Smart Talk, June 19 

At last, the Audubon center


Arkansas Audubon will break ground on its $1.4 million nature center later this summer, director Ken Smith told the city board of directors last week. The facility — which will renovate and add on to an existing community center in Gillam Park — is the culmination of six years of work by the state Audubon office to procure a lease on the park, now 418 acres, and raise funds for the center.

The Little Rock Audubon Center, Smith said, will not rely on indoor exhibits to teach about nature but on the park itself, which features upland glades, oak savannah, willow oak flats and the Fourche Creek bottoms, including the largest oxbow on the Fourche drainage. The ecosystems and rare plants they host make the park one of the most prized natural areas in the state. The center will include a field studies lab, public meeting space and offices.

The 9,200-square-foot center, which will open in 2009, will feature chimney swift towers, cisterns to collect water for landscape plants and a bioswale (a man-made wetland) and will be the property of the city. Audubon entered into a 99-year lease on the land in 2005.


Deluxe housing


Pulaski County is the state's biggest in population, so it's no surprise that it's the state leader in home sales and total value of home sales. But it is not, according to the Arkansas Realtors Association, home to the priciest houses.

That honor goes to Benton County.

Through April, the five highest ranking counties in terms of the average price of homes sold in 2008 were: Benton, $195,161; Washington, $191,334; Saline, $170,453; Garland, $169,353, and Cleburne, $168,975. For the month of April alone, Pulaski ranked fourth, at $163,091, a sharp 9 percent drop from the average price of homes sold in April 2007. These values don't say much about what you get for the money, of course.


Arkansas: in good hands


After the Texas Governor's Mansion nearly burned down in an apparent arson, one of the more surprising facts to emerge was that the property was uninsured. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has pledged to rebuild the former residence of Sam Houston and George W. Bush — to the tune of an estimated $20 million, which will be raised through a combination of private donations and legislative appropriations.

The Arkansas taxpayer can rest easy. Gov. Mike Beebe's spokesman Matt DeCample said the Arkansas Governor's Mansion is insured by the state Risk Management office. No word if Beebe, should misfortune occur, would follow previous Gov. Mike Huckabee's example and use a trailer for temporary quarters.



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