Eagle Watch Nature Trail
SWEPCO’s Flint Creek Power Plant in northwest Arkansas has been home to the Eagle Watch Nature Trail since 1999. The year-round warm water in the coal-fueled power plant’s 500-acre reservoir, SWEPCO Lake, attracts wintering American Bald Eagles. SWEPCO employees, working in community partnerships, developed the 65-acre Eagle Watch project, which includes two wildlife viewing pavilions and a half-mile nature trail. School kids, community groups, bird watchers, hikers and others enjoy the Eagle Watch Nature Trail, which is open to the public throughout the year.
The half-mile Eagle Watch Nature Trail leads to two pavilions along the lake in an area that is a favorite for the eagles (trail map).
The trail and original pavilion were built in 1999 on 65 acres of Flint Creek Power Plant property by plant employees and Gentry Boy Scout Troop 34. A second pavilion was added in 2016. Over the years, volunteers from local 4-H, FFA, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, schools and other groups have contributed time, skills and enthusiasm to Eagle Watch Nature Trail. The power plant has an active outdoor education program for local school children and popular Earth Day events. SWEPCO’s Eagle Watch and Nature Trail provides free year-round public access to the diverse habitat and wildlife at power plant site near Gentry, Ark. (map/driving directions)
The 528-megawatt, coal-fueled Flint Creek Power Plant has been a mainstay of reliable and affordable power generation in fast-growing Northwest Arkansas for more than 35 years. SWEPCO Lake is popular, in part, for the sport fishing it provides. As water in the man-made 500-acre SWEPCO Lake cools the plant, it stays plenty warm for Florida bass, crappie and other species. This means year-round fishing for area anglers – and an abundant food supply for the magnificent American bald eagles that take up residence each winter.
The eagles start arriving in October and spend the winter at SWEPCO Lake – fishing the reservoir and loafing in the trees. In March, the eagles return north to their nesting grounds. The presence of the American bald eagles at Flint Creek is part of a national conservation success story. After decades of public and private protection efforts, the Department of the Interior announced the removal of the bald eagle from the Endangered-Species List in June 2007. In a news story about the announcement, an Audubon Arkansas official noted that bald eagles are a common sight in the state, especially at Gentry, where warm water from the SWEPCO power plant attracts hundreds of birds to the lake each winter.
Although wintering bald eagles are the main attraction, many of the 144 bird species identified at the site also can be seen (here's a bird species checklist for visitors). Mammals include foxes, deer and beaver.
Reptiles and amphibians include various species of lizards, turtles, snakes, toads and frogs.
SWEPCO has worked on its wildlife habitat projects with the Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society, Arkansas Game and
Fish Commission and area universities.
Approximately 700 acres of the plant's 1,600 acres are designated as wildlife habitat. Habitat enhancement projects
include nesting boxes for numerous bird species, bat boxes, a butterfly garden, and planting of native grasses,
wildflowers, trees and food plots.
Flint Creek and the Eagle Watch Nature Trail have been recognized by many organizations.
- In early 2007, Audubon Arkansas designated the Flint Creek property as an "Important Bird Area."
- Flint Creek is certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council for its Wildlife at Work program (since 2002) and Corporate Lands for Learning program (since 2004). The programs are now combined and called Conservation Certification.
- In November 2007, the plant and local volunteers won three international wildlife habitat conservation awards from the Wildlife Habitat Council:
- The plant, including its employees, volunteers and community partners, received the Pollinator Protection Award for implementing specific land management practices to promote pollinator populations. Pollinators include bees, birds, bats and other insects and animals that spread pollen so plant fertilization can occur. The award is presented to a WHC member company in cooperation with the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.
- The Bloomfield Community 4-H Club, a key partner at Flint Creek's Eagle Watch Nature Trail, was honored as Community Partner of the Year for making a significant contribution and lasting impact on a corporate site's wildlife habitat enhancement programs through hands-on environmental awareness and improvement activities.
- Flint Creek also was selected as a Signature Site of Sustainability and was featured on the WHC media tour in 2008 as the organization celebrated its 20th anniversary.
- In June 2008, Flint Creek received the regional Arkansas Acres for Wildlife award in a contest sponsored by the Arkansas Wildlife Federation. The award for the Northwest Arkansas region was based on Flint Creek's decision "to provide and retain wildlife habitat on their lands by planting native warm season grasses, forbs, legumes, wildflowers and shrubs and encouraging neighborhood involvement in habitat improvement." Acres for Wildlife is a joint environmental action program of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Cooperative Extension Service.
- Other awards and certifications have come from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, Arkansas Environmental Federation and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation.
Flint Creek Power Plant's reason for existence is producing electricity. But the SWEPCO plant's coexistence with the environment is the result of vision and hard work by dedicated employees and community partners. It's a leading example of SWEPCO's commitment to providing reliable, affordable electric power while actively working to protect people and the environment.
Illinois River Watershed Partnership (AEP is a corporate sponsor)