Freedom Field Ribbon Cutting

About 150 people — mostly dedicated donors and supporters — braved the whipping wind at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge the morning of Saturday, April 27, to cut the ribbon on the refuge’s new Freedom Field.

The additional 14-acre development with 44 new chainlink enclosures will house a mix of big, exotic cats and some smaller felines, most of which are being rehomed from Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, which was run by Carole Baskin and her husband, Howard. The couple and Carole Baskin’s daughter, Jamie Murdock, attended the ribbon cutting in Eureka Springs.

Turpentine Creek co-founder and president Tanya Smith said the need for the $3.5 million Freedom Field development arose from the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which was enacted in 2022 to end the private ownership of big cats as pets and prohibit exhibitors from allowing public contact with big cats, including cubs.

“This is such a proud moment for our team,” Smith told the crowd. “This took lots of people who cared about our mission and want to protect big cats.”

Plans are in place to erect an education center and museum on the property next year, she added.

Freedom Field was made possible by a $1.7 million stipend from the Baskins, who will pay for care of the Big Cat Rescue animals at Turpentine Creek until the cats pass.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers, who was also in attendance.

“I was a big fan of this place even before I went to Congress,” Womack said.