The rolling Wedington Wildlife Management Area, situated within the Ozark National Forest offers fall hunting for deer and dove, but the area is as well known among local residents for its year-round nonhunting activities.
The 15,915-acre tract is less than a half-hour drive from downtown Fayetteville via Arkansas 16 or U.S. 412,. The area is overseen through a cooperative agreement between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the U.S. Forest Service. The popular 102-acre Lake Wedington, for which the management area is named, and the concessions around it (cabins, campsites, pavilion, paddling rentals and picnic shelters) are operated by the Forest Service.
Game and Fish manages 20-25 acres of the area for dove hunting with four dove fields planted annually with either sunflowers or millet, or with top-sown wheat.
"The area is unique in that it's separated from the larger part of the national forest," said Mark Hutchings, assistant chief of wildlife management. "It's in parts of Benton and Washington counties just west of Fayetteville. It's primarily forested. The deer hunting is high quality. We have limited open lands that we manage with some food plots. There are also a few open fields where we try to provide some dove hunting on some small fields."
The tract has other areas of open land the Forest Service leases for cattle grazing to private individuals.
Its proximity to the often overlooked Illinois River, and the Chamber Spring access on the north-northwest portion of the area also offers paddling opportunities.
"We get floaters on the river and in the winter even some duck hunting will go on," Hutchings said.
Lake Wedington has largemouth bass, bream, catfish and crappie. Anglers can target smallmouth and largemouth bass in the Illinois River, along with bream and catfish.
The forest is a mix of oak and pine woodland. Hutchings said the Forest Service has thinned parts of the forest, allowing for some herbaceous growth that is conducive to wildlife. That means Wedington is a destination for wildlife watchers.
Squirrels, rabbits and a variety of resident and migrant songbirds can be spotted, along with the deer, dove, turkey and quail, as well as native grasses.
Trails in the management area provide a getaway for the ever-increasing population of Washington and Benton counties. Along with the hiking trails, there is a lot of horseback riding that goes on there, Hutchings said.
The area was formed in the Great Depression in the 1930s to reclaim worn-out farmland and to provide jobs for area residents. Lakes, cabins and a lodge were built and years later underwent renovation. Administration of the area was transferred from the U.S. Soil Conservation service to the U.S. Forest Service in 1954. It became a cooperative wildlife management area in 1999. Forest Service management is in the Boston Mountains district, with headquarters in Ozark.