Hempstead County Hunting Club

Written by Fred Clark 
Guild members work in some of the finest forests in America. This year, Guild members added one more exceptional forest to our portfolio. It is one of the highest quality cypress swamps in Arkansas.

In the 1880’s, the legendary Texarkana region timberman William Buchanan set in motion the formation of a hunting club to protect what was, even then, one of the region’s finest cypress swamps. Since that time, the Hempstead County Hunting Club and its many generations of sportsmen members have been the stewards of Grassy Lake, one of the few remaining large patches of Cypress forest and related habitats in Arkansas.

Grassy Lake is the centerpiece of the wildlife-rich, 19,000-acre Little River Bottoms Important Bird Area, one of the largest contiguous tracts of fish and wildlife habitat on the Gulf coastal plain. The area supports the largest breeding population of the American alligator in Arkansas, is nationally recognized for its populations of water birds, and provides habitat for tremendous numbers of waterfowl. The latter characteristic caused private landowners to dedicate almost the entire area to wildlife management long ago, especially for waterfowl hunting.

Beginning in 2017, Guild Senior Forester Fred Clark, Arkansas guild member and forester Jeff Denman, and Arkansas Wildlife Biologist Jody Pagans led a team in developing a Land and Water Stewardship Plan for the property. The overall condition of the lands and waters that make up the Club’s property are a remarkable testament to more than 125 years of conservative management. However, a large property with complex hydrology and such unique ecosystems presents challenges that require expert knowledge in managing water and maintaining ecosystem functions while supporting recreational uses in the extensive bottoms of the region.

The Guild’s plan, led by Jeff Denman, provides a broad set of upland, bottomland, and water management recommendations aimed at ensuring stable conditions for cypress and related habitats. Expertise in water engineering and construction, moist soil management, and forest management for wildlife will be important elements of ongoing work to maintain productive wildlife habitat and support these unique ecosystems.

With the recommendations in this plan, and using the talent and resources already available, the Club is in an excellent position to manage and restore wildlife habitat and ecological functions that will continue to protect the integrity of this unique, world-class natural resource for years to come.

Captions:
Photo 1 - Jeff Denman cruising the cypress swamp at Grassy Lake. Jeff uses traditional home-built plywood pirogues for navigating in the swamps. 
Photo 2 - IR Orthophoto of Grassy Lake and surrounding habitat. 
Photo 3 - Upland ridges support extensive shortleaf pine and oak forests. The Nature Conservancy of Arkansas assists the Club with prescribed burns in the upland forests.