The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust prioritizes the protection of the following conservation values:
- Green Infrastructure (a network of conserved green space)
- Watershed Protection (riparian zones, lakefronts, wetlands and floodplains)
- Rural Landscapes (local farms, working lands, and scenic areas)
- Wildlife Habitat (prairies, wetlands, streams, and forests)
The Land Trust’s Focus on Green Infrastructure
Green infrastructure is an interconnected network of “green space”, including waterways, woodlands, parks, farms, forests, and other natural areas. It has been called our nation’s “natural life support system”. It is the catchall priority that captures all other conservation values.
The preservation of interconnected green space is critical for maintaining healthy ecosystems and the flood control, water purification and clean air that they provide. Green infrastructure also links parks, trails, urban centers and neighborhoods and preserves scenic viewsheds, increasing home values and the overall livability of our region.
While some cities are beginning to incorporate connective greenways into their planning process, natural areas are being rapidly consumed in Northwest Arkansas, resulting in the fragmentation of important ecosystems, scenic areas and wildlife habitats. The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is committed to working with developers, municipalities and regional partners to fill knowledge gaps and encourage a more thoughtful, collaborative and strategic approach to land use planning that preserves green infrastructure for the immediate benefit of current residents, and the long term sustainability of future generations.
Fortunately, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission began an “Open Space” Planning process at the beginning of 2015. The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust serves on the Steering Committee, Natural Resource Priority Group, and the Implementation Team for the Open Space Plan. Due for completion in 2016, the Plan will identify the important natural assets in Benton and Washington counties, as well as recommendations for conserving those important places. Public input is a major component of the Plan. To provide your input, or learn more, visit www.nwaopenspace.com.
The Land Trust’s Role in Watershed Protection
There is a direct link between land use and water quality. The loss of protective natural buffers, the filling of wetlands, the disturbance of streambanks and the development of floodplains all have an immediate, negative and lasting impact on water quality. The land trust works to protect our Northwest Arkansas watersheds, including Beaver Lake and the Upper White River basin, and the Illinois River, by providing conservation easements and encouraging green infrastructure planning.
Beaver Lake is the primary source of drinking water for Northwest Arkansas, and the keystone of our economy. The White River and its watershed have been nationally recognized as the lifeblood of our Ozark region, critical for our wildlife-related economies. The Illinois River, which begins in Northwest Arkansas, flows eastward through fertile farmland before reaching Oklahoma where it is recognized as a scenic river.
Together with our partners, we work to engage landowners in the restoration and permanent protection of priority lands within these watersheds. Our partners include the Beaver Watershed Alliance, Beaver Water District, Watershed Conservation Resource Center, Ozark Water Watch and Illinois River Watershed Partnership.
The Importance of Preserving Our Rural Landscapes
Step just outside the urban corridor of Interstate 49 and you are immediately treated to quality-of-life-enhancing views of family farms, forested ridgelines and those iconic Ozark vistas that draw people far and wide. These rural landscapes are the backbone of our natural heritage. They are the productive lands that feed us, the fishing holes we get away to on weekends, and the views we brag about to visitors. And they are rapidly disappearing.
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is committed to preserving the agricultural and scenic landscapes that define our region. By working with landowners to conserve their land, and with developers and city planners to define development boundaries, the land trust strives to ensure that our farms remain working, our views remain unspoiled, and the places we love remain unaltered.
Keeping a Place for Wildlife
The Ozarks are a wildlife-related economy. Billions of dollars are pumped into our state each year for wildlife-related activities such as hunting, fishing, birding and nature observation. Wildlife are important not only to the economy, but for healthy ecosystems as well. Each species plays an important role in maintaining the natural integrity of our region.
There is an intrinsic value to wildlife as well. The sense of connection and elation that people feel when they spot a fawn in the grass or an eagle in the air cannot be quantified.
To keep a place for wildlife, the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust places a top priority on the preservation of endangered habitats, such as wetlands, prairies and glades. These special places are disappearing, and so are the species associated with them. We also value the protection of large forested habitats and the connectivity of land to provide safe linkages between habitat hubs for wildlife migration and seasonal movements.
Photo by Burnetta Hinterthuer