Today, on November 8, 2014, we celebrate 100 years since Bartlett Dam was built in 1914 and will dedicate a time capsule that will chronicle watershed conservation efforts taken by so many folks during 2014.  The purpose of the time capsule is to share with future generations the rich history of this special place and the present conservation efforts to preserve and protect it in the Illinois River Watershed.

Illinois River WSCS

The Lake at the Watershed Sanctuary 

But first let’s take a step back to 2012.  The Illinois River Watershed Partnership set out to raise the funds needed to purchase 32 acres, including the 6 acre lake, from Metropolitan Bank in order to establish a watershed education and nature preserve, a Watershed Sanctuary.  The Walton Family Foundation generously offered a challenge grant to help raise funds which  in turn was met by the generosity of many partners including Arvest Bank, AEP-SWEPCO, Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, AT&T, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Cargill, Del Monte, Multi-Craft Contractors, Redman & Associates, Simmons Foods, Southwestern Energy, Tyson Foods, and Water Tech Inc.  Additional financial support came from IRWP board members, individual donors, and even a children’s fundraiser by Oak Grove Montessori School in Springdale to complete the challenge and offer watershed protection at one of the most environmentally unique, natural settings in Arkansas.

Del Monte Foods Chris Struzik

Watershed Sanctuary Partner, DelMonte Foods, Chris Struzik accepting IRWP Thanks!

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was also an early partner with the IRWP and through a conservation grant they drained and dredged the lake and replaced a broken control gate with a new one that will prevent future flooding and closure of the highway during major rainfall events.  AGFC also built a canoe and kayak launch with plans underway to construct an outdoor classroom pavilion at the Sanctuary.

rerouting stream

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission crew dredging the lake

Since the Illinois River Watershed Partnership was formed in December 2005 with leaders from the fields of business, construction, conservation, government, agriculture, and education, over $5,176,400 in partner contributions and over $2,576,500 of in-kind contributions and volunteer education outreach have been invested in the Watershed. With its mission to improve the integrity of the Illinois River Watershed through public education and community outreach, water quality monitoring, and the implementation of conservation and restoration practices, the Watershed Sanctuary provides a special place where ideas can be exchanged, collaborations initiated, and motivation and strategies for preserving and protecting our rich natural resources can be formulated and demonstrated.

Ed Swaim speaks to ARFB Env cmte

Arkansas Farm Bureau Environmental Affairs Committee meets at the Watershed Learning Center in October 2014

In January 2014, twelve Arkansas state legislators and the Arkansas Rural Development Commission came together to establish a Learning Center at the Watershed Sanctuary to serve the need for water-related education,  art and nature education, history of the region’s springs, and a home for events and water-related meetings.

Govn 2014 Douglas Slinkard Fite Carnine

Arkansas State House of Representatives: Dan Douglas, MaryLou Slinkard, Charlene Fite, Les Carnine

2014 IRWP partners include the cities of Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale, Fayetteville, Siloam Springs, Lowell, Cave Springs, Gentry, Lincoln, and Johnson; Washington and Benton Counties;  The Walton Family Foundation, The Windgate Charitable Foundation, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Forestry Commission, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Arkansas Rural Development Commission, Northwest Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Arkansas Arts Council, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Master Naturalists, Walmart Stores Foundation, Sam’s Club, AEP-SWEPCO, Anheuser-Busch, Arvest Bank, AT&T, Crafton-Tull, McKee Foods, Motorola, Wachter, Nabholz Construction, Simmons Foods, Tyson Foods, George’s Inc, Ozark Mountain Poultry, JB Hunt, John Brown University and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.

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The Illinois River Watershed Partnership, and all our Partners, answered the call for watershed education and protection in the Illinois River Watershed.  In the historical tradition of the new owners renaming the lake, the IRWP Board of Directors selected the name “Partners Lake” to honor the vision and generous contributions of the many partners who enabled this property to be placed into conservation, and to be used for education, watershed protection and recreational enjoyment.  We want future generations to be inspired by the actions of these partners who are helping us preserve and protect the Illinois River watershed in 2014 and for many generations to come.

Today is a day of celebration and dedication at Partners Lake at the Watershed Sanctuary and Learning Center in Cave Springs!