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Posted 3/30/03
Aubrey's Notebook:
Concerns about potential development of Town Branch Basin

Town Branch basin has a storied history with the Trail of Tears and the Butterfield Stage Coach Road running through and across it.

Indians traveling the Trail of Tears camped along the headwaters of Town Branch, finding pure and plentiful water as well as diverse wildlife, fruit, vegetables and nuts for food.

Many years later immediately before the Civil War, the Butterfield Stage Coach line ran south of Fayetteville through the area on its way to Hogeye and eventually Fort Smith before turning west to San Francisco.

Already a part of the regional plan for heritage trails, this area deserves archaeological studies as well as hydrological and wetland studies before further development is approved.

The University of Arkansas must be called upon to provide the benefit of all its scientific and historical resources as well as funding sources to see that the appropriate studies are done before any vegetation is removed or earth moved from the Town Branch Basin.

The history of the area must be recorded and the historic sites mapped for preservation before any changes are authorized. The wetland must be delineated and plans for its protection must be made before anything more is built or any existing structures are removed.

Of special concern is the current population of the area. There is a well-established neighborhood of single-family houses dating in several instances back to the Civil War. There are houses built on former farmland and dairy land that date back into the first half of the 20th century. Many families represented there have owned the property for far more than half a century.

The residents of the small mobile-home parks in the basin appear to be the most vulnerable people in the neighborhood. They represent the labor force for Pinnacle Foods, a successor to Campbell Soup on South 15th Street near its intersection with Razorback Road as well as many other industries and commercial establishments and the university and local government.

Although mobile-home parks are often thought of as the temporary homes of transient residents, numerous families have lived in the mobile-home parks between Sixth Street and 15th Street longer than the majority of residents of Northwest Arkansas. Because many of them depend on work in south Fayetteville industries and commercial businesses, their average wage is not high. Should development displace them as more expensive dwellings replace the mobile-home parks, they will find the search for replacement housing challenging.

Few will be able to move into the newly built apartments or condominiums slated for the area by ambitious and well-meaning developers. Will they find other low-cost housing as close as they now live to their work stations? Will some become homeless and dependent on already overburdened facilities such as the Seven Hills Shelter for the Homeless on Sixth Street? How many can stay at the Salvation Army shelter on 15th long enough to find new housing?

Admittedly, the mobile-home parks in the area do not offer especially desirable accomodations; however, the mobile homes in the parks are surrounded by mature trees that offer shade and freedom from large bills for cooling in summer and a degree of shelter from the wind in winter. The shade of the mature trees makes it possible for youngsters to play outdoors and Town Branch offers the experience of exploring and wading and fishing in an Ozark stream, albeit a polluted and littered one. But who pollutes and litters Town Branch?

Is it the residents of the mobile-home parks in the Town Branch basin or is it the students upstream on the UA campus or people driving along Sixth Street or businesses there or is it a combination? The latter seems to be the correct answer.

May 17 is the planned date of a stream cleanup for the Sixth Street to 15th Street stretch of Town Branch. A strong effort then will go a long way toward improving the situation. However, the effort can't be limited to that day.

Meanwhile, the university must make a committment to improve the quality of water in Town Branch. Dumpsters on campus must be inspected daily to insure that no hazardous material such as paint or paint thinner or waste cooking oil or construction debris with undetermined content is allowed to pollute the surface water.

All potentially hazardous material discarded on campus must begin to be accounted for and disposed of through legal means. University officials face a difficult task doing that because construction of new facilities means non-university employees often add to the waste containers without concern for local rules or the local water supply.

University construction projects must begin to be planned with an eye to following all federal, state and local regulations. The university must no longer disregard the stormwater-runoff rules or allow pollutants or silt to wash downhill to Town Branch.

It will take more than a few volunteers from the Town Branch Neighborhood Association or a few well-meaning developers to improve the current situation and provide for the future of the southside of our city and the quality of water in Beaver Lake. It will take a massive cooperative effort calling upon all aspects of society, and particularly city planners and university scientists, to make it happen.

This effort is worthwhile. Quietly watch a youngster at play and imagine what you want that child to experience and to become. Saving Town Branch is all about providing opportunity to experience the best of life in coming generations.

Like the pristine forest on parts of Mount Sequoyah and Fayetteville's other hills and the Wilson Spring wetland area, Town Branch represents a potential showcase for wise city planning.

Let's pause and review our motivation and our plans and decide what each of us can do to see that Town Branch basin with its system of ponds and springs and lowland forest and prairie wetland remains in a relatively natural state and is developed only to the extent and in the ways that can be done without reducing its quality and with the intention and possibility of improving its quality.

This isn't about doing more or spending more. In many ways, it is about doing less and spending less but being certain that no long-term unexamined decisions are made.

We must educate everyone to be stewards of our hometown. The wetland and pristine woodland areas must be delineated now. No one should be in the position of purchasing land for development without fair warning that the property is unsuitable for development. Full disclosure should be mandated by law and enforced with good intentions.

The process cannot be successful unless everyone is brought into it.

>Views of
"Old Rochier Hill"
1917, 1930s



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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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