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Rabbit Foot Lodge land pact in works

City aims for conservation easement by Laurinda Joenks | April 2, 2021 at 3:28 a.m.
Rabbit Foot Lodge is on the north end of J.B. Hunt Park in Springdale. The lodge was built in 1908-09 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1986. Go to nwaonline.com/210404Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

SPRINGDALE -- The city has made a commitment to preserve the Rabbit Foot Lodge and plans to do the same for the land surrounding it.

City officials are working with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust to place a conservation easement on roughly 31 acres in J.B. Hunt Park surrounding the historic home. A similar agreement with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program protects the lodge and 9 acres surrounding it, said Ernest Cate, Springdale's city attorney.

In 2014, the city bought 40 acres, including the lodge, to add to the park.

Rabbit Foot Lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and overlooks Silent Grove Road from J.B. Hunt Park.

Future-Sen. J. William Fulbright bought the Adirondack-style log house in 1934 and lived there with his family while he was president of the University of Arkansas from 1939 to 1941.

The property also includes a spring Fulbright dammed to make a swimming hole, according to the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Once the easement is signed by city and Land Trust officials, the future of the land is set, said Marson Nance, director of land protection and stewardship of the Land Trust. The easement will prevent development that might harm the site.

The easement will bind future landowners, he said.

"No matter who owns it, the Land Trust is on the hook to monitor and enforce the rules of the contract," Nance said. "And we will help maintain the property through our monitoring visits and our relationship with the landowners."

If the nonprofit Land Trust should close, the property will be transferred to another accredited land-holding institute, be it federal or state.

A typical conservation easement would cost between $20,000 and $30,000, based on the features of the property, Nance said. The conservation value of a property can include water quality, scenic views, historical significance, habitat protection and public accessibility, he noted.

The Land Trust is a nonprofit organization, Nance said. The purchase of easements helps fund the organization's work, he added.

A final amount on Rabbit Foot hasn't been determined but would be paid from the budget of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said Wyman Morgan, director of administration and finance for the city.

The city will still own and maintain the property, Cate said.

"The land will be protected forever through the conservation easement," Nance said. "It will always be publicly accessible green space."

Mayor Doug Sprouse said the city's goal is for the public to enjoy it.

Cate said Land Trust officials asked the city its plans for the property so those could become part of the agreement.

Chad Wolf, director of the Parks Department, said the city hopes to build trails to connect the property to the Razorback Greenway, some bathrooms and pavilions. The city also has plans to add another 18 holes to the disc golf course in the park.

Maintenance of the spring on the property also is a strong concern of the city.

Renee Sniegocki, land stewardship coordinator for the trust, walked the Rabbit Foot property with city officials Tuesday. She said she hadn't visited the site and wanted to know what kind of management the city could provide.

She noted some invasive plant species the city's Parks Department will work to remove.

Cate expects the easement agreement to be ready for the City Council's approval in about a month.

Allyn Lord, director of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, said the city has a similar conservation easement with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program to protect the historical integrity of the Shiloh Meeting Hall. The easement is required for the city to receive grant money from the program, she said.

Lord said she wanted to use molded, composite shake shingles for the recent roof replacement of the meeting hall, but the program said no in favor of wood shakes.

"If they have that easement, they get to say, but I understand," she said. "It's there so people don't run roughshod over a historic building. But, at times, it's just not as convenient."

The Shiloh Meeting Hall has served since its construction in 1871 as a gathering place for church congregations, fraternal organizations and civic clubs. The hall sits on the banks of Spring Creek on the museum grounds.

Dr. and Mrs. Charles F. Perkins built Rabbit Foot Lodge as their home in 1908 with all material coming from the property. Perkins was Springdale's first surgeon.

Fulbright added several expansions and improvements to the house.

Karen Compton, the most recent resident, sold the lodge and 48 acres surrounding it to the city in 2014. The purchase came with an agreement the city would maintain it in good condition indoors and out. Compton went before the council in July to remind it of the promise because she wasn't satisfied with the pace of the city's restoration.

The council in January approved $424,158 to replace the roof of the lodge in the first phase of restoration.

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