Locals and visitors alike can find plenty of opportunities in Pine Bluff to enjoy the outdoors, play their favorite sport, or just take off on a walking trail.
When the Gov. Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center opened in Pine Bluff, city leaders and staff knew it would be a popular destination for locals.
What they didn’t expect was how many visitors would flock there from far and wide – very far and wide in some cases.
“When we first opened (in July 2001), we kept track of what states and countries visitors came from,” says Eric Maynard, director of the Delta Rivers Nature Center, “and it didn’t take too long before we had visitors from every state and 50-something countries. We get people from all over.”
The first of four free nature centers built by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Delta Rivers exemplifies what makes Pine Bluff and Jefferson County so attractive to residents as well as to people from outside the region. For outdoor lovers, the area offers a wealth of natural attractions.
“Pine Bluff is doing some wonderful things,” says Greg Gustek, director of the Pine Bluff Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve got a lot to brag about.”
The area is full of nature trails for hiking and biking, and streams and lakes for fishing. The Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department offers a variety of activities at 19 parks and its flagship lakeside park, Saracen Landing. The city is also home to the 7,000-seat Hestand Stadium, which hosts numerous horse shows throughout the year, along with the popular Southeast Arkansas District Livestock Show, Rodeo and Fair every September.
The Great Outdoors
The Delta Rivers Nature Center, located on 130 acres in Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Regional Park, is the region’s outdoor centerpiece. With a 22,000-gallon aquarium stocked with native fish and exhibits of snakes, turtles, frogs and alligators, the center educates visitors about the Delta’s heritage, wildlife and ecology.
“We have public programs and classes that range from hunter and boating education to beginning fishing, archery, canoeing and bird watching,” Maynard says.
Not surprisingly, the center sees an abundance of school groups and other organizations. But individuals are also welcome to sign up at any time for the free programs. And there are ample reasons to just visit with no agenda.
“The general public can participate in programs or just come and wander,” Maynard says. “We have a number of people who come out here regularly to walk and just to get away.”
The Pine Bluff area is also haven for fishing and hunting buffs. The city hosts several bass tournaments on the Arkansas River, including the annual Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza in June. And hunters have no shortage of opportunities.
“We are only about 30 minutes from the duck hunting capital of Stuttgart, and we have tons of fabulous deer woods,” Gustek says. “No matter what kind of hunting you want – turkey, squirrel, rabbit, coyote – we’re the place to be.”
The city is also a good place for golf, with several courses designed for players of all skills. One of the most popular is Harbor Oaks, an 18-hole championship course ranked among the top 10 public courses in Arkansas.
Archery is another popular pursuit in Pine Bluff, the home of the late archery enthusiast Ben Pearson, who launched the first company to mass-produce archery sets and equipment. The city hosts several archery tournaments and is home to the Pine Bluff Bowhunters Club.
Fun, Games and Fitness
From baseball, softball, basketball and tennis to youth sports programs, a model airplane field and even an RV park, Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation has activities to fit just about any interest.
“Our sports programs are very popular,” says April Layher, director of Parks and Recreation.
Layher adds that the department is particularly proud of Saracen Landing, which sits on 500-acre Lake Saracen and is considered one of the South’s finest public outdoor pavilions. In addition to offering families and individuals with a place to unwind, cast a line and enjoy a picnic, Saracen Landing is available to rent for private functions.
The lake also has a blueway trail that earned the 2011 Governor’s Leadership in Fitness Award, and it will be nearly three miles in length when final phases are complete.
Read more about Jefferson County’s arts and culture scene.