"Open space" or "greenspace" is generally an area, large or small, that is minimally occupied or not occupied in any way by man-made objects. It presents nature by the presence of plants, animals, and geological features by conveying a perception of freedom and communication with nature.
Highest order open spaces are large unoccupied mountain vistas, vast deserts, ocean views, extensive forests or grasslands. Smaller spaces such as urban parks, trails, and landscaped tracts are also open space because they strongly connect us with nature and contrast with any nearby development. Even an expansive urban vista with a great view of the skyline has the connection to nature that is integral to Open Space.
The City of Fayetteville’s Lake Wilson, Lake Fayetteville, and Mt. Sequoyah Woods are examples of the highest order open spaces. The smaller Gulley, Wilson, Finger, and Bryce Davis Parks, Brooks-Hummel Nature Preserve or greenway trails such as Scull Creek and Mud Creek contrast strongly with the bustling development so nearby. Some small private tracts preserve important open space. Historic Big Spring, located on Spring Street at Willow Avenue, illustrates a water source that was critically important to the earliest settlers of Fayetteville, and Wilson Springs just west of I-540 is habitat for the rare Arkansas Darter fish.
Open space, especially in the form of expansive landscapes such as parks, greenways and natural areas, gives strength to our communities, enhances property values, and improves our physical health and sense of well-being which makes the Fayetteville area one of the best places to live in America. Preserved natural areas offer wild beauty, the adventure of exploration, opportunities to study nature, and respite from the bustle of daily life. Parks and greenways not only provide trail corridors, which in turn create a means healthy recreation or alternative transportation in the form of walking and biking corridors, but they also form a means of connectivity for neighborhoods and wildlife. According to the Center for Disease Control creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity lead to a 25.6% increase in the percentage of people exercising three or more days per week.
Parks are essential for socially healthy communities. Their use for family reunions, school and neighborhood picnics, concerts under the stars, weddings, Fourth of July celebrations, baseball, tennis, soccer games, swimming, or even old car shows make parks an integral part of America’s social fabric.
Greenspace in urban areas provides substantial environmental benefits. In the fifty year life of just one tree, the U.S. Forest Service has determined it will generate $31,250 worth of oxygen, $62,000 of pollution control, and reduce both soil erosion and water runoff. Green space can protect declining, rare, or endangered species, or conserve various types of habitat ranging from prairies to wetlands to forests. Greenways often improve properties that are in flood-prone areas would more than likely turn into trash and litter repositories.
Most residential and commercial developers in our area have come to realize that preserving open or natural space within a new community increases the return on investment on homes, lots and business property. In a press release dated April 25, 2001, the National Association of Realtors reported a survey by Public Opinion Strategies where 50% of respondents said they would be willing to pay 10% more for a house located near a park or other protected open space.
Open space in Fayetteville, the nearby Ozark National Forest or the pastoral farm lands of the Washington County area are all very attractive to the tourists and business visitors who add significantly to the prosperity of Fayetteville. The combination of open space, the University of Arkansas, excellent schools, a top notch medical community, fine cultural amenities, and thriving industries bring an abundance of new permanent residents.
benefiting from strong citizen support,
remains essential to the economic success of this region
Many private land owners in the Fayetteville area express concern and great regret that the open spaces which were once a part of their lives are now disappearing within their lifetime. What will the natural future hold for their successors?
Conserving "Open Space" connects the past and present with the future like nothing else
Contributed by Doug James
Greenspace in and outside the municipalities in northwestern Arkansas consists of scattered patches of forest and prairie. These represent two important ecosystems that provide essential services that preserve the integrity of planet earth. For example, two of the services through plant metabolism are the production of atmospheric oxygen and the absorption of carbon dioxide, the accumulation of the latter being a factor in the global warming phenomenon. This purification of the air is needed everywhere, including in our part of Arkansas, in both the countryside and inside our towns and cities, especially in the municipalities where automobile traffic and industrial activities jointly consume an inordinate amount of oxygen and produce a proliferation of carbon dioxide. These adverse activities conspire to degrade the atmosphere. Therefore, greenspace patches are doubly important in developed urban districts. Residing in sterile urban environments devoid of patches of natural habitats gives people the mistaken concept that that is the normal condition on earth. This viewpoint lacks a public advocacy for preserving natural ecosystems and their benefits thus leading to a lack of support for these advantages resulting in the gradual deterioration of the needs for a healthy planet.
