May is Heritage Month in Arkansas, and the Department of Arkansas Heritage started the month off with the dedication of the state’s newest official “natural area” called Rattlesnake Ridge.

We acquired this 323 acres through the generosity of Lee and Beverly Bodenhamer and their family, The Nature Conservancy, Central Arkansas Water, and support from the state.

The story of this acquisition illustrates many things, including the value of preserving natural areas in our state and the importance of partnerships between state government and private organizations.

The story begins with Lee Bodenhamer, who bought the land years ago as a retreat for his family. Last year, Lee took Scott Simon of The Nature Conservancy on a tour of the property and said that his family wanted to conserve it. As they took in the view from the top of the ridge, Scott had no doubt this natural habitat needed to be preserved and enjoyed.

Scott spread the story to those who needed to hear it, which included Stacy Hurst, director of Department of Arkansas Heritage, who persuaded me that this was an important conservation project for the state. Several partners agreed to pitch in, and now we have added our 73rd natural area, and increased the state’s inventory of conserved natural areas to more than 65,000 acres.

Rattlesnake Ridge, named for one of its more famous reptilian occupants, is important for many reasons.

Five of Arkansas’s six ecoregions converge in Central Arkansas, and smack-dab in the middle of it all, we have this ridge that rises 920 feet above sea level.

The 13 acres of sandstone outcrop at the top of this ridge is a combination of flora and fauna, and geology and climate, that is similar to only a few other places in Arkansas.

You can find varieties of life here you won’t find in many other places. The Wright’s Cliffbrake, a fern that grows in the highest point of Rattlesnake Ridge, has been found in only one other spot in Arkansas. Otherwise, it is found only in the southwest areas of the United States.

Western diamondback rattlers share the territory, which is as far east as that rattler is known to live.

The location of Rattlesnake Ridge is significant because it offers a wilderness experience minutes away from downtown Little Rock. While Rattlesnake Ridge isn’t well known yet, the directions to find it are easy. It’s right next door to Pinnacle Mountain State Park.

After the ceremony, Darrell Bowman of the Department of Natural Heritage, took me up the bumpy road to the eastern edge of the ridge. The view of the Arkansas River and Pinnacle Mountain from there is as pretty a sight as any you will see in our beautiful state. Now Rattlesnake Ridge is open to all Arkansans, and you can see it for yourself.