- Wendy Taylor
NWALT Receives Grant from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's Outdoor Fund
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust (NWALT) has received grant funding from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund to go towards the total funding of the initiative to permanently protect 300 acres of Ozark forest in southern Washington County, AR, west of the Bobby Hopper tunnel on Interstate 49.
The acreage, named Blackburn Bluffs Preserve, is a designated scenic byway at the gateway to the region and home to over 400 species of plants and animals, including turkey, black bear, white-tailed deer, smallmouth bass, and is an important foraging area for the Northern Long-Eared Bat, a federally threatened species and the Ozark Big-Eared Bat, a federally endangered species. Its natural beauty brings thousands of tourists to the area every year. According to Pam Nelson, NWALT Director of Land Protection “Population in the region is expected to double between 2020 and 2045, reaching nearly one million residents. Northwest Arkansas is the fastest-growing region in the central United States. On average, the region loses nine acres of open space each day.”
Blackburn Bluffs Preserve is adjacent to a privately owned 725-acre tract that was permanently protected with a conservation easement in 2019. Together, the properties establish a protected corridor for the movement of wildlife under the elevated interstate. Conservation of the two properties will protect 2.5 miles of Blackburn Creek, a tributary in the Lee Creek Watershed that supplies drinking water for more than 200,000 people in the Fort Smith metro area. The acquisition of Blackburn Bluffs Preserve is part of NWALT’s ongoing strategic effort to establish a Boston Mountain Scenic Wildlife Corridor, aiming to connect publicly protected lands at Devil’s Den State Park and Ozark National Forest in the west to Ozark National Forest in the east.
The Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund grant is part of the company’s initiative to invest in programs that are aligned with its commitment to conservation. This includes conserving wildlife and habitats, connecting new audiences to the outdoors, advocating for access and sportsman’s rights, and strengthening communities in the Missouri Ozarks. “We believe our plan to conserve this area works in perfect alignment with the mission of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, as the permanent protection of Blackburn Bluffs Preserve will benefit the residents of Ft. Smith, Arkansas and those of Benton and Washington counties, the state tourism industry, as well as hunters and anglers,” stated Nelson.
In addition to the preservation of natural resources and wildlife habitat at Blackburn Bluffs Preserve, NWALT believes the conservation of this area will also increase access to outdoor recreation and community participation in guided hikes and outdoor excursions that will result in increased community awareness of the importance of land conservation in the region.