Developer, Sons Building $32M Sportsman's Dream in Delta

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Mar. 4, 2013 12:00 am  

About a mile down a mud-rutted road off Arkansas Highway 1 in Desha County rests what’s envisioned as a $32 million sportsman’s dream: Delta Resort & Conference Center near Tillar.

These 1,945 acres, developer Gary Gibbs hopes, will host duck hunters and corporate conferences and retreats, along with thousands of ducks.

But most importantly, Gibbs, his family and his staff plan for the resort to be the site of a shooting sports tournament “just like March Madness,” Gibbs says in a video posted on his channel on YouTube.

“And there’s going to be a countdown to the final four and then the big championship,” Gibbs adds.

The shooting sport is sporting clays, described by Barry Kelly as “golf with a gun.” Kelly is called a “master class shooter” on the Night Hawk Publications website, a site devoted to hunting and fishing news.

Kelly, a burly bear of a man, leads Delta Resort as general manager. The former manager of The Willows Sporting Clays & Hunting Center in Tunica, Miss., has been with Gibbs for about 18 months, as has Alex Holzmeier, the assistant general manager. Holzmeier is a credentialed sportsman who’s a graduate of Southern Illinois College with a degree in game preserve management and sporting complex management. Both men also work as hunting guides.

“We duck hunt and guide day in and day out,” says Holzmeier. “I think I hunted 50 days out of a 60-day season,” Kelly says.

Rounding out the resort’s management team is Anna Grayson, a former high school chemistry teacher in nearby McGehee who might be described as an administrative assistant but is closer to a jack-of-all-trades, overseeing food and beverage service for the resort but also working as a media relations manager.

On a gray wind-whipped day in late winter, the trio tries to bring to life for a visitor Gibbs’ big vision for the resort. But wet weather has bogged down construction on the resort’s two-building hotel, which sits a few hundred yards from the main lodge, and landscaping currently consists primarily of water-logged rice fields stretching to the horizon. In fact, about 1,400 of the resort’s acres comprise a working rice farm and that’s not expected to change. “It’s good for ducks,” Kelly says.

“Nothing is so ugly as the Delta in winter or so beautiful in spring,” he says. The staff is working to have the hotel and its landscaping up to snuff by June. To the duck hunter, however, it’s a close to perfect location, just about 5 miles, Kelly says, from the confluences of both the White and Arkansas rivers with the Mississippi.

And, of course, the resort is right on the Mississippi Flyway. As the National Audubon Society notes: “Nearly half of North America’s bird species, and about 40 percent of its waterfowl, spend at least part of their lives in the Mississippi Flyway.” That flight path runs the length of the Mississippi down to the Gulf Coast before finally reaching South America.

At Delta Resort, any area that has high pedestrian traffic will be paved, as will the road to the resort, Kelly says.



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