The Delta Rivers Nature Center is one of many pieces of property that was affected by the near record breaking flood in the month of June, and efforts are being made to rehabilitate damaged areas so the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission can reopen the facility to the public.
However, it still make take several months before that can happen, according to Facility Director Jason Hooks.
“During the flooding, we had all of our out buildings except for our main exhibit hall that had water damage or water in them,” said Hooks. “Some of them are at lower elevations, so some buildings received quite a bit of damage from holding water in them. Our classroom and our shop had standing water in them, but they are all repairs we can make. Some of our smaller buildings had to be tore out and tore down.”
The main building at the center did not have any water damage due to being on stilts, but water was close to entering the building.
“Water did not get inside of the building, but we are going to have to replace some insulation from the lower part,” Hooks said.
Hooks and his staff were able to save all of the animals and reptiles housed at the facility by moving them to other locations before the flood reached its higher levels.
“Kind of our original plan were going with the projections off of the river,” said Hooks. “The first projections were at about 46 foot and we have seen that before here, so we knew it would get into some of our facilities and the bottom of the eagle pens, but they would still be dry. We had plans and had moved some of our animals up to higher ground. Then the river was projected to come up to 49 foot and eventually 51 foot, so when we saw that last projection with it coming up between 49 and 51 we made plans to remove all of our animals.”
Hooks and his team were able to get back into the center in the middle of June and have been working on rehabilitation efforts since that time.
“We were able to drive back into Regional Park on June 17th,” said Hooks. “We have been working and we have had Metro Disaster crew come out, and they have been helping us with the cleanup and tearing things out of the buildings. We have been doing a lot of work on the ground.”
Some animals have been returned to the center, but others will be returned later as reconstruction is completed.
“We have started bringing some of our animals back. We have brought back our turtles and some of our snakes and frogs,” said Hooks. “The birds will have to wait because one of the barns we housed our birds in had to be completely tore out, so it is going to have to be rebuilt.”
Hooks said they are hoping to have the center reopen sometime in October.
“We are about finished with our initial cleaning and tearing out of buildings,” he said. “Now we will go into the bid process and we are working with our insurance to see what all they are going to cover. Once we get that number back, we will have meetings and come up with a plan of how to rebuild and proceed from there. We are looking at probably October for a reopening. That is tentative, so it could be earlier, and it could be a little bit later than that.”
Volunteers were asked to come out to the center to help with rehabilitation efforts on June 29, but the river rose again and caused the Game and Fish Commission to have to postpone those efforts. Now it may be closer to the fall before volunteers are asked to come out to help.
“We had a big day planned on June 29 for volunteers to come out with tickets to keep track of who we had here,” said Hooks. “Then the river was projected to come back up and the water would be up over the road in Regional Park, so we had to postpone that event. We are now looking at maybe holding off until the fall when the temperature cools off a little bit to have volunteers come back out.”
Hooks said that previous floods showed them what to expect with this year's flood.
“In 2015 and 2016 we had floods out here of I think 45 and 46 foot, and this flood reached to not quite 51 foot,” said Hooks. “We saw water get into buildings that we didn't see before. Our classroom and some of our other storage buildings we knew would get water into some of them, so knowing that, we tried to take precautions early. We tried to move lawnmowers and tractors to higher ground. We just had to keep watching the river level and made adjustments as it kept moving up.”
Another area that was affected was the archery range, which wasn't as badly damaged as it could have been.
“We knew the archery range sits at lower elevation and it would be one of the first things to flood,” said Hooks. “We took up those targets that we had put out there. That was one of the first things we did because we knew it would get flooded first. Since water has receded, we went down there and had to pick up some limbs and some sticks, but overall it faired fairly well. We didn't lose any targets. There will be some litter and some trash to pick up, but it was minimal.”
The nature trails also received a considerable amount of damage that will require rebuilding.
“All of our trails ended up being under water,” said Hooks. “We have got one section where it actually floated the boardwalk and floated the piers, so we have one section that will have to be completely taken out and rebuilt. Right now we have to wait for the ground to dry out before we can get equipment out there to even tear it out. It may be August or September before we can actually get in there.”
Another popular attraction that could be affected by the flood is the annual Boo on the Bayou, which allows children to go to the nature center for games, candy, and more during one weekend of the Halloween season.
“With Boo on the Bayou, we have been talking about it since last year's event, and we wanted to transition away from that Halloween theme into more of a fall festival and put more focus on the Game and Fish Commission and conservation-related messages,” said Hooks.
“We were making plans to make that transition this fall, but this year we may not do anything. We may put it off, then try to come back next year just because our reopening date may not work out. We are probably going to hold off this year. We want to incorporate some of the same with games for the kids and things we have done, but at the same time, try to put more of a focus on conservation and some of the work Game and Fish does. We will see how that goes probably next year.”