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Posted January 20, 2004
Aubrey's South Fayetteville Notebook:
Congressman Visits Town Branch Watershed

What can a person say when a U.S. Congressman asks what he can do to help a neighborhood?

The only reasonable answer is "Just remember what you saw today when you vote in the House of Representatives."

Congressman John Boozman took a couple of hours away from a busy schedule to do a little extra homework Jan. 12, 2004, in the third congressional district of Arkansas.

His visit and 2-mile walk in the watershed of the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River fit right in on a day when he had spent the morning conducting a meeting with agricultural interests from his district at the University of Arkansas' main campus in Fayetteville.

The subject of both meetings was water quality. The morning meeting at the university focused on the role of farmers in protecting water quality. The afternoon meeting focused on problems of protecting an urban watershed.

In fact, the two activities were especially closely related because the urban watershed actually begins on the western portion of the university campus. All the rain that falls in the valley containing Razorback Stadium, Bud Walton Arena and several other campus facilities as well as the water running off the ridge to the north at Cleveland Street and the mountains to the west and east enters the Town Branch, flowing first through and near Carlson Terrace married-student housing complex and from the east campus of Fayetteville High School and from the parking lots of numerous businesses along Sixth street and then under the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad less than 100 yards south of Sixth.

The 90-minute walk offered a sampler of a historic neighborhood long-neglected but suddenly the target of developers.

A permanent sign on the south end of the UA campus near the women's soccer complex at Sixth Street and South Garland Avenue commemorates a day when some 1,100 native Americans camped around ponds and springs near a road leading to what is now Tahlequah, Oklahoma. People in Fayetteville mostly don't realize that Sixth Street and U.S. 62 were ever a part of the Trail of Tears or that the Butterfield Stage Route crossed the same road less than a half mile east of the documented encampment site.

However, at least three houses on Hill Avenue may have been standing when the stagecoach rolled downhill from Fayetteville and south on Government Street to what now has become a very large National Cemetery and west to Hill Avenue, south to what is now 11th, where it crossed the Town Branch and then south along what has become South Duncan Avenue toward Cato Springs Road and south toward Hogeye.

Several senior members of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association remember walking from Hill Avenue or South Duncan Avenue along the now-abandoned east-west railroad and crossing the Town Branch on a trestle to reach the only remaining spring of several that in the 19th century provided clean water for hundreds of residents. Sixty-year-olds remember carrying containers of water home because the spring water was a bit better than that from even the shallow wells in the watershed and much better than anything found under some pieces of property on the slopes.

The congressman's walk started from the Church of Christ that stands where South Hill Avenue runs into Ellis Avenue, which runs southeast parallel to the Town Branch for a few blocks. Congressman Boozman and his project director, Steven C. Stewart, used the facilities of Pastor Scott Gage to do a Super Man-style quick change from business suits and clean dress shoes to boots and jeans and followed Lauren Hawkins and Aubrey Shepherd of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association and Melissa Terry, the conservaton organizer for Arkansas Audubon, across Town Branch about 100 yards south of 11th Street and into the yard of Cindy and Stanley Sullins.

The Sullins property is an example of a home in an urban watershed that was built decades ago just a bit too close to the stream. When the Wilson-Dunn subdivision was created on land formerly the Wilson Dairy farm and later the Dunn family farm, there was no one to predict exactly how much new pavement or roof area would be built upstream in the watershed. The University of Arkansas was growing but the rate was nothing like it is today.

Timber and grass have been removed for many new and impressive campus facilities. Fast-food restaurants and other businesses catering to the growing campus population have been built along Sixth Street.

Areas of hydric or absorbent soil that allowed rain water to soak in slowly and replenish the shallow underground aquifer disappeared under concrete and asphalt. One result is increased speed of runoff from storms. Another is dirtier water running downstream.

Silt builds up during construction despite the best efforts of contractors. Oil and grease and other pollutants wash downstream from streets and parking lots. Fertilizer used to maintain athletic fields and lawns contribute further to making the Town Branch practically unfit for most forms of aquatic life.

