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HIGH PROFILE: Land trust head Terri Lane has gone from living off the land to preserving it

“During the first boom of population growth and development in Northwest Arkansas, our founders started looking around and said, ‘We need some sort of mechanism to permanently protect our sense of place, our clean water, our wildlife, our scenic values.’” (She is shown with Marson Nance, director of land protection and stewardship at the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust.) (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

The stretch of Interstate 49 between Interstate 40 and Fayetteville does not lack gorgeous views, but the span of highway just north of the Bobby Hopper Tunnel is surely in the running for the most stunning panoramic vistas. In the spring and summertime, the rolling, green hills of the Ozarks blanket both sides of the highway, providing a peaceful view no matter the direction.

If you ever drove through this stretch and thought, regretfully, of the looming day in the future when it would be developed, there's good news: Thanks to a generous donor and the proactive, vigilant work of the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, under the leadership of Executive Director Terri Lane, a little more than 700 acres of that beautiful landscape will be preserved forever.

"It's a good example of an area that people take for granted," Lane says. "It's one of the scenic byways in Arkansas, but there's no real plan to conserve the 'viewshed,' and development is already creeping into that area. Prospectors are already buying land because they can get it cheap, and they're already dividing it up for housing, knowing that some of those communities are going to expand through there."

Once parcels of land around this area started disappearing into the hands of developers, Lane and her team began putting together a plan to preserve as much as possible. The price of the 700-plus acres was too much for the relatively small nonprofit to buy outright -- it ultimately sold for just over $1 million -- so Lane started quietly fundraising, approaching individual donors and explaining the importance of preserving this particular property.

"Wildlife need to be able to cross that interstate because there are huge patches of habitat on either side," Lane says. "When they built the overpass, there are some overpasses with land underneath -- and that property spanned both sides of the highway and included that underpass. So it's a really important connector." Conservation of the land will also protect the Lee Creek Reservoir, a source of drinking water for more than 200,000 Arkansans.

Miraculously, the first potential donors the land trust approached were so moved by the project, they offered to buy the land outright. Fayetteville residents Tina Moore and Paul Green finalized the purchase in January and placed the land in a conservation easement with the Land Trust.

"Now, it's protected forever," Lane says.

It's all in a day's work for Lane, who, in her eight years with the land trust, has helped add some 3,000 acres to the organization's portfolio. Since its founding in 2003, the Land Trust has protected nearly 4,000 acres in a 3,312 square-mile area of the Ozark Highlands and Boston Mountain eco-regions.

"During the first boom of population growth and development in Northwest Arkansas, our founders started looking around and said, 'We need some sort of mechanism to permanently protect our sense of place, our clean water, our wildlife, our scenic values,'" Lane says. "There were already conservation organizations like the Nature Conservancy, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, but there were gaps in that. There really needed to be a land trust dedicated to this region."

Lane is chatting in the conference room of the Land Trust offices in the Ozark Smokehouse building near the intersection of Rupple Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Fayetteville. Frank Sharp, owner of the building and a conservationist himself, donated the office space to the organization several years ago. The building sits at the foot of Kessler Mountain and is, in fact, just minutes from where Lane grew up.

Lane is the daughter of Bobbi, who worked in the banking industry, and Dr. Nolan Arthur, a popular associate professor of agriculture classes who, over the course of his 31 years at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, helped create and lead the Agricultural and Extension Education Department.

Both of her parents were children of farmers, and both believed in instilling a strong work ethic through agricultural labor and education. When Lane was 6 or 7, she and her sister, Kim, started raising sheep on the family's seven acres on Kessler Mountain. Eventually, their flock would number around 200.

"My dad was a loving father," Lane says. "He was very chore driven, and he pushed us hard. He wanted us to take responsibility for everything. We showed [the sheep] at fairs, we were in 4-H and the FFA [Future Farmers of America]. We would pull out the best, and those were our show lambs.

"People would ask my dad about having a son, and he would say, 'Why do I need a son? I've got Kim and Terri.'"


Summers were spent working on a chore list that included indoor and outdoor chores -- with breaks, says Lane, to watch soap operas -- and the girls were pulled out of school three weeks every year to take their show lambs on the state fair circuit by a father who felt not everything worth learning could be gleaned from a classroom.

Her focus on conservation and ecology can easily be traced back to her childhood on Kessler Mountain.

"Being a child of Northwest Arkansas is a foundational part of who Terri is," notes close friend Anne O'Leary-Kelly. "She has lived in other states, but I think it was predestined that it would be temporary. Her strong sense of place explains her passion for stewarding and nurturing natural resources."

Lane's fond memories of childhood include packing a backpack and setting off early in the morning, roaming all over the mountain until sunset. And if she got lost, no worries: She had a surefire trick for finding her way home.

"Kind of like your dog starts to bug you at night when it's time for dinner, the sheep knew in the evening when it was feeding time," she says. "They would all gather up and start baa-ing, and you could hear it [from far away] because there were so many of them. There were several times that the only way I made my way home when it was getting dark was to follow the sound of the sheep."


Despite this innate love of the land, Lane initially followed other career interests after graduation, including fashion design. College and a relationship took her away from Fayetteville but within several years, she had grown disenchanted with that choice.

"I was really, really unhappy, and just I felt like I was shriveling up inside -- like, 'This is not working out'," she says. "And my grandmother was a guidepost, the guiding light. I was explaining to her how I felt, and she said, 'Terri, my dear, you belong amongst the trees.' And it was like a lightning bolt of truth -- it was so obvious and simple."

