Saving the Wild Heart of Ozarks Elk Country
314 acres protected and opened to access
Cheryl Haralson remembers a summer morning on Arkansas’ Lick Mountain when she rounded a bend to find 30 bull elk in one huge
velvet-cloaked bachelor herd.
“All I could see was antlers.”
Another day in September as rutting bulls were beginning to sound off, thousands of monarch butterflies obscured the peak’s sweeping views of the Ozarks and blanketed the fields of native milkweed. Monarchs utterly depend on milkweed on their 3,000-mile flights from central Mexico. The Haralsons made many improvements to encourage native forage for wildlife on the 314 acres they purchased there in 2006 with friends and fellow RMEF stalwarts Rick and Penney Oncken. They also donated a conservation easement to RMEF, permanently protecting Lick Mountain from subdivision or development.
Until just recently, this land at the heart of Arkansas elk country was surrounded on three sides by the state-owned 20,000-acre Gene Rush Wildlife Management Area. It’s now a part of that WMA, which abuts the 94,000-acre Buffalo National River. In 2018, the Haralsons and Onckens approached the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) with an offer.
“We felt its highest and best use was as public land,” says Rick Oncken. “We weren’t interested in making money on the deal, and sold it for basically what we bought it for.”
The state jumped at the chance to create a more complete block of public ownership, streamlining conservation work integral to maintaining Arkansas’
“We were excited to purchase that land,” says Mark Hutchings, AGFC assistant chief of wildlife management. “Not only does it contribute from a habitat standpoint, but it helps us manage the surrounding area on a larger scale.”
The property came complete with a house and a heavy-duty shop which Hutchings says will be perfect for housing AGFC’s heavy equipment routinely used for stewardship in this area. The house may be used to host grad students working on a proposed 5-year study of chronic wasting disease in the area’s elk and deer herds.
For her part, Haralson is proudest of the everlasting protection of the conservation easement on land that may well have been headed for subdivision before they bought it.
“We’re working farmers, so conservation is a familiar thing. But if anyone reading this is thinking about preserving a place, a ranch or a parcel or whatever, I can tell you from experience there is an indescribable satisfaction knowing it’s done in your lifetime,” Haralson says. “People want to leave that kind of decision to their wills, or to someone else to get done. But what satisfaction do you get when you’re six feet under? To actually know that place you loved, that place
you hunted, that place you played, that you’ve protected it—forever! That’s a