Opinion

OPINION | FRAN ALEXANDER: Arkansas 112 project creates concerns for Greathouse Spring

Highway project puts Greathouse Springs at risk

A dump truck heads east Friday, July 28, 2023, onto Arkansas 612 at Arkansas 112 north of Elm Springs in Springdale. Regional Planners are pursuing $50 million in federal grants to help pay for two major transportation projects, another section of the Springdale Northern Bypass and improvements to Arkansas 112. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
A dump truck heads east Friday, July 28, 2023, onto Arkansas 612 at Arkansas 112 north of Elm Springs in Springdale. Regional Planners are pursuing $50 million in federal grants to help pay for two major transportation projects, another section of the Springdale Northern Bypass and improvements to Arkansas 112. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)


Roads shrouded by tree canopies, rock houses and spring-fed creeks of wading depth are some of my favorite things. All three merge into one special short stretch of Arkansas 112 that I first caught sight of in 1965. Returning to Fayetteville from Bentonville, where I was doing my practice teaching stint, my daily view of that one spot made the trip worthwhile.

The multiple sharp curves inside the tree tunnel demanded a slowed descent, and there at the bottom of the hill was a rock house that somehow has survived traffic whirling near it for over 80 years. The scene, set among tall trees with farmland stretching on beyond Clear Creek, could have been lifted from a travel folder of the British Isles. To complete the idyllic setting, across the road, Greathouse Spring flows from the base of that steep hill into Clear Creek. Things change, however, and often there's loss.

The onslaught of hearings and notices regarding our rapidly developing area managed to bury my awareness in 2021 and 2022 of the Arkansas Department of Transportation project for Arkansas 112. Recently I learned of the four-lane, divided roadway plans from Howard Nickell Road in Fayetteville to U.S. 412 in Springdale.

What I believe to be the latest design for the Greathouse segment can be found at nwaonline.com/815map. (Please note the roundabout at Greathouse is on the far right of this map, but I had to turn my laptop upside down to mentally orient the road to the north.)

The purple hash marks mean "obliteration," so the rock house, surrounding trees and pastoral vista are goners on this plan.

Of course, the explanation for traffic pressure is Northwest Arkansas' population growth with accompanying land development.

Putting appreciation of that place and nostalgia aside, the major concerns at Greathouse should be the spring, it's water quality and quantity, and the archeological importance of the site.

Just like our cellphones, our water sources only work when they're recharged. We tend to forget that what's put on top of the ground recharges the water below ground and funnels it out in springs. Leif Kindberg, director of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, points out, "The Cave Springs and Elm Springs recharge boundaries have been mapped, but apparently not the recharge of Greathouse Spring. This spring and all the springs in our region are very important to the water quality of Clear Creek and the 17,575 residents of Siloam Springs who rely on quality drinking water."

As far as I can discern from the "ARDOT Job 040751 Environmental Assessment of Sept. 2022," the highway department, to their credit, is planning mitigation for highway damage that will impact other springs. But, extreme delicacy needs to be taken around Greathouse Springs' recharge area, too, especially when colossal road construction is happening.

Also, fragility concerns are of primary importance at the archeological dig site on the rock house yard to determine what's been there through thousands of years. They are finding significant artifacts from human activity. Surely a much larger overview and time frame for examination of that land, possibly utilizing geophysical equipment, should be done before bulldozers wipe it all away. We're losing so much to growth now; if we don't value and prioritize our natural infrastructure that provides us water to drink, air to breathe and soil for growing our food, we won't have the necessities to sustain this region physically. Nor will we learn the story of the people who lived here originally.

Much of what we need to know about the green treasures of this area has been evaluated by the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association (nwaonline.com/815green). Agencies, towns, developers and individuals do not need to reinvent the wheel seeking and surveying what this organization has already compiled. They analyzed and scored parcels on "the ecological characteristics and values of the land (i.e. forest cover, streams and ponds, wildlife, etc.), parcel size (under the assumption that larger parcels have more potential for natural habitat and functioning ecosystems), and negative impacts of human use (i.e. roads, buildings and open pasture)." As a reference, this in-depth work is invaluable for learning about what's at risk in and around Fayetteville, and can serve as a model document for other cities and counties that want to do similar studies.

We, as citizens in this corner of the state, have to decide how much is too much growth, eroding the basic requirements for sustaining what we have. Otherwise, we'll blunder along, ruining Northwest Arkansas.


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