The Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program had a successful year. The first grants were awarded for projects that are improving water quality around the state. Clay Knighten, the Conservancy’s unpaved roads manager, fills us in.
TNC: Clay, tell us a little bit about the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program.
Clay: Sure! A few years ago, several groups got together to address the problem of sediment clogging our rivers, streams and lakes. They realized a lot of sediment was coming from eroding unpaved roads, so they came up with a plan to improve how the roads are built and maintained:
- Step one, establish dedicated funding sources and a way to distribute the funds to local projects.
- Step two, fund projects to fix dirt and gravel roads that are eroding heavily into nearby streams or causing a lot of dusty air pollution.
- Step three, train road crews on new techniques and best practices.
- Step four, create on-the-ground demonstrations that reinforce the trainings and share the best practices more broadly.
TNC: Sounds like a good plan. How did it get off the ground?
Clay: With the help of Senator Missy Irvin and many other advocates, lawmakers in 2015 passed Senate Bill 613 to officially establish the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Program. Then a group worked with the state’s Division of Rural Services, which administers the program, to set up the rules and application process. Funding came together in early 2016 and currently includes contributions from The Nature Conservancy, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and Division of Rural Services.
TNC: When will the work begin?
Clay: It’s going on as we speak! In 2016, five grants went to Calhoun, Van Buren, Stone, Searcy, and Greene counties. Stone County’s project is finished. Work is underway in the other four. We’re conducting training workshops and preparing to take applicants for the 2017 funding cycle.
TNC: What are the main benefits of the program?
Clay: Reducing road runoff keeps our rivers and lakes cleaner. The program also saves county governments money because well-constructed roads won’t degrade as fast and therefore won’t cost as much to maintain.
TNC: If someone wants to learn more, what should they do?
Clay: They can contact me at email@example.com or (479) 216-6758. I’d also encourage everyone to visit nature.org/arkansas and watch the short video that gives more information about the program. Details about the grant process are online at ruralservices.arkansas.gov.