up; registration required July 24, 10 a.m.
Firearm Safety July 26, 2:30 p.m.
Wildflower Watercolor Notecards Registration required July 31, 10 a.m.
Fish Hook Bracelet Making Ages 10 & up; registration required
Education Barge Tours Boat Tour of the Arkansas River
Take a 1- to 2-hour tour along the Arkansas River. Learn about river navigation, boating safety and see the sights the river has to offer. Registration is required.
Lock and Dam Boat Tour
Take a 1- to 2-hour tour along the Arkansas River. Learn about river navigation and the lock and dam system. This boat ride will include a look at Lock and Dam 13 and barge traffic. Registration is required.
When: Call the nature center or visit the website for specific dates and times of the summer barge tours.
Lake Fort Smith State Park arkansasstateparks.com/lakefortsmith
15458 Shepherd Springs Road, Mountainburg,
Free Fishing Weekend June 8-10
Who: Families who love to fish!
What: Fish this weekend without a fishing license. No pole? No problem! The park will have several poles to loan at the marina, along with other supplies needed to enjoy a great day on the water. Regulations for Arkansas waters apply and must be observed. For more information, call 479-369-2469.
When: June 8-10
Reel-em-in Fishing Derby June 9
Who: Children ages 15 and under
What: The second annual derby will give young fishermen the chance to catch catfish, bass, and sunfish from Lake Fort Smith. Prizes will be awarded in many categories. This event is free. Adults are welcome to accompany the children, however, kids must do the fishing. Participants should bring their own fishing poles and tackle.
When: June 9, Registration begins at 8 a.m.
Discovery Day Camp June 25 and July 16
Who: Ages 10-14
What: Discover nature as you kayak to the far end of the lake to observe aquatic birds and animal and use dip nets to find and observe macro invertebrates and fish. Campers will learn the basics of conservation and ecology by exploring Lake Fort Smith State Park’s varied habitat of forests, streams, and lake. The park provides all educational materials. Participants are encouraged to bring a lunch, water bottle, hat, and sunscreen. Admission is $20. Space is limited.
June 25, 9 a.m.- 4p.m.
July 16, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Summer Breeze Lake Tour
Who: All ages
What: Enjoy the calming summer breeze aboard a tour boat as you cruise the emerald waters of Lake Fort Smith. This is a weather dependent event and subject to cancellation. Reservations suggested and can be made at the marina at 479-369-1018. $10 adults, $6 children ages 6-12, under 6 free
When: June 10, 17 and 24, July 22. 7-8 p.m.
Twilight Kayak Adventure
Who: Adults and children 6 and older.
What: Join the park interpreters for an evening kayak adventure. Reservations are required and are taken at the marina, 479-369-1018. Space is limited. This is weather dependent; advance notice will be given by the tour guide if the tour is canceled. Meet at the marina. $15 adults, $10 children ages 6-12.
When: 7-9 p.m. Saturdays
Wetlands Discovery One-Day Camp
Who: Kids ages 10-14
What: A thrilling day of discovery on the water! Take the kayaks out on the lake to observe aquatic birds and animals and use dip nets to find and observe macro invertebrates and fish. Campers explore the basics of conservation and ecology by exploring Lake Fort Smith’s varied habitat of forests, streams and lake. The park provides all the educational materials used in their explorations. Take a lunch, a water bottle, a hat and sunscreen. Space is limited; call the park at 479-369-2469 by June 18 to register. $20. Meet at the visitors center.
When: June 23, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Who: Ages 6 and up
What: Kayaking is a great way to experience the sights and sounds of Lake Fort Smith and a fun way to exercise. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, this kayak tour is a perfect way to jump-start your day. Reservations are required and should be made by calling the marina at 479-369-1018. Space is limited. The event is weather dependent. Cost is $15 adults, $10 for children ages 6-12.
When: 9-11 a.m. July 1, Aug. 4
4th of July Fun Camp; Games Day
Who: All ages
What: Park interpreters will host a day of fun games at the pavilion. Activities will include kickball, wheelbarrow races, water balloon tosses, watermelon eating contests, and more. Admission is free.
When: July 4,10 a.m.-noon
Fireworks Lake Cruise July 4
Who: All ages
What: Celebrate Independence Day by cruising on Lake Fort Smith and watching the Mountainburg fireworks display. Cost is $10 for adults, $6 for children ages 6-12, and free for 5 and under.
When: July 4, 8-10 p.m.
National S’mores Day Aug. 10
Who: All ages
What: Celebrate National S’mores Day by making some of the delicious desserts and learning more about the tasty treat at the park’s visitor center fireplace. The event is free and open to all. S’mores are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
When: Aug. 10, 6-6:30 p.m.
This article appears in the June 2018 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.