Recently, 79 percent of a group of Northwest Arkansans surveyed identified the protection of natural areas that support walking, hiking, biking, and exploring as “very important.” The second highest priority (68 percent) was the protection of natural forests, prairie, and other wildlife habitats. But in these hectic days of economic uncertainty, how does a community that recognizes these values come together to plan to keep open, undeveloped spaces for their quality of life? It’s not easy, especially if your community is projected to have the highest growth rate (58 percent) in the central United States, and it does involve a lot of cooperation, data, and information-gathering, but just such a plan is happening right now in northwest Arkansas.
The current plan, the Northwest Arkansas Open Space Plan, is the product of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission (NWARPC). Since its formation in 1966, the NWARPC has been working toward making northwest Arkansas (NWA) a more desirable place to live and work. Open space has been a subject of discussion in NWA for decades, beginning with NWARPC’s first open space plan in the 1970s. Since then, many other local and regional studies have focused on open space, or included it as a key component. This new plan will build upon these previous and ongoing efforts and provide the rationale and strategies necessary to implement plan recommendations. The plan is being financed through a grant by the Walton Family Foundation to the NWARPC.
The stated goal of the NW Arkansas Open Space Plan is:
“…to develop a coordinated, voluntary program to protect and promote the region’s most valued natural landscapes and open spaces. Open space includes the lands and waters where people hunt and fish, play with their children, hike through the woods, observe wildlife in their natural habitat, and, in some cases, where they farm and grow food. Our goal is to preserve these assets, thereby maintaining our high quality of life as the region continues to grow and prosper. Simply put, the vision of this Plan is to ‘conserve some country as we grow.’"
The Plan is emphasizing a voluntary, regional approach to conservation, involving only willing landowners, and in coordination with the region’s existing conservation organizations. As one of those organizations, the ANHC has participated in several innovative and exciting aspects of the plan’s development. Our extensive database was used as part of the state-of-the-art analysis of the region’s natural, cultural, historic, agricultural, and recreation resources to produce a set of maps that show priority areas for conservation throughout the region. Our Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area (pictured at left) in the region was identified as a “success story” that serves as an example on how to:
“…determine resources in need of conservation and protection, form strategic partnerships, and conserve open space. This project is an example of where a national land conservation organization has partnered with local and state organizations, and leveraged the participation of the federal government, to conserve and protect thousands of acres of valued natural resources.”
To see the priority maps, the public interest surveys, or other details about the Plan, visit the resources section of the Plan's website.