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Two UA Majors Help Plan New Fayetteville Nature Preserve

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Conserving wetlands

Hidden behind the Sam’s Club on Garland Avenue, efforts to minimize the effects of parking lot runoff on the local ecosystem are being taken by the installation of a settlement pond.

Wilson Springs consists of fresh deer tracks, overgrown thorn bushes, singing birds and 121 acres of natural beauty that can’t be explored without the help of an Indiana Jones-style machete. Many trees have one-and-a-half-inch thorns, acting as natural barbed wire to keep out those who intend to harm the habitat.

However, as soon as a year from now, this wet prairie will provide conservation education and recreation for all members and visitors of the Northwest Arkansas community. The sounds of the highway and people bustling to and from local businesses are muffled in the thick brush, making it a peaceful spot for the city’s next nature preserve.

Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, the organization that now owns Wilson Springs, announced last month that planning has begun to make the property open to the public. The trust stated its mission is “to protect and enhance the quality of life in Northwest Arkansas through the permanent protection of land,” according to its website.

Unlike most natural land in urban areas, Wilson Springs has no trash soiling the views. Instead, it has multiple creeks and small ponds rich with various wildlife such as turtles, ducks and diverse plants.

“We realized making it public would help to accomplish (our mission),” said Sim Barrow, the trust’s communication and development coordinator.

Planning for the future preserve should be done by the end of the spring semester, Barrow said. The vision for the property is to have many natural surface trails along with some raised boardwalks made from either wood or recycled material.

“The goal is to have minimal impact on the land while still providing an opportunity for people to appreciate it and learn,” Barrow said.

UA students from the Department of Landscape Architecture are participating in the planning of the land. They are partnering with EAST (Environmental and Spatial Education) students at Helen Tyson Middle School in Springdale– who have been flying drones over the site – and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies on campus

“We are helping them come up with some initial concepts,” said Carl Smith, associate professor at the Department of Landscape Architecture.

They are also partnering with biological engineering majors on the project.

“The purpose is to help people understand the ecosystem around them,” said Callie Acuff, whose senior biological engineering project is to assist in planning.

Acuff’s job for the project is hydrologic analysis, or how rain storms and water affect the property. Acuff, who is known to friends as someone always doing her part to help by picking up trash, said the hope is that they are opening people’s eyes to nature and how to take care of it.

“(With) increased population, especially in the U.S., there is a need for more development. We should preserve areas that we can especially rare habitats or endangered species,” Acuff said. “Natural areas don’t alway have profitable benefits but they have so many other benefits,-and it helps people learn about it more than they would in science class.”

Wilson Springs, previously used and managed by the Arkansas Audubon Society, is a popular site with the local birdwatching community. The land is what is considered a wet-prairie, which is a habitat that is increasingly rare in the area, Barrow said.

“The lack of herbivore grazing like bison and controlled burning have led to a lot of woody overgrowth,” Barrow said.

The property was donated to NWALT in 2011 and land trust has been doing habitat restoration ever since. Native species, specifically plants, have been able to return to the property because of the trust’s conservation efforts.

This type of habitat is particularly valuable to the region because it acts as a natural water filter, Barrow said. By the time the water reaches rivers or lakes, it is in much better condition without pollutants or sediments.

“Because of that it saves (money) on processing water and helps mitigate the effects of development,” Barrow said.

This conservation effort fits in with the City of Fayetteville’s own efforts to create more sustainability in the area. City council recently approved the Department of Sustainability and Resilience’s plan to increase the amount of energy efficiency in the city, said Peter Nierengarten, the director of the department.

“There is definitely lots of support in Fayetteville,” Nierengarten said. “Across the country there are tremendous opportunities for improvement and Fayetteville is ahead in some areas and behind in others.”

Signs are hung up around the property stating: “This area shall remain in its natural state and will be preserved for wetlands wildlife habitat.” Some of the property’s neighbors, a behavioral health center and an assisted-living neighborhood, have no problem with the area remaining natural.

It’s nice to have such nice views and privacy for patients of the assisted-living neighborhood, which has many patients suffering from dementia, said Leann Pacheco, director of community relations at Clarity Pointe.

The idea of “think locally, act globally” has been adopted by many environmental groups including Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, Barrow said.

“(There are) lots of challenges with climate change and habitat loss,” Barrow said. These problems may seem big “but by supporting local you can make real and lasting difference.”

 

Features Editor Ashton Eley contributed to this article.

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