History was made at Fayetteville City Hall on February 18, 2014.  In a meeting with standing room only, local cyclists, hikers, teachers, and representatives from numerous conservation organizations overflowed from the doorway and trickled down the grand staircase, standing on tiptoes and leaning an attentive ear toward Mayor Lioneld Jordan and the Fayetteville City Council.  When the council members voted unanimously to preserve a 376-acre tract of woodland atop Mount Kessler, the entire room erupted into cheers, applause, hugs and high-fives.

Mount Kessler is a pristine, forested peak located conveniently within Fayetteville’s southwestern city limits.  Boasting 8.5 miles of natural surface hiking and mountain biking trails, ancient chinquapin oaks, and some of the most scenic rock formations and overlooks in the NW Arkansas metropolitan area, this spot serves as an outdoor classroom, a watershed preserve, and an adventurer’s paradise.

 

Connor Wilkinson, JBU Student

Connor Wilkinson, a sophomore at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, enjoys hiking the Rock City Trail at Mount Kessler

 

The highest ridge of Mount Kessler actually divides two watersheds, as runoff from the western slope enters Farmington Branch, a tributary within the Illinois River Watershed, while runoff from the eastern slope enters Cato Springs Branch, a tributary within the Beaver Lake/White River Watershed.

 

Farmington Overlook

This spot along the trail offers sweeping views of Farmington, Prairie Grove, and the Illinois River Valley

The urban forest that cloaks Mount Kessler is incredibly valuable for water quality in both watersheds and provides countless ecosystem services to our region.  The mature oaks, maples, and other hardwoods have well-established root systems that hold soil in its place and prevent erosion.  They intercept storm water and recharge our groundwater supply, which also alleviates the effects of flooding during major rain events.  They provide shade, food, and habitat for local wildlife, creating a natural migration corridor.  They also help to maintain a pleasing, tranquil atmosphere for outdoor recreation and education.  And, let’s be honest; who doesn’t like seeing trees in the middle of their city?

 

Fall Color on Mt. Kessler

The diverse urban forest atop Mount Kessler comes alive with vibrant color in the fall, luring hikers of all shapes and sizes to the trail

 

The Walton Family Foundation put forth a $1.5 million Challenge Grant that the City of Fayetteville stepped up to match.  The vote to preserve this gem demonstrates the City of Fayetteville’s commitment toward sustainable growth.  The Illinois River Watershed is a phenomenal place to live and work, so expansion and development are inevitable in meeting the demands of our population.  However, smart and sustainable decisions by our leaders and citizens can allow our communities to grow while maintaining valuable green space that provides ecosystem services, recreational opportunities, and high quality of life.

In the case of Mount Kessler, the Walton Family Foundation and the City of Fayetteville recognized a place that was too special—too intrinsically precious—not to preserve, and we commend each and every mindful individual who was involved in preserving it for generations to come.

Forever may she grow.

 


 

If you would like to be involved in restoring urban forests in the Illinois River Watershed, sign up to volunteer at our 7th annual Riparian Project on March 8th!  Help us plant native tree seedlings at a site near you.

 

Additional Resources:

Mt. Kessler Greenways

EPA-Smart Growth and Open Space Conservation

 

Related Posts:

Trees Make a Difference

Paddler’s Post: 10 Adventure Destinations in the Illinois River Watershed

2003 – 2013: A Decade of Accomplishment