The Paradise Park Wildlife Observation Trail in Jacksonville soon should receive improvements courtesy of a state grant coming from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

With approval from the commission’s governing board, $86,000 has been earmarked to fund a six-foot to eight-foot wide asphalt loop trail measuring between one-third and one-half miles. According to Marlo Jackson of the city’s parks marketing manager, the funding also will be used to help construct a paved parking lot.

The money for the program comes from the AGFC’s gas lease revenue. The Jacksonville trail was one of 13 projects approved AGFC.

"During the February 2012 meeting of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, commissioners approved the use of up to $1 million to fund 13 Wildlife Observation Trails Pilot Program grant projects," Jackson said. Of the $1 million, $86,000 is being earmarked for the Jacksonville trail improvements.

"The project for Paradise Park Wildlife Observation Trail includes various wildlife, vegetation, a stream, bridges, a wildlife blind, and many exhibits. The exhibits will include but are not limited to wildlife feeders, worm farm, sand box, aquatic organisms and plants, bird houses, butterfly garden, and much more," Jackson said. "Along the trail there will be benches and large boulders to sit and observe wildlife in the surroundings."

Bulldozers recently started clearing ground for the trail which will provide enhanced opportunities for the enjoyment and observation of Arkansas’ wildlife by the general public.

The trails program grants were recommended by a seven member advisory board appointed by the Director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. The program is a result of Act 686 of the 2009 session of the Arkansas General Assembly. Cities, counties, state agencies and nonprofit groups were eligible for the program.

Within the trail there will be an open space large enough for a class to discuss what they learned during their observation. A trail head, interpretive exhibit signs, and trash receptacles are elements, not to go overlooked, that will be included. There is an ADA restroom facility already located at the park.

The Wildlife Observation trail will impact tourism and economic development by bringing Nature enthusiasts, Geocaching, photography, summer camps and programs, schools & daycare curriculums to Paradise Park for a new experience that Jacksonville does not offer. It also will provide a new location for these groups to explore that would not have originally come to the city.

"Our vision for the park is to add on to the trail in the future," Jackson said.

The trail will be appealing to youth through play and education. Play in nature is good for children. Access to sticks, stones, and a multitude of other natural loose parts like pine cones amplify play opportunities, including spontaneous play, social interaction, and cognitive stimulation. Our trail will engage all of the senses, including their sense of fun. Most importantly, nature is being made available to those children who might not experience it any other way.

Jackson said the trail will provide multiple opportunities for children to playfully enjoy and learn about their natural surroundings. Educational activities in small groups and hands-on programs with school standards and curriculums will allow them to discover the value of nature through exploration and inquiry. We want to provide youth with a nature experience to draw them in to ensure they walk away eager to come back.

"Jacksonville Parks and Recreation is committed to introducing teachers, youth, adults and families to exciting ways they can learn more about wildlife and their habitats," Jackson said. "With the assistance of groups like Arkansas Master Naturalist, The Forestry Commission, and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, we will identify the different types of wildlife and plants for interpretive signs along the trail and in the park. Through education or recreation experiences people can become more interested in knowing the role they play in conserving and enhancing our resources."

Jackson added, "With that knowledge, they may become better stewards of the land and our wildlife resources, making more informed choices about their daily activities that affect these resources and helping to influence others to cherish and enhance our natural heritage."

The west side boundary line of Paradise Park is next to the Little Rock Air Force Base. The base has a very active natural resources program overseeing 6,100-plus acres of diverse habitat, terrain, flora and fauna — of which about 3,000 acres are wooded.

The program manages all aspects of natural resources including urban and commercial forests; fish and wildlife; streams, lakes, wetlands, and floodplains; endangered species; hunting and fishing, and even geological resources.

School curriculums, explorations, Geocaching, youth and daycare groups, and summer camp are some of the programs that will utilize the facility. Pre-K schools will use the trail for exploration of nature by collecting leaves, watching insects, and learning about seasonal changes. Schools will use the trail to take their indoor classroom learning, "outdoors". Elementary Schools will create a home to school connection by having family activities promoting parental involvement through the use of the trail. These activities would reinforce what is taught at school and get families active in the learning process. Biology, Zoology, Environmental Science teachers at the middle and high schools will utilize the trail by incorporating nature activities into lesson plans. Some hands-on activities can include a sand box to study different animal tracks, soil profiles, aquatic plants and organisms, and observe wildlife from the wildlife blind.

The purpose of the grant program is to ignite interest in the natural, cultural, scenic beauty, fish, wildlife and other natural resources of Arkansas and to promote economic development in a healthy and environmentally sound manner. The trail is expected to promote wildlife observation, attract and increase tourism, promote economic development and promote a healthy lifestyle among other things, Jackson said.