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story.lead_photo.caption Terry Rodocker of Bella Vista rides his mountain bike Thursday on a trail at Kessler Mountain Region- al Park in Fayetteville. The Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association this year completed its $300,000 commitment to preserving Kessler Mountain. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- Hundreds of people nationwide will try to start the new year off right with a hike.

Anyone who chooses Kessler Mountain will see woods standing tall, invasive species removed and a plethora of wildlife undisturbed, thanks in large part to a $300,000 commitment from the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association.

The association presented a final check of about $52,700 to the City Council in November after a series of incremental donations since 2014.

The commitment involves more than just money.

The city partnered with the Walton Family Foundation to buy the acreage from Chambers Bank in 2014, with each entity contributing $1.5 million. About $217,000 in cash from the Heritage Association helped pay back the city's part for the 380-plus-acre preserve.

The bank donated about 200 acres east of the mountain in 2010, which became the city's regional park.

Another $50,000 from the association went toward establishing a conservation easement. Part of the deal with the Walton Family Foundation entailed preserving the mountainside.

The association set aside nearly $10,000 for an ecological assessment. The remaining $22,500 will be spent on natural asset inventories, developing a habitat management plan and educational signs.

A significant portion involves assessing and cleaning up the wildlife habitat of the mountain, said Jennifer Ogle, chairman of the Natural Heritage Association.

"We need to know what's there so we can protect and manage it effectively," she said.

For instance, removing invasive plant species such as bush honeysuckle and privet is an ongoing effort. Otherwise, the detrimental vegetation could take over the mountain. As the trees die, nothing would replace them, Ogle said.

The association and its partners with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust have started on a mammal survey of the mountain, strategically placing game cameras and moving them periodically. Since November, conservationists have seen bobcats, coyotes, deer, armadillos, foxes, raccoon and a hawk that swooped down and brought a squirrel to its demise.

The 10 cameras immediately captured images of a variety of wildlife within the first week, said Terri Lane, director of the Land Trust.

"It just kind of tells you how richly populated and important Kessler Mountain is for wildlife," she said.

Kessler serves as part of a chain of mountains stretching about 9 miles in Washington County. The Land Trust has the stretch among its priority landscapes and has been working to preserve as much of it as possible, Lane said.

Lane estimated the Land Trust has helped conserve about 700 acres within the greater Kessler Mountain wildlife region, which includes Kessler, Washington, Miller and Stevenson mountains, by working with nonprofit partners and land owners.

"We're losing connectivity of wildlife habitat as we grow," she said. "Anytime we can conserve large tracts, and especially if we can start to connect those large tracts with other conservation parcels, that's really what's going to make the difference as far as preserving biodiversity in our region."

Preserving Kessler Mountain was a community-wide effort. The Heritage Association holds regular fundraisers. A Kessler-specific gala, a series of Kessler trail runs and regular donors and volunteers all helped meet the commitment, Ogle said.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan said it's organizations such as the Heritage Association and the Land Trust that make his administration's environmental and partnership-based goals achievable.

"They've just been instrumental in everything we wanted to do in natural green space and urban forest preservation," he said. "I don't know how we would've really done it without them."

Metro on 01/01/2019

Print Headline: Fayetteville finds conservation ally


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