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Posted April 8, 2005
Aubrey's Notebook:
Funding Still Short For South Fayetteville Wetland Prairie
USFWS Grant Falls Through, But Tax-deductible Donations Are Coming in

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service was kind enough to say that a 2.5-acre wetland prairie parcel in south Fayetteville was among the finalists to receive a $50,000 small-wetland grant for preservation.

However, word of the final cut didn't reach members of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association until very near its deadline to come up with the money to complete the purchase.

In 2004, the Fayetteville City Council voted to provide $50,000 of the $125,000 purchase price from a fund created with the city lost a lawsuit over violation of its own tree-preservation ordinance.

The acreage is west of South Duncan Avenue, south of 11th Street and north of 12th Street.

Old-timers say it was never developed when the farm families that owned the land in the area decided to subdivide the land between it and the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River.

It is a remnant of the extensive prairie wetland found near many of the tributaries of the Town Branch in south Fayetteville. It wasn't practical to fill such land and build on it 60 years ago and is still would be the wrong thing to do.

University of Arkansas biology classes have used the area in the past to study native plants and animals, and they expect to do so in the future.

With the announcement March 30, 2005, that the U.S. Corps of Engineers has a issued a so-called nationwide permit for a 28-acre parcel to the north to be dredged and filled to accommodate a large subdivision of condominiums on adjacent land, the 2.5 acres becomes even more important.

It will be the only piece of such prairie wetland on the arm of the Town Branch that originates in the watershed surrounding Razorback Stadium to remain in its natural state. And the neighborhood association has enlisted Arkansas Audubon and numerous other organizations to help restore the dominance of its native species.

As other planned development continues, this 2.50 acres would become a model for management of other portions of the Beaver Lake watershed faced with siltation and other threats to water quality.

Three flash floods in 2004 reminded residents of the Town Branch watershed of the danger of continuing to pave and roof over all the absorbent soil. Growth on the university campus won't stop, but natural barriers to flooding and erosion of our streams can be saved if we act now.

The 2.5 acres is fully vegetated, mostly with native plants. Except during the most extreme situations, there is almost no flow from the property, because the rich, black soil absorbs moisture and allows it to leech into the underground acquifer that lies under the whole prairie parcel from Sixth Street to 15th. It soon will be the only part that serves its natural purpose.

Obviously, if this property becomes a city-owned wetland preservation area, it will continue to offer educational opportunity not only to public-school pupils but also to future scientists in training at the university.

It will offer a wonderful place for watching songbirds and raptors as well as other wildlife, a place where grandparents can take a younger generation to share a little of what life in Northwest Arkansas was like before it became a metropolis.

A lot of people who grew up in the Town Branch Neighborhood half a century ago remember catching enough fish to provide for family dinners within the stretch of the Town Branch between 6th and 15th streets. In recent years, the catches have been small and the variety of fish species limited.

Visiting members of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission noted that pollution from runoff from 6th Street and areas to the north account for the difference.

The stream banks have been eroded as the flood plain was narrowed to make room for parking lots and buildings. The siltation has damaged the life-sustaning ability of the stream and the pollution has made it worse.

The scientific journals and Internet science sites contain hundreds of articles on the best-management practices for protecting and enhancing the quality of our waterways. One of the most-frequently cited is the use of storm gardens or rain gardens to reduce flooding and cleanse the water through natural vegetation.

The 2.5 acres now at risk of being developed is an example of a natural storm garden that requires more protection than management to keep it effective.

Those of us in the Town Branch Neighborhood who value the quality of fishing in Beaver Lake know the importance of making a small sacrifice to protect not only our area's most important fishery but what is almost the only major water source for our growing cities.

Time is running out. May 1st is the deadline for bringing together the $125,000 needed to purchase the land from the very patient man who has delayed his development plan nearly two years since it was approved by the Fayetteville Planning Commission to allow us to make the wetland prairie something that coming generations of residents will appreciate and enjoy.

The property has been appraised for a nearly three times the at-cost price the developer set in summer 2003 to allow the neighbors and the city to purchase it for preservation.

I believe his example of kindness and consideration should be rewarded by seeing the neighborhood plan he came to support come to fruition.

James Mathias bought the property as most people buy land for development. He had relatively little information about it except that it was in a great location.

But as he followed one of the primary rules of successful people: He listened and sought to understand what neighbors and conservation professionals said about it.

Once he understood, he agreed to give up his potential profit to allow the land to continue to fulfill its highest and best use. That is an attitude a thinking person has to appreciate.

Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association has generously agreed to accept tax-deductible contributions to be used toward the purchase of the property.

If the purchase does not occur, your tax-deductible special contribution to help buy the wetland prairie in the Town Branch watershed would be used for other conservation projects of the FNHA.

Donations may be mailed to FNHA, P.O. Box 3635, Fayetteville, 72701-3635.

For more information on the Town Branch neighborhood and this project in particular, please visit the neighborhood section and archives of the following Web site:


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

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