As quickly as science, technology, and American society as a whole have transformed in my 23-year lifetime, I find it very difficult- almost incomprehensible- to imagine what life will be like 25 years from now.  By year 2039, will we be driving flying cars along invisible skyways?  Will the population of Northwest Arkansas surpass 1-million?  Will land and water uses in the Illinois River Watershed change dramatically?

It’s hard to know for sure, but the probable answer to each of these questions is quite simply, “Yes.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Northwest Arkansas is the 15th fastest growing region in the United States.  Based on ARIMA (autoregressive integrated moving average) forecasts, the total population of Benton and Washington Counties is projected to approach 800,000 by 2030 (U.S. Census Bureau).  That is an incredible amount of growth in a fairly short time frame.

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Benton and Washington County population projection graphs courtesy of University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research: “Arkansas Population Projections: 2005 – 2030″

As our region grows, we are seeing more and more implementation of watershed best management practices and green infrastructure, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines as “[the use of] vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage [storm]water and create healthier urban environments.”  Green infrastructure comes in the form of urban tree canopy, rainwater harvesting, permeable pavements, green/eco-roofs, rain gardens, bioswales, and more.  These are all ways of preserving or restoring valuable ecosystem services that may otherwise be compromised through urban development.

2014 has been a big year for conservation in the Illinois River Watershed, and we want people 25, 50, 100 years from now to know how much time, effort, and multi-stakeholder collaboration have been put forth to protect our region’s natural resources for this generation and beyond.

In planning for the Grand Opening of the Watershed Sanctuary, which took place on Saturday, November 8, 2014, our event committee assembled a conservation-themed time capsule to be installed on-site at the end of 2014 and to be opened 25 years later, in 2039.  The artifacts inside the time capsule will tell the story of water: how it has shaped people’s lives and livelihoods, its role in the settlement and development of this region, and what people are doing today to protect this watershed for the years to come.

Let’s take a look at some of the items that we’re about to lock up for 25 years:

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The capsule itself is a durable, air- and water-tight Yeti cooler that was donated by Cabela’s store #38 in Rogers.  This cooler will be sealed inside a concrete “tomb” at the Cave Springs Water Wheel Historic Monument at the Watershed Sanctuary.

The contents include IRWP materials such as the Illinois River Watershed Management Plan, an IRWP drawstring bag full of conservation-themed books and brochures, t-shirts and prizes from IRWP public outreach events, a watershed map, 2014 newspaper clippings, and before and after photos of the Watershed Sanctuary and Learning Center from the renovation process.

The capsule also includes artifacts specific to the history of the Watershed Sanctuary site and of Cave Springs, like a jewelry box purchased at the Lake Keith Restaurant in the 1960’s, a piece of the water tower that supplied the town with drinking water from the cave spring from 1951 to 1967, part of a fishing rod that was recovered from the trout hatchery at the cave spring, and two Cave Springs history anthologies by Marlene Sands.

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An assortment of other items: an IRWP t-shirt, signed copies of the Clean Water Raingers award-winning songbook and audio CD, a Watershed Management jigsaw puzzle, and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission hunting and fishing guidebooks.

I’ve also included my old cell phone, which was recovered from the bottom of Partners Lake at the Watershed Sanctuary.  During our Watershed Camp for kids in the summer of 2013, our staff was giving canoeing lessons when my phone slid out of my pocket and sunk to the bottom of the lake.  Thanks to the extreme clarity of the water, I was able to spot the phone from my canoe later that morning, and I dove 12 feet down to retrieve it.  Of course, it no longer worked, but I’m glad I held onto it because it’ll make a great addition to the time capsule, showing the evolution of technology over a quarter-century.

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An LG “slider-phone” that will surely raise some eyebrows in 25 years

In the year 2039, when somebody decides to open up the time capsule (perhaps using laser vision, a light saber, or some other unfathomable technology to cut through the concrete and metal bolts and sealant), I hope they find solace in the fact that we were looking out for them- “we” referring to this beautiful partnership of individuals, organizations, businesses and corporations, state and federal agencies, municipalities and local governments, schools, and others who are cooperatively committed to protecting the future of the Illinois River Watershed.

I hope people in 2039 experience the joy of spotting the same wildlife that we see here today.  I hope they’re able to enjoy a relaxing summer float down the Illinois River, fishing pole in hand and a few biting smallmouth bass to boot.  I hope they can appreciate the role of conservation in sustaining a growing and thriving community.

And, most of all, I hope they’re inspired to continue this legacy of watershed conservation for another 25, 50, 100 years, and more.

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Our sincerest gratitude to the members of the IRWP Historic Preservation Committee that made this happen.  

From left: Gaylene Marchant VanHook, Cave Springs Resident; Lauren Ray, IRWP; Delia Haak, IRWP; Gary Shores, Cave Springs Resident and Cabela’s Outfitter; Dirk Philipp, University of Arkansas and IRWP Board of Directors; Roland Pinault, Walmart ISD and IRWP Board of Directors (Committee Chair); Larry Fletcher, Cave Springs City Council; Marlene Sands, Cave Springs Resident; Elizabeth Hill, Washington Co. Environmental Educator.  Not pictured: Liz Smith, Rogers Public Schools; Glenn Jones, Benton County Historical Preservation Commission.


Related Posts:

Conservation 101 in 2014

Throwback Thursday: A Centennial Celebration

Nature In Progress

Additional Resources:

U.S. EPA: Green Infrastructure

University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research: “Arkansas Population Projections: 2005 – 2030″