FAYETTEVILLE -- The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust has set a goal of getting 10,000 acres under protection from development.
The Land Trust has 7,495 acres across 44 properties permanently protected. They recently announced 10K4NWA, the name of the Land Trust's goal to reach the milestone of 10,000 acres in Northwest Arkansas.
"This is the year we really are asking people to step up and support the organization not only in land protection but also financially so that we can continue our work," said Grady Spann, executive director. "We feel like 10,000 acres could really make a statement that the residents of Northwest Arkansas really care about conservation and protecting land and protecting water quality and everything we enjoy about our landscapes and our natural scapes in this area and the wildlife."
For comparison, Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area in Benton County is about 12,000 acres, the largest state park in Arkansas.
"If we can do that in Northwest Arkansas we can use that as a stepping stone to achieve the next goal," Spann said. "We want to protect those iconic places, those real critical watersheds and natural areas and access to outdoor recreation, access to rivers and streams. And, we want to protect people's land legacies, too. That's why we work with so many landowners to do that."
Demand for land is expected to keep prices high in the region, making it more difficult to acquire open space and set it aside for future generations, according to Spann.
A recent event raised more than $20,000 for the Land Trust. Spann said other upcoming events could include a 10K run, walk or hike to support conservation.
"It's just a fun way of reminding people that conservation in our area is important and, if we don't do it today, it won't be saved for tomorrow," Spann said.
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust marked 20 years of working to set aside land in September. The Land Trust was founded by a group of community leaders who envisioned a future in which the people of Northwest Arkansas could preserve the land, water and wildlife essential to people's lives in the Ozarks.
Land protection includes working with private landowners to get conservation easements on their property, and there are also properties the trust owns outright. Spann said the trust both buys and accepts donations of land. The group has been able to protect or acquire a number of standout properties, he said.
The trust works with individual landowners who want to put a conservation easement on their land to tailor an agreement that reflects their desire for a land legacy. The trust is a nonprofit group, not a government entity, so landowners decide whether to allow public access to their land.
"Some people want to leave it in a natural habitat. Some people want to protect certain parts of their land, while on other parts, they're allowed to build a house," Spann said. "When we protect it, we protect it from future development based on the owners' desires with the conservation easement."
Spann said maintaining the region's water quality by protecting stream banks, riparian zones and other natural habitat is another benefit. Beaver Lake is the primary water source for most residents of Northwest Arkansas. Open space holds water, keeping it from rushing into the rivers and washing pollutants into Beaver Lake.
The Land Trust isn't the only organization working to set aside and protect land in the region.
"We must continue to protect and preserve the region's natural resources and natural infrastructure that we all rely on in Northwest Arkansas and that allows the region to thrive," said Tim Conklin, executive director at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. "The work of the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is critical to preserving these landscapes and natural resources, from protecting our source drinking water and wildlife habitats, to supporting outdoor recreation and enhancing the quality of life for all residents."
The Regional Planning Commission redoubled its own open space preservation efforts beginning in 2015, with a year-long study paid for by a $350,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation. The resulting plan, approved in 2016, was incorporated into the region's long-term master plan.
The purpose of the plan is to develop a coordinated, voluntary program to protect and promote the region's most valued natural landscapes and open spaces and to make natural areas in Benton and Washington counties available to residents.
The Northwest Arkansas Open Space Coalition was formed as part of that effort. The group meets regularly to work on open space issues. Among those involved are the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, the Beaver Watershed Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, the Northwest Arkansas Council, the Urban Land Institute, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, the Arkansas Archaeology Survey and Heritage Trail Partners. Several cities send representatives. Meetings are open to anyone who wants to attend.
On the web
To read the Northwest Arkansas Land Trusts full Strategic Land Protection Plan, click here: https://www.nwalandtrust.org/strategiclandplan