The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust (NWALT) recently received grant funding from Bass Pro Shops as well as Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, which will go toward the total funding of an initiative to permanently protect 300 acres of the Ozark forest in southern Washington County.
Blackburn Bluffs Preserve, the acreage, is a designated scenic byway at the gateway to the region, west of the Bobby Hopper Tunnel on interstate 49. Home to over 400 species of plants, the preserve has turkey, black bear, white-tailed deer and smallmouth bass. The Northern Long-Eared Bat, a federally threatened species and the Ozark Big-Eared Bat, a federally endangered species, both forage in the important area.
Thousands of tourists visit the area each year, to absorb the natural beauty of the preserve.
“Population in the region is expected to double between 2020 and 2045, reaching nearly one million residents,” said Pam Nelson, NWALT director of land protection. “Northwest Arkansas is the fastest-growing region in the central United States. On average, the region loses nine acres of open space each day.”
A privately-owned, 725-acre tract that was permanently protected with a conservation easement in 2019, adjacent to Blackburn Bluffs Preserve, together the two properties establish a protected corridor for wildlife movement under the elevated interstate.
The conservation of the properties will protect 2.5 miles of Blackburn Creek– which is a tributary in the Lee Creek Watershed. Lee Creek Watershed supplies drinking water for more than 200,000 people in the Fort Smith metropolitan area. NWALT strategically has an effort to establish a Boston Mountain Scenic Wildlife Corridor, and the acquisition of Blackburn Bluffs Preserve is part of this. This effort is aimed to connect publicly protected lands at Devil’s Den State Park and the Ozark National Forest in the west to the Ozark National Forest in the east.
The Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund grant serves as part of the company’s initiative in investing in programs aligned with its commitment to conservation. The initiative includes conserving wildlife and habitats, connecting new audiences to the outdoors, advocating for access to the outdoors and sportsmen’s rights and strengthening the communities within the Missouri Ozarks.
“We believe our plan to conserve this area works imperfect alignment with the mission of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, as the permanent protection of Blackburn Bluffs Preserve will benefit the residents of Ft. Smith and those who reside in Benton and Washington counties, the state tourism industry, as well as hunters and anglers,” Nelson said.
NWALT, in addition to the preservation of natural resources and wildlife habitat at the Blackburn Bluffs Preserve, believes the conservation of this area will increase access to outdoor recreation. This will also increase access to community participation in outdoor excursions as well as guided hiking trips, in return, resulting in increased community awareness of the importance of land conservation within the region.
Featured photo of Blackburn Bluffs Preserve courtesy of NWALT.