When we are in the midst of a big project and the light at the end of the tunnel is dim, it helps to look back and see how far we’ve come!  The question we are asked most often comes in two basic forms: “What’s going on at the lake?” and “When will the lake be filled back up?”

In September 2012, partners from Northwest Arkansas came together to purchase 32 acres for urban conservation and establish a Watershed Sanctuary which protects a most unique urban forest, cave, spring and small lake.  The Watershed Sanctuary partners’ goal was watershed protection and education.

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 Glimmering morning sunlight on the lake at the Watershed Sanctuary.

In September 2013, work began to replace a control gate for the lake which required draining the lake, dredging, and construction of a new control gate which is set to be completed in September 2014, allowing the lake to be refilled for the enjoyment of man, wildlife and aquatic species including small mouth bass!

Often there is much work that goes on behind the scenes or below the surface, and can be hard, if not impossible to see.   But the ground work is being lain and the structures are being built that will ultimately improve this property and the Illinois River Watershed as a whole through public education and community outreach opportunities, water quality improvement, and conservation and restoration projects.

Transformation(Top) Before and after removing the original control gate.  (Bottom) Installing the new control gate. The lake will soon be back!

Arkansas Game and Fish is an IRWP partner in rebuilding the lake control gate structure to allow us to regulate the level of the lake during seasonal rain events.  AGFC and Haizlip Studio are also partners to build an outdoor classroom pavilion and amphitheater for education and recreation usage at the lake.  Bids for construction of the new pavilion are due September 5, 2014!

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Concept plan for pavilion on the north shore of the lake, courtesy of Haizlip Studios.

In September 2014, we are excited to partner with Walmart Information Systems Division, Motorola and Wachter, Inc. to bring live “Bat Cam” viewing through the installation of video cams for live streaming to watch the transformation of the lake refilling, viewing wildlife, or checking on the progress as the new outdoor pavilion is built.

techinstallA huge “thank you” to volunteers from Walmart ISD, Wachter, and Motorola!

We can also look back to September 2012, at the condition of the old hatchery and trout raceways and see a transformation that improves the area in front of the cave and provides for safe enjoyment of this beautiful natural area.  It’s the crown jewel of all the amazing natural areas at the Watershed Sanctuary, as the cave spring enters the main raceway that channels into the lake reservoir.

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Substantial progress has been made in cleaning up the existing concrete trout raceways.

Now school kids and visitors can cool their hands in the 54 degree spring water in the channel and take in a breathtaking view of the cave face and a soon-to-be-again sparkling lake.   A new south lawn pavilion was designed by our Cave Springs summer intern, Ian Dexter.

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Concept drawing of pavilion with green roof by summer intern and Cave Springs native, Ian Dexter.

Local volunteers from Cabela’s will come out in September to help build Ian’s Pavilion on the south shore of the lake, incorporating a green roof for wildlife, and a restored water wheel with special significance to the Sanctuary.  This water wheel was used by the City of Cave Springs to pump its drinking water for the entire town until September 1967 when the City joined most of the Illinois River Watershed cities in hooking onto Beaver Water District drinking water from the newly formed Beaver Lake.   Our region and watershed has a history of working together to accomplish important endeavors that preserve, protect and improve our natural resources for the benefit of people and planet.

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