Interim President Kelley Erstine, Kevin Cheri, Buffalo National River superintendent and North Arkansas College President Randy Esters sign partnership agreement.

Interim President Kelley Erstine, Kevin Cheri, Buffalo National River superintendent and North Arkansas College President Randy Esters sign partnership agreement.

The University of Central Arkansas, North Arkansas College (Northark) and the Buffalo National River have joined together to form a Research Learning Center at Steel Creek Campground near the Buffalo National River.

The agreement states Northark students earning the Associate of Science in Liberal Arts and Sciences will be admitted to the Bachelor of Science in environmental science (biology or planning and administration) with full junior classification at UCA, subject to completing UCA general admissions requirements and having at least a 2.0 cumulative GPA. Either institution may offer continuing education, community education or non-credit classes.

Officials inked a five-year agreement Monday that provides a partnership intended to educate and foster conservation and preservation of natural resources. Former UCA President Tom Courtway and interim President Kelley Erstine participated in the signing ceremony hosted at Steel Creek.

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with the National Park Service and North Arkansas College in this project. Utilizing Steel Creek and its facilities will provide unique opportunities for UCA students and faculty in areas such as biology, environmental science, history, geography, art and outdoor recreation, just to name a few. We thank Kevin Cheri and his staff and Dr. [Randy] Esters and Northark for this incredible opportunity,” Courtway said.

UCA has a recognized commitment to environmental issues, establishing Arkansas’ first interdisciplinary environmental science Bachelor of Science degree in 1998. Over the years UCA students have participated in coursework and outreach at the Buffalo National River. In addition, UCA has collaborated with the National Park Service over the past 20 years on projects that contribute data for park management and support for public outreach.

Steel Creek is located about three miles east of Ponca, Arkansas off Hwy. 74 and is home to Roark Bluff, access to the Buffalo National River and the Old River Trail.

Outdoor programs such as the one created with this partnership are well established in states such as Oregon, Montana, Colorado and California.

Dr. Randy Esters, president of Northark, said, “This is a natural partnership that speaks to the beauty of our area by allowing students to explore, exercise and embark on adventures in an outdoor classroom. This type of environment can dramatically improve academic performance and we’re fortunate to have this facility so close. Steel Creek is such a beautiful and unique location to learn by experiencing the environment that I want to sign up for a class myself!”

Esters said he is in awe of the beauty of Roark Bluff and sees the 135-mile Buffalo River as a destination for visitors across the nation.

Buffalo National River partnered with Northark last summer to offer a free microbiology workshop to high school and college students and instructors. A grant will provide the workshop again in the summer of 2017.

Kevin Cheri, Buffalo National River superintendent, commented, “We are excited about this opportunity to partner with Northark and UCA to create a new Research Learning Center at Steel Creek. Education is at the forefront of our mission at Buffalo National River, and we’re looking forward to working in this living laboratory with faculty and students to develop the next generation of stewards for this beautiful river.”

For more information, view the video created by Northark.