NORTHWEST ARKANSAS: Thousands of travelers and visitors per day enjoy the scenic vistas along I-49 through the Boston Mountains and into our region - and many take it for granted that this iconic viewshed will never change. Yet development beckons along this well-traveled route, and while distant parcels to the east and west are protected as national forest, much of the landscape is privately held and vulnerable to development and deforestation.
The Bobby Hopper Tunnel is a well-known landmark on this trek, serving as the gateway welcoming northbound travelers into Northwest Arkansas, and for many of us, an indicator that we are almost home. A large overpass directly north of the tunnel provides critical safe passage for wildlife to cross under the highway between large patches of forested habitat. Thanks to the generosity of land trust supporters Christina Moore and Paul Green, 700 acres of this iconic viewshed and wildlife corridor is now protected, forever. Working with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, Moore and Green purchased the 700-acre property surrounding each side of I-49 just north of the Bobby Hopper Tunnel for the purpose of forever protecting the land. The land trust placed a conservation easement on the land, ensuring it will remain in its natural state in perpetuity. The property provides a crucial link between Ozark National Forest to the east and west, nearly linking to Devil’s Den State Park to the west.
“We both felt that the expansive view of the Ozark National Forrest that is seen when first emerging out of the Bobby Hopper Tunnel going north is something worth preserving,” says Moore. “This property is a critical link for wildlife passing under the highway through this vast wilderness. Paul and I both realized that we could join this monumental effort to preserve part of what makes Northwest Arkansas such a magical place to call home.”
“The land trust prioritizes landscape-scale conservation and the protection of connected wildlife habitats and corridors as essential to the future of our region. We are extremely appreciative of Tina and Paul for supporting us in protecting this critical area,” says Terri Lane, Executive Director of the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust.
Just as roads and bridges link people to towns and cities, wildlife corridors link habitats for plants and animals across a landscape. As urban growth continues in Northwest Arkansas, habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented by roads, neighborhoods, and shopping centers. “While these amenities are valuable for our vibrant communities, they can also mean disaster for local populations of wildlife,” explains Marson Nance, Director of Land Protection for the Land Trust. “Many animals require large tracts of uninterrupted open spaces to raise young, find food, and migrate during winter.”
“Rotten Bluff Hollow,” as it’s now named thanks to a discovery of an old area map, will protect and keep intact a 1,000-foot natural corridor under I-49. This link provides an important connection for wildlife to safely cross under the highway between larger areas of protected lands. “What sets this property apart from others,” mentions Moore, “is having a major highway running through it with these mammoth concrete supports. It feels remote and yet there is pretty much constant traffic noise, which is a reminder of how important it is to preserve these open spaces.”
In addition to preserving the scenic viewshed and protecting a critical wildlife corridor, conservation of the property is crucial to protecting drinking water for more than 200,000 Arkansans who rely on the Lee Creek Reservoir. Blackburn Creek runs through the center of the property and is part of the Lee Creek Watershed. Named after Sylvanus Blackburn who built War Eagle Mill in 1832, the creek is a favorite feature for Moore, Green, and their family. “We love Blackburn creek which, so far, has been running pretty swiftly due to lots of precipitation this year,” Moore mentions. “We enjoy the trails and like to take long walks through the property with our dog. Our kids, who all live out of town, are enjoying using the property too. We seem to be seeing more of them since purchasing Rotten Bluff Hollow!”
“This project is a perfect example of how private landowners and the land trust can work together to leave a lasting legacy for future generations”, says Lane. “This property was identified as a high priority for preservation by the NWA Open Space Plan Coalition and a critical landscape for continued preservation efforts by the land trust. This is a true win for our region.”