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History, Wildlife, Water Quality Protected in Washington County

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust announces the permanent preservation of 700 acres of land in southern Washington County through a conservation easement donated by Fayetteville attorney and landowner Jack Butt and wife Anne Butt. The property, located approximately 3 miles north of Devil’s Den State Park, is included in the land trust’s Boston Mountain Scenic Wildlife Corridor priority area that aims to connect Ozark National Forest in the west to east of Interstate 49.

Overlooking Lee Creek Valley

Purchased as a rural retreat by Jack, Anne, and two friends in 1992, “Butt-N-Buck” features Ozark mixed hardwood forest among limestone bluffs and more than a mile of Lee Creek. Permanent conservation of the property protects wildlife habitat and water quality in the Lee Creek watershed, the drinking water source for more than 200,000 residents in the Fort Smith metro area.

The conservation easement protects more than a mile of Lee Creek

The easement also preserves the remains of a once vibrant rural community homesteaded in the late 1800s by the Spyres family, veterans of the Civil War who settled along the Lee Creek Valley. Old maps show several houses and fields along the creek, along with a classic, white clapboard country church that also served as a community building and school known as Bethlehem Church. Upon purchasing the property, Jack had the opportunity to interview a 93-year-old gentleman whose family had homesteaded nearby in the early 1900s. He described growing up in a busy, vibrant, rural community, recalling when, one day each year, nearby residents would gather to work on the primitive Lee Creek Road, the primary route between Van Buren and Fayetteville. “Entire families would show up…to work on the Lee Creek road through this property, to earn their right to vote because they couldn’t raise the $1 cash poll tax otherwise required,” Jack was told.

“When I bought the property in 1992, none of that community remained, all had gone back to wilderness,” Jack explains. “My 93-year-old friend recalled that life was just hard. People moved away for a better living. He remembered friends who moved to California where you could earn two or three dollars cash a day.” Eventually, homesteads were abandoned, and the Bethlehem Church was dismantled and rebuilt along the top the ridge on the county road that came to be named for it, “Bethlehem Church Road,” where it has sat neglected for at least 40 years.

An old rock wall, remnants of the homesteading community 140 years ago

All that remains of the once-thriving community are faint memories and remnants of structures near the confluence of Lee Creek and Rich Hollow. Jack says he has discovered a dozen rock walls in the middle of the heavily wooded property where fields used to be farmed, and at least eight pioneer home sites marked by hand-dug wells, foundation stones, and tumbled-in chimneys. He’s even managed to recover and use the old Lee Creek Road in places that haven’t been washed away by decades of floods and landslides. Of the original Bethlehem Church, Jack says “only the stone foundations, parts of an ornate wire fence, broken rusted pieces of an iron wood stove, and the graveyard remain in the wilderness grown up around it.”

Most people, Jack believes, “yearn a rural retreat, regardless of where it is: desert, mountains, woods, river, or seashore, where they find, as did Henry David Thoreau, ‘In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.’”

That wilderness is exactly what drew Jack to this particular property. After decades

Monarch butterflies are abundant on the property

considering purchasing land near the Buffalo River and as far as the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jack and Anne took sole ownership of the Butt-N-Buck property in 2014. When asked about his favorite features on the land, he poetically describes “the early morning descent into fog-blanketed Lee Creek Valley while the rising sun emblazes the autumn scarlet and gold of the mountaintop trees; the pungent sweet smell of spring hazel, first flower of the spring, along the creek banks; the meadows blanketed with daisies, or flowering mint with colorful, big swallow-tail butterflies feeding on every stalk; the explosive gobble of a full grown wild turkey in full mating strut.” “I’ve got some really magnificent trees, that I literally hug,” he continues. “Waterfalls cascading 40 feet off a bluff overhang into their pools; a particular bluff from which a loud single hoot will kick back from the valley half a dozen fading echoes at sunset; the swimming hole full of crawdads the grandkids love to catch; intimate little cascading streams with perfectly flat smooth rocks to sit and lunch on.”

Most people, Jack believes, “yearn a rural retreat, regardless of where it is: desert, mountains, woods, river, or seashore, where they find, as did Henry David Thoreau, ‘In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.’”

One of the many ephemeral waterfalls found throughout the property


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