The River Institute of Northwest Arkansas

We have a vision and want to make it a reality.

We are raising funds for The River Institute of Northwest Arkansas!

Ecologically Sensitive Development of the Dead Horse Mountain Property

Watershed Conservation Resource Center

February 23, 2021

The Watershed Conservation Resource Center (WCRC) and the City of Fayetteville purchased a 98-acre property along Dead Horse Mountain Road to protect and restore the wetlands, floodplain, and other natural features. Near downtown Fayetteville (Figure 1), the West Fork White River (WFWR) runs through the property that mostly lies in the 100-year floodplain. In the early 2000’s, 25 acres were excavated for top soil, and today this area appears to be a large pond, but over time has evolved into low quality, degraded wetlands. The wetlands and floodplain are important natural features that serve to filter out sediment and nutrients from floodwaters, which in turn helps to protect Northwest Arkansas’ drinking water source, Beaver Lake. Historically, areas of prairie were mapped in the 1834 land survey. Later the property was developed for agriculture land use. Restoration of the property will involve the cooperation of many partners that support ecological restoration and protection of important natural areas. The goals for the property are:

  • Restore and protect:
    1. Conduct ecological restoration of the wetlands, floodplain, river channel, & riparian
    2. Place the property in a permanent conservation easement
  • Create a permanent facility for the WCRC that supports:
    1. Ecological restoration projects in the Ozark Region
    2. Venue for outreach related to rivers, floodplains, wetlands, and native flora and fauna
  • Create public access that integrates culture, ecology, history, and science

To accomplish these goals, the WCRC is working with partners to create The River Institute of Northwest Arkansas. The River Institute will engage with the community and convey a sense of place in our natural environment through the shared use of the Dead Horse Mountain (DHM) property and the direct experience of its restoration, natural features, and history. The WCRC teamed with the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and the Arkansas Archeological Survey to integrate riverine ecology with interactive art, design and history. The River Institute can serve as a national model for riverine education and advocacy. The WCRC developed a two-phase approach to help achieve these goals and is seeking funding to implement Phase I.  A small portion of funding has been secured to initiate conceptual designs for the overall vision of The River Institute and is described in both Phase I and Phase II.

Phase I: The River Institute of Northwest Arkansas

The WCRC, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, is raising funds to create The River Institute of Northwest Arkansas.  Integrating science, design, and the humanities, The River Institute will focus on the ecological restoration of rivers, riparian, wetlands, prairies, and floodplains, and their importance in providing services including water quality, ecosystem health, and quality of life for people who live, work, and enjoy recreation in the region.  The River Institute’s main facility will be adjacent to the wetlands (Figure 2), near the WFWR, and consist of the following elements:

  • WCRC facilities to support ecological restoration, assessment, ongoing monitoring & maintenance, and outreach in the Northwest Arkansas Region:
    • A building and grounds that provide office space to support ecological restoration and a training center with indoor and outdoor classrooms
      • Grounds would include a butterfly and native plant greenhouse to propagate native plants for stream and wetland restoration projects
      • The training center will support public short courses on streams, floodplains, wetlands, prairies, and riparian conservation and restoration. It will also offer courses on native plant establishment, invasive plant removal techniques, and stormwater solutions at residents & businesses
    • Training center will also serve the community by providing space for local meetings, workshops, and retreats that include the integration of science, history and culture.

The WCRC worked with the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC) to develop a conceptual design for the facilities to initiate a capital campaign for establishing The River Institute’s main facility. A presentation of the conceptual design can be found at the following link:   WCRC River Institute Portfolio

Phase II: The River Institute – Public Access for Riverine Commons

Phase II of The River Institute involves creating public access opportunities to the Dead Horse Mountain property (98 acres) on the WFWR in which the commons or open space will house environmental art, recreation facilities, a transit node in a developing intercity water trail, and trail exhibits memorializing Native American riparian life-ways, as well as the historic Euroamerican and African American cultural landscapes that were formative to Fayetteville and its early agriculture. A site map showing an overview of the site was developed during the conceptual design described in Phase I and is shown in Figure 3. The WCRC was thrilled when the Arkansas Archeological Survey joined the team to develop themes for the public access that included outdoor, interactive exhibits and suggested Native American food plots be created and maintained. The three organizations worked together and the UACDC submitted an application to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Grants to develop a “Public Access Master Plan for Fayetteville Riverine Commons.”  The UACDC was selected for 2021 funding and will receive $25,000.

About two miles from downtown Fayetteville, the Dead Horse Mountain Property is the perfect location for people to engage with the natural environment.  In addition to exhibits, there will be walking trails for the public to enjoy the natural areas, such as wetlands, prairie, & floodplains, birding, and native plant identification.  There will also be paddling access to the wetlands and to the WFWR. This will be an excellent canoe/kayak takeout or put-in for people floating the WFWR, which at this time, has no public access areas to the river. The news release by the University of Arkansas for the NEA award to the UACDC can be found at: https://news.uark.edu/articles/55944/community-design-center-wetlands-project-awarded-national-endowment-for-the-arts-grant

For More Information or To Donate:  Contact Sandi Formica, Executive Director, WCRC at formica@watershedconservation.org

Thank you for helping us make a difference and believing in our dream for Northwest Arkansas.