The enormous popularity of established state and national parks, and city parks, provides compelling evidence that people greatly enjoy and are attracted to these preserved pieces of nature. It makes sense then to transport this enjoyment to the urban environment and to the adjacent countryside by establishing greenspaces close to where people reside and thereby adding to the health of the earth as well.
Comparing rural areas where there is more forested greenspace than in cities, the cites generally have 10 times more dust, 5 times more sulphur dioxide, 10 times more carbon dioxide, 25 times more carbon monoxide, 15 to 20% less solar radiation due to 5 to 10 % more clouds, 5 to 10% more precipitation, are warmer by 1 to 1.5 degrees annually, have 6% lower relative humidity, and a 20 to 30% reduction in annual mean wind speed (Gill and Bonnett 1973). Also, strategically positioned patches of greenspace act as effective barriers mitigating traffic noise in urban environments. Obviously, the urban ambiance produces mostly harsher conditions than do the more esthetically pleasing surroundings outside cities.
Natural environments and even patches of greenspace attract wildlife. Therefore, let's consider wildlife. Viewing wildlife is even more popular than visits to the natural habitats in parks. The greater attendance at zoos than botanical gardens documents this. The places where large mammals are present in the national parks are where the crowds gather. And in particular among Americans today, bird watching leads the list of outdoor activities even surpassing hunting and fishing. Preserving greenspace is a primary way to encourage birds in urban and surrounding areas, thereby encouraging visits by birds to the numerous backyard feeding stations that characterize our urban environments to the enjoyment of our citizens. A raccoon visiting a feeding station is exciting; reaction to squirrels is mixed unless it's a flying squirrel or chipmunk. These backyard encounters with birds and mammals are happy experiences that enrich the human spirit. It makes us feel connected with nature, a condition that would not exist in the absence of adequate greenspace.
Fayetteville has a large diversity in urban wildlife within its limits. Besides the numerous bird species there are many mammals including squirrels, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, rabbits, woodchucks, and even moles and skunks, plus the occasional deer. In fact the sterile environment of many urban areas can be a barrier that isolates populations of mammals, but not birds that enjoy the freedom of flight. But to mammals urban areas can be a real impediment constraining circulation between populations. Greenspace in the urban realm provides the needed corridor linking disconnected mammalian populations.
Actually, the animals in Fayetteville have communicated to us the fact that the city has become more forest like. Years ago, it was the open country fox squirrel that dominated the scene. Now only the gray squirrel is here, which is a forest animal. The forest dwelling Red-shouldered Hawk now nests all over town. Cooper's Hawks currently nest in town too. In fact, an important video has been produced starring the Red-shouldered Hawk titled "The Hawks of Wilson Park." This could not have happened without the progressive development so far of greenspace in Fayetteville. This needs to be continued because it is important in so many ways.
The northern portions of Washington County tend to be cave bearing hills and rolling prairie lands of the Springfield Plateau, having thin organic soil over residual cherty, red clay soils overlying limestone. The forested hills of the remainder are often capped with sandstone overlying shale beds.
Such geological diversity offers awe-inspiring vistas, springs and seasonal wetlands in the vestigial prairie lands, and clear tributaries to the Illinois and White Rivers. It also supports diverse plant and animal life, some of the rarer and more fragile forms being found in caves, springs, or wetlands. Throughout the County springs were household water sources for many families; some are still used for this purpose.
Much of Washington County is in transition from farm to urban or sub-urban. This challenging time requires changes in traditional thinking about everything from schools and roads to how one neighbor affects another. In 2007 the Washington County Quorum Court enacted county-wide zoning making thoughtful development possible. This is an excellent opportunity to conserve the important vestiges of the scene of today.
Now is the time for Washington County to Conserve Natural and Agricultural Areas
All of these incredible assets are what brought generations of families to Washington County, but they are vulnerable and being lost daily. These assets are the County’s unique and priceless natural heritage and they are irreplaceable. There is much to gain and nothing lose by taking action now. There is little time to do it.