She returned to Fayetteville and enrolled in the Environmental Soil and Water Science program at UA. The summer of her senior year was spent backpacking through the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park, where she studied various conservation concerns in real-world settings.

Post-college, Lane moved around a bit, finding her niche in positions as a teacher at educational science centers -- a role she filled at the Ozark Natural Science Center in Huntsville when she returned to Northwest Arkansas. It was a job she enjoyed for around 18 months before making a career change that she hoped would be the perfect meld of her fashion and ecology interests.

"I decided to open a boutique in Fayetteville that focused on sustainably sourced, eco-friendly clothing and gift items," she says. "This was in 2000, and that [area of focus] hadn't hit mainstream yet, but it was coming. I decided I would merge that interest that I always had in design while still having a conservation mission. I learned a lot from the experience, but it was too far removed from nature conservation work."

She ran the business for three years -- and added a baby to the family during the process -- before closing the store and deciding to stay home with her children (she would eventually have two) for a few years. Like many women who leave the workforce to raise children, she found herself somewhat adrift as they approached school age.

A course called "The Journey to Authenticity" at St. Paul's Episcopal Church helped her focus her career goals. She used what she learned about her interests and strengths in the course and joined the Fayetteville Environmental Action Committee, where she was instrumental in helping the town gain its Community Wildlife Habitat Certification.

"She advocated for that, and we built it into the program for the Environmental Action Committee, which became the local administrator of that program through the National Wildlife Federation," says former Fayetteville City Council member Sarah Lewis. "It's an educational program to bring awareness to all of the different diversity that's needed in urban habitats. It's because of her championing that program that it took off."

That got her noticed by the land trust board.

"When the land trust job presented itself, she jumped at the chance," says O'Leary-Kelly. "Being completely frank, there were numerous aspects of the job that were new to her at that point in time. But her natural talents for learning and connecting with people served her well. And it also became apparent that Terri has a great ability to set a vision and get people to connect with her passion for it. I believe she's built the land trust on these natural talents: a vision that she's passionate about, continuous learning, and valuing people."


In her eight years in the position, Lane has built a staff of seven and has a long list of land acquisitions under her belt -- private and for public use -- such as the Wilson Springs Preserve, a 121-acre prairie wetland in Fayetteville. After undergoing seven years of rehabilitation as the organization removed invasive plant species to encourage the growth of native plants, it was opened to the public with an innovative nature and arts festival in September.

It's a lot of work, and Lane emphasizes that family/work balance is an important principle for her.

"I'm still trying to get it right," she says. "I hope my girls will look back one day -- even though I'm not there for every school party and I sometimes miss an event for them -- and be proud of their mom for how hard she worked and what she stood for. I hope they, too, will find their passion and know the joy that I know from applying their own spiritual gifts to work for a cause they care deeply about."

And there's little doubt that Lane has found the cause that instills the most passion in her.

"What we're really trying to encourage is smart growth," she says. "There are plenty of cities and regions around the country who didn't do that, and they now wish they had. It's hard to get it back once you've lost it. We're not here to stand in the way of appropriate development or growth. There are real economic connections and health and wellness connections: The water we drink is going to stay clean by protecting the land. The air we breathe, the tourism and recreation that we enjoy. [We can't] destroy the scenic values that bring people here in the first place. Property values are increased by conservation. ... There are a lot of good studies and documentation out there about communities that invest in green infrastructure having lower health costs and healthier citizens.

"Without that type of forward thinking and partnering, we risk losing what makes Northwest Arkansas special."

Land trust founding board member Ed Clifford says that without the work Lane and her team have accomplished through the Land Trust "Northwest Arkansas would think of itself differently. The area would think more along the lines of development and projects, whereas now, we focus on the quality of life issue -- is this the right place for people to move, to raise families, is it the right place to ride a bike? One of the things that Terri and the land trust have been able to do is make us think differently about ourselves. ... I am amazed at Terri's ability to focus on the projects that make sense, her ability to shepherd a board that is not nearly as knowledgeable about these things and, through the process, bring on funders and interest new people in Northwest Arkansas.

"It's Terri that drives the process," Clifford says. "As a founding board member, I've just been holding on to the back of that train and enjoying the ride."


Terri Lane

• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: May 8, 1970, Chickasaw, Okla.

• FAMILY: Husband, Alan; daughters, Eliza and Ivy

• MY GREATEST FEAR (WORRY) IS: The well-being and safety of my children.

• FEW PEOPLE KNOW I: Have had such varied experiences in my past.

• I'M AT MY BEST WHEN: I've had time alone to think.

• IF I'VE LEARNED ONE THING IN LIFE, IT'S: We all have a calling and a purpose; finding it is the key to joy.


• I'M MOST COMFORTABLE IN: Intimate settings with close friends


• MY MOST HUMBLING EXPERIENCE WAS: Owning a small business.

• MY FAVORITE PLACE IN ARKANSAS IS: Bushwhacking childhood routes on Kessler Mountain.

• A REALLY GOOD PIECE OF ADVICE I RECEIVED WAS: Pick the thing that will have the greatest positive ripple effect and do that.

• MY GREATEST STRENGTH FOR THE PROFESSION I'M IN IS: Authentic passion for the mission.


“I hope my girls will look back one day — even though I’m not there for every school party and I sometimes miss an event for them — and be proud of their mom for how hard she worked and what she stood for. I hope they, too, will find their passion and know the joy that I know from applying their own spiritual gifts to work for a cause they care deeply about.” (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

High Profile on 02/16/2020


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