Examples of siltation and pollution are easy to find in the various arms of the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River.

On the arm that begins at the ridge less than a mile north of Sixth Street on I-540, newly cleared pasture land that historically was prairie wetland between 15th and 18th streets along Beechwood Avenue has during the fall of 2003 and winter of 2004 frequently sent mud into the stream as dirt is moved and an apartment complex begins to take shape.

At the south end of Baum Stadium at George Cole baseball field, the only storm-water detention pond on the UA campus was polluted as the ground crew applied fertilizer to hasten the growth of rye grass to replace the old artificial playing surface. During the summer of 2003, many people stopped near that pond to watch a pair of Canada geese raise five goslings. Should the birds return in the spring of 2004 they likely will find much of the brush gone near the pond, the grass around the pond mowed as though it were part of the playing field and the pond covered with algae.

The poor quality of the stream's water was documented in October 2003 when scientists on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Stream Team conducted a creek clinic on the Town Branch about 200 yards north of 11th Street for residents of the area. The results were shocking to some of the older residents of the neighborhood, who remember catching significant-sized game fish from the stream at a time when they had no qualms about the safety of eating their urban catch.

But there was no time to see all the arms of Town Branch on Jan. 12. After leaving the Sullins property, through which a small tributary of the Town Branch flows, the congressman visited a 2.46-acre site that contains 2 acres of former wetland prairie that has been approved for development by the planning commission of the City of Fayetteville and the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

The area, despite being certified for development if certain conditions of the city and corps are met, is being considered for purchase by Fayetteville's Tree and Trail Task Force. Various members of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association have promised to help maintain the half-acre nearest South Duncan Avenue as a park for area youngsters and others have volunteered to begin removing encroaching non-native vegetation from the 2-acre wetland prairie to encourage regrowth of the native grass and wildflowers already plentiful in the area as documented in photo albums on and elsewhere.

In summer, spring and fall, the prairie acres display a vast array of native wildflowers characteristic of both upland and wetland prairies in Arkansas and the midwest.

Removal of some of the non-native grass, greenbriers and Japanese honeysuckle vines could quickly restore the acreage to its natural state and offer space for a wildflower and bird-watching walk as a 250-yard side trip connected to the ever-growing city trail system. For many who walk the neighborhood, it would offer a pleasant alternative to sidewalks and streets and an ever-changing display of natural beauty.

The preservation of this wetland, which was never successfully used for pasture or a hay meadow when the land was adjacent to the Wilson Dairy farm early in the 20th century, according to some of the area's oldest residents, now depends on the success of negotiation between Fayetteville's mayor, Dan Coody and James Mathias, whose plans for three apartment buildings and parking for some 66 vehicles on the wetland area already have been approved.

Although he has federal, state and local approval to "dredge and fill" the wetland, Mr. Mathias has generously consented to consider selling the property for the benefit of the neighborhood and other residents of Fayetteville. The parcel west of South Duncan Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets is particularly important because nearly all the rain that falls on it soaks in, replenishing the aquifer and cleansing the water leaving the property, while reducing potential downstream flooding.

Just to the north of the undeveloped 2 acres, Congressman Boozman got to look out across the site of the recently removed 36-trailer 11th-Street Trailer Park, where numerous large oak trees and many other species of hardwoods dot the prairie-wetland landscape between the Town Branch and the A&M Railroad, which skirts the edge of Rochier Hill. Next, he and the party followed the railroad to the site near the south end of the UA campus where the Town Branch flows through a more-than-century-old culvert lined with native stone far below the track and then passes under the trestle on the long-abandoned east-west track that passed through a tunnel beneath the northbound rail line.

A short walk east put the congressman and his party on Hill Avenue, from which the recently removed Anderson Trailer Park land is visible with a couple of old houses still standing on the periphery of the soon-to-be developed parcel. One house is on the west side of the South Duncan intersection with Sixth Street. The other is immediately east of the west end of Anderson Street at Duncan.

