Kessler Mountain Outdoor Classroom and Nature Center

Free public open houses every month on 3rd Saturdays from 9am - 1pm!

The Kessler Mountain Outdoor Classroom and Nature Center is a hoot! Even the barred owls are eager.

It's a gloriously grassroots example of repurposing an existing building for a new use. In this case, it's a former meat locker repurposed as a K - Ph.D. classroom. Located within the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse (1725 Smoke House Trail, Fayetteville, AR 72701), it shares the building with the offices of several local organizations, including our awesome local clothing brand, Fayettechill, and one of our conservation heroes, the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust.

The indoor nature center contains exhibits on Tools of the Trade, where people of all ages can learn more about the life of a botanist, forester, entomologist, wildlife biologist, and geologist. There are some cool fossils to touch, real tree trunks to practice identification, maps to peruse, and even a mounted bobcat, red fox, and raccoon. Microscope stations allow visitors to look more closely at turtle shells, snake skins, deer antlers and more. Field guides are available to browse for birds, or to help you identify a critter or plant you might find on the trail.

Inside The Nature Center

See the center's transformation in the above slideshow.  The first image shows the construction phase, and the following three images show it after it has been finished.

You may be wondering "Why is this post on Ripples?" Because, as many of you already know, in 2011 we began our journey off-grid intending to create native habitat around the house and share nature knowledge with visitors, like a mini nature center with information on sustainable living, too. Instead, we've decided to throw our energy into supporting the Kessler Mountain center! It's awesome, and much more suited to education than our house will ever be.

I've been a volunteer with the NWA Land Trust and Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists for several years now. The pants I wear while writing this are marked by stains acquired a long time ago from mulching and planting native gardens at the outdoor classroom. Isn't there something wonderful about putting a plant in the ground, whispering good luck, tending to its needs and watching it grow? On my first day volunteering at the indoor nature center, the floor was covered in white dust, the large room bare. Trail maintenance had it's ups and downs over the seasons, as we removed some brush and honeysuckle or raked leaves and debris away from the path. I helped research and type the signage for some of the exhibits, which taught me about professionals in various fields and the fascinating 5,000 year history of a Korean Ho-Mi Digger (spade). Many people and organizations have made this a success!

Crafting the Native Garden

The Kessler Mountain Outdoor Classroom is, as the name suggests, outside - with gazebo, nice trails with bridges and stairs as needed, and plenty of seating for visitors or field trips. Mr. Clyde's Trail and Mrs. Nanny's Trail are easy hikes near the Smokehouse, and visitors have heard birds, found frogs and toads in burrows, and seen a snake slither past. There are some nice native plant gardens that reduce rainwater runoff and offer nectar and host plants for native pollinators. Adventure abounds on the south side of Kessler Mountain, too, on longer trails like Spellbound, Eggbeater, Crazy Mary and more.

Outside of the Nature Center

The new nature center and the field trips it hosts continue to be a success thanks to Fayetteville Public Schools, Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association, Boston Mountain Solid Waste District, Kessler Mountain Greenways, Arkansas Native Plant Society, the National Park Service, the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust and countless volunteers doing everything from administrative work to native planting and trail maintenance. If you’d like to get involved as a volunteer, contact Sim:

There's a lot going on at Kessler Mountain with the new regional park. Don't forget to visit our nature center as you enjoy this magical mountain!

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Tom Waggoner

Nice post, Amanda!
It’s good to see the vision becoming a reality. Kudos to all who have contributed!

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