Plans for a 160-acre outdoor wildlife education center, groundbreaking for Lonoke’s new interchange with Interstate 40 and the annual Chamber of Commerce Appreciation Banquet were on the agenda of the monthly meeting of the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce held Thursday, April 4, at the Lonoke Depot.

Blake Harrison of the Arkansas Waterfowl Association unveiled plans to build the Bennett Family – Arkansas Waterfowl Association Outdoor Recreation Center for Youth, on Arkansas Highway 31 near Wattensaw, by the generosity of the Bennett Family of Lonoke.

The Bennett donation of 160 acres to build an outdoor wildlife and outdoor recreation center, "Is a gift of God through a very generous family," Harrison said, prompting a round of applause from the Chamber members.

"It is really exciting for our organization," which had been seeking at least 40 acres for such a center, Harrison said.

"We realize what our youth are going through … we realize that more than ever in history our youth are being challenged for their time," Harrison said. With so much technology around, "We need to engage our youth to bring them back to heritage and tradition," he said.

The times that youth learned of the outdoors from parents and grandparents are becoming fewer, Harrison said. The Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation Center will help fill in that growing gap, Harrison said.

A non-profit foundation has been established to ensure the center is properly operated and to raise funds for that operation, Harrison said. "There is going to be a cost to run this, but we are ready to tackle it," he said.

"We want to develop a Disney-like concept of hunting and fishing. We want to compete with playing baseball year-round, we want to compete with iPhones … we want to compete with the technology that is seeking out our kids," Harrison said.

Initial plans are for a number of "adventure centers" such as firearms education, hunter education, wildlife education center, rimfire range, archery, dog training area and course, a field trials area and all-terrain vehicle safety course, concealed-carry classes for women, Harrison said. ATV safety courses would be in conjunction with Farm Bureau, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, he said.

"We hope to have the coolest .22 course across the country," Harrison said.

Single events in many of the interests covered by the adventure centers have drawn participants from hundreds of miles away, Harrison said.

This will be a great benefit for everyone, thanks to the Bennett Family, Harrison said.

Promotions committee chairman Bill Ryker said "Monday was a fantastic day," about the groundbreaking ceremony for the new I-40 interchange. The interchange will be with Arkansas Highway 89. Completion is estimated for mid-2014.

Ryker said he believes the Lonoke ceremony is among the first such events for the Arkansas Highway Department. "They don’t have groundbreakings at all their jobs," he remarked. State, county and city officials, Chamber members and others gathered at the Depot for the ceremony.

The ceremony was moved to the Depot grounds because rains had made the construction site impassable for non-construction vehicles and people, Ryker said.

The ceremony marked nearly 15 years of work for another interchange, which was brought about by local efforts.

Ryker also reminded members of the annual Lonoke Chamber Appreciation Banquet set for April 12. This year’s them is "Everyday Heroes," he said.

The banquet is also the annual transition to a new Chamber president, Ryker said. The new president will be Leanna Rich; keynote speaker will be Julie Mayberry. The banquet will be at the Lonoke Community Center; caterer will be King Kat; serving begins at 6 p.m.

Educator of the Year, Organization of the Year, Citizen of the Year, Farm Family of the Year and scholarships for Future Business Leaders of America will be among the awards and recognitions made during the banquet, Ryker said.

Jo Liatsos introduced Jack Fussell, who is running across the U.S. to bring attention to Alzheimer’s disease, and to raise funds for research.

Lt. Col. Michael Donaghy, 19th Airlift Wing director of staff, said that the selection of 19th Airlift Wing commander Col. Brian S. Robinson for promotion to Brigadier General, has now been confirmed. Robinson was included in nominations for promotion presented Jan. 22 by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate.

Robinson has not yet "pinned on" the new rank, but it can be expected that, when the promotion is made, he will be moving to a new position.

What is known as "Change of Command season" is under way at the base, and there may be some leadership changes at the base. But regardless of the changes, the mission of the base will continue uninterrupted, Donaghy said. "We are still training hard and doing our everyday mission and are ready whenever needed," he said.

A Memorial Day Retreat will be held in May, the date, time and location will be announced, Donaghy said. The ceremony is open to all who want to come, he said.

The newly displayed B-58 Hustler display, one of the types of bomber to have operated out of Little Rock Air Force Base, will be dedicated in May. That date and time will also be announced, Donaghy said.