FAYETTEVILLE — There’s more than meets the eyes and feet during a walk through Wilson Springs Nature Preserve in Fayetteville.
Songbirds chirp a cheerful song. Frogs croak, and waterfowl swim lazily on wetlands at the 121-acre nature preserve. Hidden benefits include excellent habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The preserve filters storm water from humanity’s hustle and bustle in this busy part of town.
The main entrance to the preserve is on the south side of the Sam’s Club parking lot in Fayetteville. Another entrance is along Deane Solomon Road on the west side of the preserve.
Wilson Springs is sandwiched between Interstate 49, Sam’s Club and houses galore on the north side of town. Visitors are welcome to walk 2.5 miles of trail through the preserve and enjoy nature in the form of oak savanna, meadows and small streams. The preserve occasionally closes temporarily after substantial rain to prevent damage from too many feet.
It’s this web of micro habitats that allows for the high diversity of plants and animals at Wilson Springs Nature Preserve. The tract is managed by the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. Terri Lane, founder and CEO of the land trust, was among four visitors marveling at sights and sounds on a Friday in mid-March.
“How about this in the middle of a mega center?” Lane said, walking beside Clabber Creek, which flows through the preserve. Immersed in nature, it’s easy to forget the bustle of traffic and construction outside the preserve.
Joe Neal with the Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society trained his binoculars on waterfowl, raptors and songbirds. David Oakley, an expert on dragonflies, hoped to shoot more of the stunning insect photos that grace his home in Springdale.
“These meadows and little spots of wetlands are ideal habitat for dragonflies,” Oakley said. But his favorite insects were no shows. Too early in the season for dragonflies, Oakley figured.
Silence may be golden, but it’s hard to come by at Wilson Springs situated close to Interstate 49 and busy Garland Avenue. Neal tunes it out.
“I’ve noticed when I’m here for awhile I concentrate so much on the birds that I don’t notice it,” he said.
Discovery of the small Arkansas Darter fish in the preserves waterways sparked an effort to protect the tract. Meetings were held in the early 2000s to decide protection or development. Since then, Wilson Springs Nature Preserve has welcomed visitors who enjoy walking the trails. Photographers train lenses on wildlife. University students do research projects at Wilson Springs.
“Graduate students do the research and share their information with us,” Lane said.
Northwest Arkansas Land Trust has overseen a years-long habitat restoration project to return the wetland prairie to more of its original appearance.
“This was part of a wetland prairie of hundreds of acres,” Lane said. “This is the largest remnant of that. Originally it was maintained by fire and grazing elk and buffalo.
“When I started with the land trust, you could hardly walk through here. You had to use a machete,” she added. Grants of several types have helped fund the restoration. “There’s never an end point to the maintenance.”
What visitors don’t see, game cameras capture in the preserve, especially at night. Bobcats, beavers, coyotes, otter and deer have popped up in game camera photos.
Neal parked himself on a rest bench, one of several along the trails, and offered this observation about Wilson Springs Nature Preserve.
“It’s in the wrong place if you want to develop everything. It’s in exactly the right place if you want to preserve some kind of nature in a developing urban environment.”
Northwest Arkansas Land Trust
Northwest Arkansas Land Trust was founded in 2003 by a group of community leaders who saw the need for a local land trust focused on the growing Northwest Arkansas region.
The group works with conservation-minded land owners, municipalities and partner organizations to protect land with agricultural, ecological, scenic, historic and recreational significance.