The Town Branch Neighborhood almost didn't meet its deadline to match a $50,000 challenge grant unanimously approved by the Fayetteville City Council to allow the group to continue to try to preserve a bit of nature in its midst.
But a private nonprofit group and one of Northwest Arkansas' best-known home-grown corporations made it possible to complete the purchase with only a week to spare.
For months, the neighborhood group and Arkansas Audubon had been expecting a federal donation to the project.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service was kind enough to say in late March that a 2.5-acre wetland prairie remnant in south Fayetteville had been among the finalists to receive a $50,000 small-wetland grant for preservation. But USFWS money for such projects had been exhausted.
Dr. James Richard Bennett, president of the Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, learned of the funding shortfall and quickly stepped forward with the pledge of $25,000 on behalf of Omni, on the condition that the name of the area include the words "world peace."
Only two weeks later, on Earth Day 2005, Archie Schaffer and other executives of Tyson Foods, Inc., contributed another $25,000 to seal the deal. In a meeting with Mayor Dan Coody on April 21, Melissa Terry of Arkansas Audubon was able to announce that the Tyson money added to her organization's $20,000 plus other local donations would complete the purchase.
The city attorney, mayor and a council member agreed that the name World Peace Wetland Prairie would be in keeping with the city's policy of allowing donors to name certain parcels in the park system.
In 2004, the Fayetteville City Council voted to provide $50,000 of the $125,000 purchase price from a fund created when 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 and seldom mowed for hay or grazed before the Dunn family that owned much of the land in the surrounding area decided to subdivide the relatively high, dry ground between the prairie and the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River. In 2003, Al Dunn visited and shared his memories of life there in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
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 long-time residents say it still would be the wrong thing to do.
University of Arkansas biology classes have used the area in the past to study native plants andanimals, and they expect to do so in the future. One UA class visited weekly to study the wetland in the area the whole winter and spring semester of 2005.
With the announcement March 30, 2005, that the U.S. Corps of Engineers had issued a nationwide permit for a 28-acre mostly wooded parcel to the north to be dredged and filled to accommodate a large subdivision of condominiums on adjacent land, the 2.5 acres became 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 2.5 acres will 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, roof over or bury all the absorbent soil under rocky, red dirt. Growth on the university campus won't stop, but many natural barriers to flooding and erosion of our streams and lakes can be saved by acting now.
The 2.5 acres is fully vegetated but the seed base of native plants is suppressed by Japanese honeysuckle and some other nonnative speces. A combination of methods likely will be used to remove nonnative species, and additions of important native species by seeding and planting of started plants will speed the return to a natural wetland prairie look. Photos on this Web site show some of the species on a portion of the WPWP from which Lauren Hawkins removed significant amounts of the honeysuckle three summers back working only with a sickle and small garden clippers. The restoration project will allow many more species to reveal themselves and other important species will be added.
Except during the most extreme situations, there is minimal flow FROM the property because the rich, black hydric soil absorbs moisture to replenish the underground aquifer that lies below the whole former prairie stretch from Sixth Street to 15th Street. The addition of thirsty water-tolerant species will increase the ability of the World Peace Wetland Prairie to reduce flooding downstream. It soon will be almost the only part of the prairie system remaining to serve its natural purpose.
A small, previously ditched stream that flows along the southern boundary of the WPWP drains many acres of land to the west, collecting water from near 15th Street to the south, the Pinnacle Foods Inc. processing plant to the west and the southeastern end of Rochier Hill and enters the Town Branch between South Duncan Avenue and the spot where South Hill Avenue turns southeast and becomes South Ellis Avenue. During the three flash floods of 2004, that waterway -- dubbed Soup Branch in memory of a time decades ago when processing water from the old Campbell Soup plant overflowed through it to the Town Branch -- temporarily overflowed and backed water into the south end of the WPWP as part of its floodplain. Without that space to spread, Soup Branch likely would have damaged two houses on its banks where it runs under South Duncan.
By becoming a city-owned wetland preservation area, the small prairie remnant will continue to offer educational opportunity not only to public-school pupils but also to future scientists in training at the university. It will be available to show the value of preserving such parcels to potential developers of such land and to people interested in managing similar areas on their own property.
It will offer a wonderful place for watching songbirds and raptors as well as other wildlife such as the Osage or Ozark burrowing crayfish and several amphibians, 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 or more ago remember catching enough fish to provide 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's Stream Team noted in 2003 that pollution from runoff from 6th Street and areas to the north account for the difference.
The stream banks have been eroded as the floodplain on campus was covered and narrowed to make room for parking lots and buildings. The siltation from the increased speed of flow has damaged the life-sustaining ability of the stream and the pollution has made it worse. Litter from fast-food restaurants along Sixth Street makes it obvious the stream hasn't been treated with respect.
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-acre parcel until now at risk of being developed is an example of a natural storm garden that requires protection but no construction and little management to keep it effective.
Those of us in the Town Branch Neighborhood who value the quality of fishing in Beaver Lake and our area streams realize the importance of making a small sacrifice to protect not only our region's most important fishery but also what is almost the only major water source for our growing cities.
As the May 1st deadline approached 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, people feared his sacrifice might be wasted. He had come to agree with the neighborhood's desire to make the wetland prairie something that coming generations of residents will appreciate and enjoy.
The property has been appraised at double 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 will 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 a half-mile south of Fayetteville High School.
But 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 that thinking people have to appreciate.
The Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association in late March generously agreed with a request from Jennifer Creel to accept tax-deductible contributions to be used toward the purchase of the property. And several people quickly responded to the plea on behalf of the prairie remnant.
Now that the original goal has been met, tax-deductible contributions to the FNHA ear-marked to help buy the wetland prairie in the Beaver Lake watershed will be used to complete the restoration and enhancement of the native plants and removal of invasive species from the land.
Donations may be mailed to FNHA, P.O. Box 3635, Fayetteville, 72701-3635.
For hundreds of photos and more information on the Town Branch neighborhood and the history of this project in particular, please visit the neighborhood section and archives of this Web site: http://www.aubunique.com