Jennifer Creel, co-chairman of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association, left, on Friday talks to Karen Faupel of the Sierra Club, Autumn McClendon and Kelly Stephens of Tyson Foods Inc. about the World Peace Wetland Prairie. Tyson and The Omni Center donated $25,000 each to help the Town Branch Neighborhood Association, the city and Arkansas Audubon buy the property from developer James Mathias for preservation.
Photo by BROOK McNEELY, Northwest Arkansas Times
By Adam Wallworth, Northwest Arkansas Times
Members of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association on Friday celebrated raising $125,000 to save 2.46 acres of wetland, which will be named World Peace Wetland Prairie.
The wetland was named as a condition of the donation of $25,000 by the Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, said Dick Bennett, the center’s founder.
Bennett explained that the center raised the money as part of its ongoing effort to establish permanent peaceful places in the hope of improving society. "We believe that, if you establish permanent structures and organizations of peace, our world will be more peaceful," Bennett said.
The neighborhood association was charged with raising $75,000 by May 1 to purchase the property after the Fayetteville City Council approved spending $50,000 to preserve it. The money from the city came from the Tree and Trail fund, which was created with $450,000 the city agreed to pay in a settlement for violating its own tree-preservation ordinance in 2000.
James Mathias, who owns the property, had received city approval to build 36 apartment units on the property but offered to sell it to neighbors, who wanted to preserve the wetland for greenspace and flood prevention.
Mayor Dan Coody had originally recommended that the council invest the last $100,000 in the Tree and Trail fund on 2.44 acres near the Fayetteville Public Library to create a downtown park, as included in the Downtown Master Plan. The Parks and Recreation Division had also recommended spending the entire $100,000 to acquire the property near the library, which had been owned by the late renowned architect E. Fay Jones. "That was recommendation at the time, but obviously things worked out better than I had anticipated," Coody said.
The neighbors have accomplished a Herculean task and deserve to be recognized for it, Coody said. The result is another example of public/private partnerships that have positive effects on the city, he said. "They have certainly earned my respect, and I’m pleased for their accomplishment," Coody said.
The next step will be to present the money to the City Council, said Melissa Terry, a conservation director for Audubon Arkansas.
Terry, a member of the disbanded task force, said the wetland will become the property of the city after the transaction is final. The group is in the process of selling dove-shaped pins made by Hogeye Inc. to raise money for the restoration of the wetland, she said.
The group received a commitment for the final donation needed while meeting with Coody on Thursday, said Susan Thomas, the city’s public information officer and policy adviser.
Thomas said she is organizing a celebration to commemorate the closing of the sale, but has not yet set a date.
"It’s been kind of a euphoric 24 hours," said Lauren Hawkins, a member of the neighborhood association. Hawkins expressed her disappointment that Coody could not attend Friday, as it would have been nice to talk to him "without arguing."
Information on the wetland will continue to be posted on Aubunique.com, Hawkins said.
Ward 2 Alderman Don Marr expressed his satisfaction at the purchase of the property, which marks the second time the city has contributed money to help residents preserve environmentally sensitive property, the first being on Mount Sequoyah.
Ward 1 aldermen Brenda Thiel and Robert "Swifty" Reynolds were also pleased with the accomplishment.
Thiel expressed her excitement about the group’s success. "I just knew this would happen," she said.
The purchase is an example of what can happen when residents come together for a common goal, Thiel said.
Reynolds praised the group and said he would make a few calls to see if he could find someone to remove concrete slabs left on the property from houses that were torn down on the site.
Beyond the efforts of the neighbors, Reynolds said, it is important to thank Mathias for his willingness to sell the property and his patience to wait for the group to raise the money. "Jim Mathias is a great guy. He’s been really good to work with," Reynolds said.
The neighborhood association raised $6,000 on its own. Another $3,800 is coming from individual donations collected by the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association and $20,000 coming from Audubon Arkansas.
The final $25,000 needed to purchase the property came from Tyson Foods, which turned a meeting at the site Friday into an impromptu media event.
Kevin Igli, vice president and chief environmental officer for the company, presented a check to the group at the site.
People interested in donating to the rehabilitation of the wetland can contact neighborhood association co-chairmen Jennifer Creel at 587-1344 and Aubrey Shepherd at 444-6072.