Partners Organize to Improve Roads for Nature and People
Many of the best places in Arkansas can only be reached by leaving the pavement. Dirt and gravel roads are the transportation backbone for rural communities and for many industries in Arkansas, including forestry, row crop agriculture, ranching and energy. They are also our connection to hunting, fishing, boating and hiking in the wild places we love.
Although we rely heavily on unpaved roads, they can wash tons of harmful sediment into the very streams, rivers and lakes we love to visit and that provide us with drinking water. Too much sediment harms wildlife habitat and makes water more expensive to treat for drinking. Eroding roads are expensive to maintain for county governments and can cause a lot of wear and tear on vehicles.
Fortunately there are cost-effective and proactive solutions to managing roads that minimize these problems. In early 2013, the Arkansas Association of Counties, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Conservancy, and a dozen partner organizations joined forces to establish the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program.
“The Conservancy started working on unpaved roads several years ago, and we co-hosted several trainings and constructed field demonstration projects with county and industry leaders,” said Ozark Rivers Program Director Ethan Inlander. “When the Arkansas Association of Counties approached us with the idea of forming a statewide program, we were excited to be part of it.”
The partners envision a two-part program: (1) provide training to unpaved roads professionals in construction and maintenance techniques that protect water and air quality; and (2) fund on-the-ground unpaved road improvement projects where they will do the most good for nature and people. The partners are currently working together to establish dedicated sources of funding.
“This program makes sense for Arkansas both economically and environmentally,” said Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison. “With so many partners pulling in the same direction, I’m excited about what we’ll be able to do together.”