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Have you ever had a special place, a little spot where you maybe have gone to put your feet in the creek, to smell the pine trees, to listen to the birds or the frogs and crickets, or to just be alone? Or, do particular experiences depend on particular places? For example, the short county road to our home is a tunnel of trees, but driving it can change a rough day into a more peaceful one, similar to a shower that washes away stress.

Of course, such places do not necessarily have to be small to affect the human spirit in a similar way. A long view, a canopied forest, a wild prairie, gentle hills or green pastured farms can evoke psychological change and healing. Large or small, these places we love are good for us. It is harder, however, to return the favor and to be good for them. Urban sprawl has long been a bane on beautiful landscapes, and urban infill can be a bane as well if human needs and the function of landscapes are not understood.

The hard lessons of preservation are based in our inability to convince governmental entities to spend money to save significant places nor can we trust public designation to be permanent because political values change with newly elected administrations. This painful situation is being demonstrated now under President Donald Trump as multiple natural areas are being threatened, eliminated or cashed in for their resources. Preservation efforts are also blocked when individuals feel they do not have access to funding and lack the knowledge of where to turn for help.

However, where there is a will, there is a way for preserving much around us that we love, and even more importantly, for taking care of land and water that are taking care of us. The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust has been finding ways of protecting our corner of this state since 2003 through conservation easements or by land donations, which can come with tax credits, or by purchases. The land trust folks also spend a great deal of their time seeking grants and other funding as well as sponsoring numerous educational programs that bring people of all ages into contact with what is actually happening under our feet. One such outing at Wilson Springs Preserve will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 31, when people who bring their phones can document the sights and sounds of the biodiversity they find and submit them to a worldwide iNaturalist database for identification. (Call the Land Trust at (479) 966-4666 for details.)

There's nothing willy-nilly about a promise of protection permanence with this organization. It is the first land trust in our Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas region that the Land Trust Accreditation Commission has certified because it has met national standards and practices for land conservation, stewardship and nonprofit management. Being local and regional in scope also makes it practical for a land trust like this one to remind the area's planning professionals that there are "mutual benefits that conservation-minded development can have for the economy, the community and the environment."

The size of property put in a trust depends more on its conservation value than its acreage. For example, the spring for which Elm Springs was named has been permanently protected through a conservation easement. It is only about an acre in size, but has great ecological and historic value. Wilson Springs Preserve in Fayetteville, approximately 120 acres, is a wildlife-diverse wetland area being rescued from strangling invasive vegetation by Land Trust volunteers, as are other locations such as Kessler Mountain Regional Park.

With an average of 32 people per day moving to Northwest Arkansas, the race for space and maintaining our quality of life are two of the region's biggest challenges. Beaver Lake is the drinking water supply for almost a half million of us, but water is dependent on a clean secure watershed. Our scenic views and green hills fuel tourism and property values, but it's our farms that feed us and forests that filter water into our aquifers. Wildlife must be able to connect through habitat corridors to survive, but rapid conversion of land fragments natural ecosystems. Our only resiliency for continuing to live in Northwest Arkansas as we face climate change will lie in preserving healthy land and water.

We can't take it with us, but we can help preserve what future generations will need to live in the world we leave them. Put your trust in land.

Commentary on 05/22/2018

Print Headline: Trusting the land

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