Four childhood residents of that house still live in the Town Branch neighborhood, three in a 130-year-old two-story home on South Hill Avenue, the Moody House, and the fourth on South Ellis, a half-mile southeast on the shore of the Town Branch.

A similar and equally old two-story home to the north of the Moody House has been purchased in a foreclosure sale by the developer of a proposed subdivision of Town Houses on the combined acreage of the Anderson and 11th Street trailer parks and is slated to be removed to make way for new multi-family housing.

While Hank Broyles, the new owner of the property, has said he would assist a nonprofit agency in acquiring and moving the historic building, no such group with a lot to put it on has stepped forward.

Members of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association, however, have discussed the possibilty of its being placed on the .46-acre portion of the 2.46-acre Mathias development site if that land should be purchased by the Tree and Trail Task Force for the city.

The house could be leased to a nonprofit group such as a conservation group interested in being associated with and promoting the scientific educational benefits of the 2 acres of wetland prairie to the west of it. Or it could be leased to a nonprofit with some sort of social service benefit to the community. The possibilities are many, but all hinge on successful negotiation of a sale between the city and the developer.

Another idea that could be profitable for the developer and maintain the integrity of the historic neighborhood would be to rehabilitate the old house, ironically called the Broyles house for many years by area residents in honor of a family that lived in it long before Hank Broyles' father came to Fayetteville to coach Razorback football. The house could become a beautiful bed-and-breakfast inn for tourists and people in town for Razorback athletic events, the annual Wal-Mart Shareholders' meeting, the spring and fall craft-fair weekends at War Eagle and other attractions.

An easy, gently sloped downhill walk took Congressman Boozman past houses on the east of Hill Avenue that are slated to become part of the National Cemetery and assorted dwellings on the west side, including three new homes built by Habitat for Humanity near the intersection of South Hill Ave. and 11th Street. The three new homes are on low-lying land less than 75 feet from the Town Branch.

One of the houses on the east side that has not been sold to the National Cemetery support group is older than any of the larger houses further north on Hill Avenue. Near the old rail right of way to the north is the showplace of the neighborhood, the Drake House, built in the 19th century in nearly direct imitation of the design of the Moody House and the Broyles House that is slated to be removed.

Back at the church parking lot, the congressman said goodbye to the minister and made himself available to neighborhood residents who wanted to visit with him. Larry Smith, a 58-year resident of the west bank of Town Branch who gets off work a bit earlier than most people in the neighborhood was on hand to greet the congressman and shared a few memories of growing up nearby.

Then it was over. The neighbors walked home. The congressman headed out to continue his work. Town Branch neighborhood was honored to have had its chance to be a part of one day in the life of a person who helps make significant decisions for the whole country and has a special status as a member of a congressional committee that considers legislation dealing with watershed issues.

Congressman John Boozman's willingness to look closely at local watershed areas and to listen attentively not only to members of the Neighborhood Association but also to the plans of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and Arkansas Audubon for protection and enhancement of the whole watershed of the West Fork of the White River bodes well for the future.

Public officials at all levels of government have diverse responsibility and answer to constituents with many points of view and wide-ranging concerns.

Those who take time to study all sides of the issues must be appreciated. They do so at great sacrifice of personal time and comfort. But, without that sort of effort, good decision-making is impossible.

Concern with water quality in the Ozarks isn't something new for John Boozman. On his congressional Web site, he provides the following statement:

"I am committed to clean drinking water for families in every state, not just Arkansas. I believe this can be accomplished, and I promise to use my seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources to see how the federal government can help find beneficial solutions to our region's problems."

That says it all!

White River

March 16, 2004

Water soaks into hydric soil of wetland inside the former 11th Street Trailer Park

A natural slough cleans water and reduces flooding. It parallels Town Branch on the east between the former 11th Street and Anderson trailer parks.

Construction of a storm-water detention pond a half-mile away on another arm of Town Branch at 18th St. and Beechwood Ave. shows what happens when such natural sloughs are dug out.

Construction of a culvert under Beechwood Ave. at 18th St. shows silt-laden water after use of heavy machinery in an arm of Town Branch.


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

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