International Paper has donated its Lake Erling property in South Arkansas' Lafayette County to the Shreveport-based AGRED Foundation. It stands for American Gamebird Research Education and Development. Eric Fletcher, AGRED Foundation director, said this donation – 7,600 acres in all – will ensure that Lake Erling is maintained to the high standards set by International Paper for the past 57 years.
"This lake is a jewel in the southwest part of Arkansas and north Louisiana, albeit only located a mile from the state line," Fletcher said, during an interview at his Shreveport office. "There was a lot of uncertainty as to what was going to happen with the lake.”
The man-made lake was built in the 1950s as a water source for International Paper's Springhill, La., paper mill, which closed more than 30 years ago. International Paper has been divesting of its timberland in Arkansas for years.
Fletcher estimates there are at least 600 homes – including his own -- around this public-access lake that has a long, solid reputation among anglers. But, residents were concerned about a change in ownership.
Fletcher was raised on a farm in South Africa. He watched his grandfather found conservation parks there. Now, a world away, Fletcher is carrying on that tradition in South Arkansas.
“This lake -- having grown up around birds and ornithologists -- is just an amazing place for birds. Right now, it’s probably one of the best times of year to see it. I just want to make sure it’s conserved and maintained for wildlife and bird life, in particular," Fletcher said.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will continue to manage fish and wildlife at Lake Erling, according to Fletcher, and keep it open to the public.