Giving A Hand in The Great Wide Open

Volunteering to help conserve Arkansas’ natural resources has never been easier.

ARKANSAS HAS long been lauded for the richness of its natural landscapes—its plentiful forests, rivers and streams. But you don’t have to be an environmental-science expert to know that maintaining such a commodity requires a bit of give and take—meaning that if we want to keep The Natural State as natural as possible for as long as possible, we’ve got to do our part. So if you’re ready to pitch in, these organizations could use a hand.

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission

Thanks to the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, 73 areas around the state have been set aside for the preservation of Arkansas’ original natural landscape—to protect threatened plant and animal species, and provide essential habitats. But those species need stewards to help continue their survival. From simple cleanups and maintenance to species monitoring and habitat restoration, there are many ways to preserve Arkansas for future generations. Got a group of conservation-minded friends? Check out the commission’s Adopt a Natural Area program. (naturalheritage.com/Get-Involved/volunteer)

Ozark Highlands Trail Association

Not surprisingly, world-class trails like the Ozark Highlands Trail don’t just spring up of their own volition, and they certainly don’t maintain themselves. It takes the work of folks like those at the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, who’ve put over 350,000 volunteer hours (40 years worth!) into crafting and controlling this behemoth of a trail, picking up where the U.S. Forest Service left off after funds dried up in the early ’80s. But members of the OHTA also believe in the “work hard, play hard” philosophy. In addition to all the day-long maintenance events on their calendar, there are just as many day hikes and overnight backpacking trips so that members can thoroughly enjoy the fruits of their labor (aka some of the most scenic views in the Ozarks). And isn’t that what it’s all about? (ozarkhighlandstrail.com/membership)

Arkansas Master Naturalists

In addition to their outdoor volunteer service and outreach efforts, the Arkansas Master Naturalists have made it their mission to better educate the public about the ecology and management of our natural resources. But before you can teach others, you’ve gotta be well informed yourself, right? Start your path to masterhood as a Naturalist in training, where through 40 hours of both classroom instruction and practical application in the field, you’ll learn about everything from meteorology and public land use to trail maintenance and stream-quality testing. Training typically starts in January, but you’ll want to apply to the program early to reserve a spot. (wordpress.arkansasmasternaturalists.org/how-do-i-join)

Keep Arkansas Beautiful

As the name suggests, Keep Arkansas Beautiful aims to preserve The Natural State’s scenic quality by preventing litter and promoting recycling. The organization, a state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, offers a ton of opportunities to pitch in. Join other volunteers in the fall’s Great Arkansas Cleanup or spring’s nationwide Great American Cleanup litter pickup events. (Last year’s initiatives collected a total of 175,635 pounds of litter!) Or if you’d rather organize an event for your own community, sign up for the Litter Grabber Program to receive a free cleanup kit, which includes gloves, trash bags and T-shirts to get your crew started. Every little bit makes a difference. (keeparkansasbeautiful.com/get-involved/volunteers)

Audubon Arkansas

This one’s for the birds, literally. If ornithology tickles your feathers, consider working with Audubon Arkansas as a community scientist. The organization hosts bird watch and count programs throughout the year that are open to birders of all degrees of experience. Do hummingbirds set your heart aflutter? Keep an eye out for these avian pixies and their feeding sources from the comfort of your own home. Or join 16,000 other citizen scientists in counting birds that visit your feeder from November through early April. You can even submit sightings to the eBird online database, a partnership between Audubon and Cornell, no matter where you are. (ar.audubon.org/get-involved/volunteer-us)

Buffalo National River Partners

Are you as obsessed with the first national river as we are? Maybe this volunteer opportunity will float your boat. The Buffalo National River Partners have made it their mission to advocate for and conserve one of The Natural State’s most precious resources. The organization hosts frequent river cleanups and invasive-species-removal projects, where volunteers can pitch in to help keep the Buffalo as pristine and natural as possible. The best part? You get to enjoy the river yourself while ensuring that future generations will get to do the same. (bnrpartners.org)