Big Lake Wildlife Refuge Projects underway

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Construction of the new office and visitor center is underway at Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge headquarters located 2.5 miles east of Manila on Highway 18.

Jeremy Bennett, manager of Big Lake Wildlife Refuge, shows where the information desk will be located in the new headquarters. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

There are actually two projects under construction at the site with the 2,500 square foot office and visitor center and a 120x40 foot maintenance shop.

The project was approved almost two years ago with funding through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Jeremy Bennett, Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge manager, said the ground work started last summer and the building is now taking form.

Construction underway for the new offices and visitor center at Big Lake Headquarters.

"This is something for the public," he said. "Visitors presently only have a small area at the headquarters. The new facility will feature an exhibit area, classroom area, and restrooms in the front. There will be three offices, meeting room, mud room, and small break area for the staff."

Bennett said the new building is much more than he thought he would see when he came here five years ago.

It will be a smaller version of the Nature Center in Jonesboro.

It will be educational for visitors. They will be able to learn the history of Big Lake.

"So many people just see Big Lake from Highway 18 as they drive by," Bennett said. "They do not know about the beauty of the 11,000 acres. We need to promote what we have here. We want to connect our children with the outdoors."

Bennett said they are looking at having local people who know so much about Big Lake do an oral history exhibit to be played for visitors at the center.

There will be a small, open office area for volunteers to welcome guests to the headquarters and share information.

A natural stone facade will be used around the bottom of the building, with the sides a solid colored stained cypress. There will be a silver metal roof. It will have the look of a lodge fitting into the area with a natural design. Several energy saving features include solar panels to conserve energy and a cistern to collect rain water.

"Our goal is to reduce, reuse and recycle," Bennett said.

The same style structure with different interiors is being constructed at the Bald Knob Refuge and Wapanocca Refuge.

Once the building is completed, the old headquarters will be torn down. Because of the location being the same, the old maintenance shop had to be replaced.

Joseph Pack, equipment operator at Big Lake, said the new maintenance shop will more than double. The new shop is large enough to house all of the boats and equipment and extend the useful life of the equipment used at Big Lake. Sun damage can be harmful to the equipment.

The new shop will also allow the equipment to be better secured, give room to work on the equipment and a good storage place. It will also feature a mud room and a small office.

Both Bennett and Pack are very pleased with the project.

"The money was allocated and under contract almost two years ago," Bennett said. "With the economy like it is, we are fortunate to have gotten this when we did."

The Construction Company is K-Con Inc. out of Charleston, S.C. They are doing all four projects on the three refuges. The approximate cost of the Big Lake Project is $1.5 million with $600,000 for the shop, $80,000 for the exhibits, $50,000 for furnishings, and $750,000 for the office.

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