Fayetteville negotiates deal to preserve over 300 acres on Mount Kessler

Frank Sharp leads a tour through “Rock City,” a portion of the historic Mount Kessler trail known for its stunning rock formations on either side of the path.

Photo by Caroline Bauman

An effort to preserve one of Fayetteville’s greatest hidden treasures is falling into place.

City officials have negotiated a $3 million deal to purchase 328 acres of woodland tucked away on Mount Kessler in the southwest corner of Fayetteville.

The land includes over eight miles of hiking and mountain biking trails with spectacular views of southwest Fayetteville, and sits next to a city-owned site where a massive regional park is planned.

According to city documents, the purchase would be supported by a $1.5 million matching grant from the Walton Family Foundation. The remaining $1.5 million would come from city reserves, which have grown to nearly $13 million under Mayor Lioneld Jordan’s administration. That’s over double the amount that must be kept in the bank to cover two months of city operating expenses in case of an emergency.

Mount Kessler Trail

Caroline Bauman

A group of preservation advocates, led by Mount Kessler settler Frank Sharp, have spent over eight years raising awareness for the mountain in hopes that it would one day be reserved for recreation and education use. The land is currently owned by Chambers Bank, and was originally part of plans for SouthPass, a massive mixed-use development which failed as a result of foreclosure.

If aldermen agree to accept the grant, the city will be required to purchase and take ownership of the land no later than April 30 of this year. As a condition of the grant, the city must also build a public trailhead that provides convenient access to the property within 90 days of acquiring the land. They must also agree to maintain the property, including all existing trails.

The city would get $300,000 back, thanks to a three-year pledge from the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association, a conservation group formed in 2003 to help the city buy 67 acres of woodland on Mount Sequoyah.

Aside from the land included in the sale agreement, another 48 acres would be given to the city as future parkland dedication credit. In total, the acquisition would allow the city to add 376 acres to the planned 200-acre regional park set to begin construction later this year.

Officials said it would be a “legacy acquisition” if the deal goes through, and called the proximity of the land to the regional park “fortuitous.”

“Expanding the city’s highly programmed active recreational space to include another 376 acres of natural active and passive open space creates a place unlike many others in the region or state,” officials stated in a proposal packet. “In addition, the property acquisition allows for necessary connectivity for the city’s multi-use trail system, which is part of the network of trails developing throughout Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas that will provide access to the regional park and Mount Kessler for cyclists and pedestrians throughout the region.”

Aldermen are scheduled to begin formal discussions about the deal at their Feb. 18 City Council meeting.

Note: Our contributor Caroline Bauman wrote more about Mount Kessler in her 7-day trail review series in 2013. See her words and photos here.