As an animal lover I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR), a nationwide rescue, for exotic big cats seven miles outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Perhaps I had a preconceived notion that these regal and beautiful animals would be wasting away in tiny pens, unwanted and unloved. But what I found was just the opposite. I found a story of inspiration, lifelong dedication and loving care for these magnificent creatures many of which had been abandoned, abused, and neglected…but not any more.
The refuge has been a family affair for the Don and Hilda Jackson family. What began in the 1970’s in their Texas backyard with two rescued lions turned into a lifetime of work. With the realization there was a great need for a big cat refuge the family eventually founded the non-profit Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation.
After the Jackson family relocated to Arkansas their hard work came to fruition when they opened their refuge in 1992. The refuge rambles across about 450 acres overlooking the beautiful Eureka Springs valley. Don and Hilda’s daughter, Tanya Jackson Smith, one of the founders, and her husband Scott manage the operation. With over 100 big cats and a few other odd animal tenants in need of lifelong homes, Tanya and Scott have their hands full. A brief conversation with either one of them though, and it’s soon obvious they have dedicated their lives to rescuing, and providing a lifetime of love, and care, for as many “Big Cats” as their facility can take in.
TCWR loves to have visitors come to see what they’re all about. They offer two types of tours; keeper guided or self-guided. Seniors 65, children 4-12, and veterans pay only $10.00, adults pay - $15.00 and they offer discounts for larger groups. They can accommodate folks who might need to ride rather than walk. The story behind each animal is posted by its enclosure so you get to know each one. Once you look into the eyes of Boris, Kit Kat, Ziggy or any of the many other beautiful animals, you’ll be mesmerized by their charm.
What’s unique about TCWR is they have some pretty exotic on site lodging. If you want the thrill of a mini-safari where you’ll slip into bed, and listen to the big cats caroling in the night, this is the place to come. You can choose from two B&B rooms with big cats outside your window, a tree house with big cats in view, RV and camping sites, or the recently opened Zulu Safari Guest Lodge. Prices range from $125.00 to $150.00 a night lodging for two and camping about $25.00 a night .
The Zulu Safari Guest Lodge looks as though you’re in Africa. Five cozy African huts radiate around a beautiful covered gazebo deck area with a fire pit and hot tub. Each hut has its own totally unique style with gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, original art wildlife paintings on the walls, and fantastic interior décor. Each hut is furnished with all the little luxuries you may be used to: fine linens, spa robes, coffee, continental breakfast, color TV/DVD, refrigerator and microwave. There’s a cozy fireplace for cool evenings and air conditioning for warm nights. Each unit has a back deck overlooking the lovely Eureka Springs Valley where a cup of coffee, or a glass of fine wine, is all you need to start or finish your day.
With TCWR only a few miles from Eureka Springs and a little over an hour from Branson, MO, you can find days and days worth of fun and entertainment in North West Arkansas.
If you go: TCWR is located on Scenic Highway 23, 7 miles south of Eureka Springs. For more information visit: www.turpentinecreek.org, or call 479-253-5841. For more information on the great little getaway of Eureka Springs visit, www.eurekasprings.org.