Students often have bright ideas for the future, and sometimes that takes the form of preserving our wooded past. On the south west edge of Fayetteville, Arkansas rests Mount Kessler, a favored spot for hiking and mountain bikers. Filled with rocky formations reminiscent of Gettysburg’s Devil’s Den and covered in a woody hillside, the hillside can look like something from another age. As one graduate student’s research confirmed, some of Mount Kessler’s oak trees are indeed something from a bygone era.
With a grant from the Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) and its local partners the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association (FNHA), a geosciences master’s student from the University of Arkansas took core samples from 125 post and chinkapin oak trees atop Mount Kessler. Thinner than a pencil’s width, each sample was then studied to determine the tree’s age. The oak trees are up to 300 years old, and the 387 acres they rest on is now the basis for a new Regional Park.
The student’s work off of a grant of $2,500 helped the FNHA to encourage the city of Fayetteville to buy the land as part of a conservation easement. Connecting with the existing Mount Kessler Greenways Park, the oaks now provide a place of study and reflection just minutes from the University of Arkansas’ campus. The student’s work and the city’s resulting Regional Park are all part of a larger undertaking called the Green Infrastructure Plan, an award-winning model of sustainable growth that is serving as a model for other southern conservation efforts. It’s a plan that AFC employees like State Forester Joe Fox admire.
The newly expanded parkway helps address forest fragmentation as well, something the state has promised to address in their own Forest Action Plan. Like the Green Infrastructure Plan, this is the state’s concept for a sustainably forested future in Arkansas.
Old growth tree stands that provide shade and stimulation to students, and strengthen the connections in forests fit neatly into this idea.
Recognized for their ability to fuse volunteer work, professional recommendations and to collaborate with national and local partners, FNHA has made the most of their support from the Arkansas Forestry Commission, and to create a greener and healthier community for Fayetteville.