Fayetteville City Council Approves Mount Kessler Purchase
Posted: February 19, 2014 at 5 a.m.
FAYETTEVILLE — The city will add 376 acres atop Mount Kessler to its stock of publicly owned land.
Fayetteville aldermen on Tuesday unanimously approved spending $1.5 million out of reserve to buy the hillside property near the Cato Springs Road interchange on Interstate 540.
The Walton Family Foundation has agreed to kick in $1.5 million for the purchase from Danville-based Chambers Bank.
The land, which features several miles of trails, rock formations, groves of old-growth trees and views of southwest Fayetteville, is next to a planned 200-acre park.
Advocates said Tuesday the land will appeal to hikers, mountain bikers and bird-watchers for years to come, whereas the park will mostly feature soccer fields, baseball diamonds and other types of recreation.
“This roughly 380 acres … creates a place unlike many in the region or the state,” Jeremy Pate, city development services director, said Tuesday. “We really believe that this network of trails and open space creates almost 600 acres of parkland that, ultimately, will be a legacy acquisition for the city of Fayetteville.”
More than 150 residents filled City Council chambers during Tuesday’s discussion. Many stood in the aisles or huddled outside the doors.
“This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen,” said Adella Gray, Ward 1 alderwoman for more than seven years, before the meeting.
The details of the purchase are complicated. Chambers Bank agreed to sell 328 acres for $3 million. Another 48 acres will be donated and count toward park dedication requirements for any development on the remaining 200 acres the bank owns.
City and bank officials also agreed to trade islands of land that had been held by each respective entity.
“Basically it would make both parcels whole,” Pate said.
As a condition for the Walton grant, the city must come up with a plan for preserving the 376 acres as “green space.” The city also must construct a trail head, estimated at $100,000, within 90 days and commit to maintaining trails on the property. City officials must agree to a real estate contract by April 15.
The city’s expenditure will be lessened if the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association follows through with a commitment to raise $300,000 over the next three years for the Mount Kessler Reserve.
City Council members heard Tuesday from a collection of conservationists, educators and outdoors enthusiasts, who supported the purchase.
About 40 members of Ozarks Off Road Cyclists, a nonprofit group that has built and maintained Mount Kessler trails, rode their bikes to Tuesday’s meeting.
Steve Schneider, group vice president, said the trails provide opportunities to fight obesity and get people outdoors.
Several speakers mentioned research opportunities Mount Kessler provides for University of Arkansas and Fayetteville School District students.
The property is within 3 miles of Fayetteville High School and university. It’s home to various plants and animals, including groves of 300-year-old post oak trees, spotted salamanders and spring peeper frogs.
The land has served as outdoor classroom space for a graduate student studying in the university’s tree-ring laboratory and students enrolled in Fayetteville High School’s advanced placement environmental science class.
“This is just one of the many examples of how students can have hands-on, relevant learning experiences that reinforce the curriculum that’s introduced in the classroom,” said Dana Smith, district sustainability coordinator.
John Pennington, executive director of the Beaver Watershed Alliance, said rainwater from Mount Kessler flows into the Illinois River and West Fork of the White River, which empties into Beaver Lake, the drinking water source for more than 300,000 people in Northwest Arkansas.
Pennington said land conservation is the best long-term way to preserve water quality in the two watersheds.
Tuesday’s vote caps a more than decade-long effort to prevent development on Mount Kessler by resident Frank Sharp. Sharp’s family homestead lies next to the land.
“I certainly want to thank (Sharp) for keeping this in my mind and in my heart,” said Mayor Lioneld Jordan. “What I see with this purchase is 376 acres that will never, ever be touched again.”
According to city records, the Mount Kessler land will add to more than 3,900 acres of parks, trails and lakes in Fayetteville.