The Northwest Arkansas Regional Open Space Master Plan will identify the natural open space assets that make this region such an attractive place to live, developing a strategy for conserving those resources for current residents, visitors, and future generations. The goal is to maintain the community character and quality of life and to contribute to the economic success and attractiveness of the region.

Open space includes the lands and waters where people hunt and fish, play with their children, hike through the woods, observe wildlife in their natural habitat, and in some cases where people farm and grow food. Northwest Arkansas has abundant open space today, but the rapid growth of the region has already begun to replace forests, prairies, farmland and other valued natural lands with housing, shopping centers, highways, office parks and other forms of development.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission (NWARPC) and Alta began work on the Northwest Arkansas Regional Open Space Plan in late 2014. The plan identifies natural landscapes and open spaces that make Northwest Arkansas an attractive place to live and includes a comprehensive strategy for the conservation of these natural assets. The plan set forth a prioritized set of open spaces and features a ‘conservation toolbox’ that outlines the ways in which landowners, land trusts, and other regional partners can work together to establish a protected network of open spaces.

The planning process included hundreds of stakeholders representing land conservation, watershed protection, biodiversity, archeological resources, historic preservation, family farms, parks, recreation, and a wide range of government agencies and elected officials. The plan combines this extensive public input and stakeholder involvement with state-of-the-art analysis of the region’s natural, cultural, historic, agricultural, and recreation resources. The result is a set of maps and data that show priority areas for conservation throughout the region.

The recommended next steps for this initiative are to continue education and outreach about the benefits of open space and about the needs, goals, and results of this study. Based on other successful open space programs in the US, a dedicated local funding stream is recommended, such as a quarter-penny sales tax, that could be leveraged against outside investment from state, federal or private sources. A list of state and federal grants related to this study was provided in the plan.