Northwest Arkansas Land Trust Conserves 830 Acres of Historic Lake Frances Property
BENTON COUNTY, AR -The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust (NWALT) is proud to announce its purchase of approximately 830 acres of the historic Lake Frances property near Siloam Springs, AR. NWALT will manage the property, now known as the Lake Frances Preserve, for wildlife habitat, water quality, and future public access. The property was purchased from the descendants of Frances Sloan Thomas, for whom the lake was named, and is the largest tract purchased by NWALT to date, making it their biggest conservation property in Benton County.
The preserve lies on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border east of the Illinois River and the former 70-acre Lake Frances. It is one of the largest tracts of contiguous forest in western Benton County and is considered one of the most significant pine/oak woodlands in Northwest Arkansas. There is also a large post oak savanna of regional conservation significance along Lake Frances Gate Rd.
“Permanently protecting the Lake Frances property ensures a piece of Benton County’s natural heritage is protected forever. The shortleaf pine stands and oak savanna are unique in our region and help tell the story of what it was like here nearly 200 years ago,” said Marson Nance, Director of Land Stewardship and Research. “We’ve already found unique plants on the property but have barely scratched the surface in documenting the land’s biodiversity.”
Lake Frances Preserve has over seven miles of mapped streams, much of which consists of seasonal and ephemeral streams which support an abundance of plants and wildlife. Permanent protection of these streams and their habitats will help protect water quality in the Illinois River.
"We’re grateful and excited to showcase another example of a strong conservation partnership to save land in Northwest Arkansas,” said Pam Nelson, the Land Trust’s Director of Land Protection. “The Illinois River Watershed has been a priority for us since the Land Trust was founded. We’re honored to preserve a family legacy and the history of this important property along with the natural legacy which makes Northwest Arkansas such a special place in which to live.
Public access plans include site-appropriate hiking trails, natural surface multi-use trails, and a hard surface multi-use trail connecting Oklahoma Highway 59 north of the WOKA Whitewater Park to Arkansas Highway 59. “This is NWALT’s first partnership with the development and construction of hiking, running, and mountain bike single track trails to encourage public engagement with the preserve to better understand the significance of protecting these special habitats”, said Grady Spann, CEO of NWALT, “we are excited about this partnership and how we provide recreational opportunities to all visitors to the Lake Frances Preserve.”
To date, NWALT has permanently protected 6,000 acres in Northwest Arkansas, including 1,300 acres in Benton County and 1,700 acres in the Illinois River Watershed. This acquisition was made possible through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.
About the Lake Frances Property
Once a resort catering to wealthy Tulsans which opened in the 1930s, the property included a hotel, dance hall, cabins, swimming pool, restaurant, tennis courts, and a golf course. A dam was constructed on the Illinois River to create the 70-acre Lake Frances. The famous outlaw Belle Starr is believed to have hidden out along the bluffs there in the late 1800s, and Hank Williams Sr. honeymooned on the property in 1952. The facilities were demolished in the 1970s.
In 1989 the Lake Frances dam was irreparably damaged, and the lake drained, restoring the course of the Illinois River.
About Northwest Arkansas Land Trust
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is the region’s first local and accredited land trust dedicated to enhancing the quality of life through the permanent protection of land. By holding and managing donated land and providing conservation easement services, the Land Trust protects water quality, local farms, wildlife habitats, and places for outdoor recreation while enhancing the quality of life for today and future generations. The service area of the Land Trust includes 13 counties in Northwest Arkansas, with a core focus on Benton, Washington, Madison, and Carroll counties. For more information, visit the land trust’s website at www.nwalandtrust.org.