The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust (NWALT), a nonprofit organization based in Fayetteville dedicated to preserving and protecting historically, ecologically or otherwise significant land in the region, has recently purchased a major new addition: 830 acres in the historic Lake Francis Property, near Siloam Springs.
This land, which will now be known as the Lake Francis Preserve, is the NWALT’s largest purchase to date, and is one of the most ecologically significant pine/oak woodlands in the region. The Trust will continue to manage it with the goal of preserving wildlife habitats and water quality while also allowing for public access.
“Permanently protecting the Lake Frances property ensures a piece of Benton County’s natural heritage is protected forever. The shortleaf pine stands and oak savanna are unique in our region and help tell the story of what it was like here nearly 200 years ago,” said Marson Nance, Director of Land Stewardship and Research. “We’ve already found unique plants on the property, but have barely scratched the surface in documenting the land’s biodiversity.”
Situated on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border along the Illinois River, the new preserve covers over seven miles of mapped streams, which support an abundance of plants and wildlife. Plans to improve public access include hiking trails, natural surface multi-use trails and a hard surface multi-use trail connecting Oklahoma Highway 59 north of the WOKA Whitewater Park to Arkansas Highway 59.
“This is NWALT’s first partnership with the development and construction of hiking, running and mountain bike single track trails to encourage public engagement with the preserve to better understand the significance of protecting these special habitats,” said Grady Spann, CEO of NWALT. “We are excited about this partnership and how we provide recreational opportunities to all visitors to the Lake Frances Preserve.”
The property was once home to a resort that catered mostly to wealthy Tulsans, and a nearby dam on the Illinois River created Lake Frances. It is believed that famous outlaw Belle Staff once hid in the area in the 1800s, and the deeply influential singer-songwriter Hank Williams Sr. honeymooned at the resort in 1952. The facilities were demolished in the 1970s, and the dam was irreparably damaged in 1989, allowing the lake to drain and largely restoring the area to its natural state.