I came across another great article from the folks at Ozarks Water Watch in their most recent newsletter…
NW Arkansas Land Trust: The Beginning and the Vision
by Guest Contributor, Nicole Hardiman, NW Arkansas Land Trust Executive Director
In 2003, the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust (NWALT) was established by a group of local community leaders who were interested in addressing conservation needs within the Northwest Arkansas region. The idea among the group was to apply the “land trust” concept locally, which previously has been a highly successful conservation tool across the nation. Because Northwest Arkansas experienced intense urban development over the past 20 years, the founding Board of Directors identified a need to preserve the region’s quality of life, existing green space, and natural resources.
Fast forward to 2011 and NWALT is established and gaining momentum, even during what has been tough economic times for conservation-focused non-profits. As of 2010, the all-volunteer Board acquired conservation easements on 93.5 acres within the Beaver Lake watershed, a few acres of which were part of a stream bank restoration project in partnership with Beaver Water District and the Watershed Conservation Resource Center.
|Beaver Lake (one of NWALT’s target watersheds)|
In the Illinois River watershed, the 120-acre Wilson Springs Conservation Area was recently donated to NWALT, making the organization part of the planning team for the on-going wetland prairie restoration project. This project was spearheaded by Audubon Arkansas through funding provided by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Most recently, NWALT appointed its first-ever Executive Director, Dr. Nicole Hardiman. Nicole previously worked to establish the newly formed Beaver Watershed Alliance, a watershed protection organization focused on maintaining water quality in the Beaver Lake/Upper White River watershed. Nicole received her Ph.D. in Biology at the University of Cincinnati and has worked in water resource and quality issues over the last three years. Nicole is a Northwest Arkansas native, a fourth-generation University of Arkansas graduate, and spent many, many weekends swimming in Beaver Lake as a child.
Nicole Hardiman, E.D. Ed Clifford, Board President
Land conservation, in the form of conservation easements, land donations, and bargain sales, has been shown in recent studies to be a cost-effective and necessary tool for natural resource protection. The Beaver Lake Watershed Protection Strategy (WPS) and the Illinois River Watershed Partnership’s draft management plan currently recommend forest and pasture conservation paired with streamside management zones as methods to protect against streambank erosion and to provide pollutant and/or nutrient filtration opportunities. NWALT hopes to work within the Northwest Arkansas community to advance awareness of the relationship among water quality, economic development, and land conservation, as well as educating landowners on available conservation options.
West Fork Streambank Restoration
(photo courtesy of Watershed Conservation Resource Center)
By allowing land owners to take advantage of tax incentives for conservation easements and donations while still maintaining the desired use for their land, NWALT’s ultimate goal is to maintain Northwest Arkansas’s beauty, natural resources, rural culture, and quality of life. The NWALT Board recognizes the difficult decisions landowners face in regard to their land and the future use of their land and strives to maintain relationships with landowners that are built on integrity, honesty, and transparency.
A “deer pasture” on one of NWALT’s conservation easements in Rogers, AR
In the coming year, NWALT plans to develop the organization through diverse fund-raising and community outreach strategies, which are the first, necessary building blocks for any successful land trust. With support from the NWA community, NWALT will work towards effective implementation of Northwest Arkansas’s regional natural resource protection strategies.