Fayetteville’s renowned natural beauty is based on its surrounding hilltops, oak and maple trees, and river valleys, but population growth is quickly eliminating many of these characteristics.
In 2005, using a grant from the Arkansas Forestry Commission’s Urban Forestry Program and the U.S. Forestry Service, the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association (FNHA) began an assessment study to rank and prioritize natural sites which should be considered for conservation. Partners in our project were The Nature Conservancy’s Ozark Highlands Office and the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Arkansas.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD CONSERVATION SITE?
An advanced computer mapping technique, a "Geographic Information System" (GIS), was used to rank parcels of property worth conserving in the City and Planning Area of Fayetteville as well as watersheds intersecting the Planning Area. This technique used data from the Washington County Assessor’s Office 2005 parcel boundaries and publicly available GIS data, such as the 2004 Land Use/Land Cover dataset developed by the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) at the University of Arkansas, roads from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, Soil Survey Geographic, and the Digital Elevation Model from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.
Parcels for the study were limited to those over 5 acres with more than 50% of their area not developed. Sites were given high ranks based on the amount of "biodiversity", which is the number of different plant and animal species found in a given habitat. Each site’s ranking was lowered by the presence of man-made disturbances. For further information about this ranking process contact Ethan Inlander, GIS Specialist, The Nature Conservancy, Fayetteville.
This ranking information was used for developing a map of places that could be considered for conservation. A Science Advisory Council (SAC) helped in making decisions about information used to create the map. The group included members from FNHA, the University of Arkansas faculty, the City of Fayetteville staff, Beaver Water District staff, The Nature Conservancy staff and others.
To help make these decisions, public input was solicited from a questionnaire that was distributed to a diverse cross-section of citizens. This questionnaire helped the Science Advisory Council select the site characteristics (below) that were most important. The SAC considered habitat connectivity, topographic diversity and rarity, forest cover, diversity of forest types, predicted species diversity, length of streams and existence of water bodies as most important, and gave these possible characteristics much more weight than others.
A final step in the project was to visit and analyze the highly-ranked sites to determine the maps’ accuracy and to add information about good views, habitat condition, and recreational potential for trails. The full Urban Forest Conservation Assessment report was completed in October 2006 and is available below (pdf format) or from FNHA, Box 3635, Fayetteville, AR 72702-3635
WHAT were the MOST IMPORTANT CHARACTERISTICS used in evaluating these Conservation Sites
1. Potential for walking trails
2. Potential for links to existing or planned walking trails
3. A high number of animals that might live in an aquatic habitat
4. Habitat corridors that connect larger habitat areas
5. A high number of native plant types.
WHAT ARE THE RESULTS of the GIS analysis?
1. Most of the top ranked parcels were part of larger clusters of other highly ranked parcels. This means that FNHA has the opportunity to contact several owners to see if they are interested in conservation.
2. Overall results have been included in the development of the Fayetteville City Plan 2025.
3. The Beaver Water District has begun a GIS-based survey on the Beaver Lake watershed.
4. FNHA has a ‘short list’ that will provide focus to future conservation efforts, such as working with specific landowners to develop conservation opportunities and working with city leaders to guide land use policy.
LAND USE PLANNING - Community’s Vision
ü 2025 Plan calls for assembling an Enduring Green Network
ü Fayetteville City Council has adopted a Land Use Plan that includes a “Green Belt”
ü Washington County Zoning Ordinance adopted City Land Use Plan for City Planning Area
ü Zoning (Agriculture, Lot Size, Overlay Districts, etc.)
DEVELOPMENT REGULATIONS AND ORDINANCES - Managing Today’s Growth
ü Tree (canopy) Ordinances
ü Park Land Dedication Ordinance
ü Planned Zoning Districts
? Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) - Implementation requires state legislation
LAND ACQUISITION - Pursuing the Vision
ü Fee Simple (by purchase, donation, ordinance or combination of all 3). Parcel purchase provides the most control over land use, but is usually the most expensive option
ü Easements (by purchase, donation or combination; need to add TDR) are the purchase of development rights, provide limits to land use and can be expensive
? Need to secure a source of sustainable local conservation funding