Crescent Hotel owners honored for preservation efforts

Thursday, May 5, 2005
Marty and Elise Roenigk display the plaque from the Nature Conservancy expressing its gratitude for their help in saving Smith Creek for posterity. Crescent Hotel owners honored for preservation efforts

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Members of The Nature Conservancy and other outdoor enthusiasts celebrated the completion of the Smith Creek Project as more than 100 persons attended a banquet Friday night at the Crescent Hotel.

While hotel owners Marty and Elise Roenigk were among the principal honorees, the effort to preserve the tributary to the Buffalo National River was the result of broad-based cooperation between private citizens, groups concerned with the natural environment, and the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart.

The evening's program was moderated by Scott Simon of the Nature Conservancy, who outlined how the Smith Creek Project came to be.

Interest was sparked when a 1981 survey calculated there were approximately 5,000 Indiana bats at Sherfield Cave, through which Smith Creek flows. In 2001, a survey revealed only about 1,000 Indiana bats, yet still the colony is the largest known in the United States.

Smith Creek's whitewater is popular with canoeists, and the idea of preserving the area spread among several groups and individuals, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

In 1999, the Roenigks purchased a 1,226-acre tract which made up a large part of the Smith Creek watershed, and adjoins both Ozark National Forest and the Buffalo River Wilderness Area property.

Meanwhile, Kirk and Cynthia Dupps of Eureka Springs made contact with Wal-Mart Foundation, working with Ron Stanley. That resulted in the creation of Acres for America, which announced on April 12 a $35 million commitment for the next 10 years to conserve at least one acre of priority wildlife habitat for every acre developed for company use.

That, said Simon, is the largest corporate donation in U.S. history.

During that April 12 announcement, it was revealed that Smith Creek-Sherfield Cave was one of five signature projects in the nation designated by Wal-Mart Foundation, which also includes the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Squaw Creek in Oregon, and the Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership in Maine.

Money from the Wal-Mart program was used to purchase the 1,226 acres from the Roenigks, who made it available for $400,000, while the appraised value was well over $1 million.

Ethan Inlander, GIS specialist with The Nature Conservancy, draw gasps from those present as he showed a virtual reality Global Information Satellite display of the watershed and landscape. Describing the preserve as a genuine jewel, he described the various wildlife which can be found in the area, including Indiana bats, gray bats, bear, bald eagles, elk and turkey.

Using the map, he pointed out Shiloh Mountain Road and Highway 21, which run along boundaries of the 1,226-acre tract.

Inlander also stated that the area is valuable for its karst and limestone geology, including an interesting landslide, and wild tributaries to Smith Creek.

Tim Snell, Ozark Karst Project manager with The Nature Conservancy office in Fayetteville, reported that natural processes, including tightly controlled burns, will be used to help keep the forest healthy and under story growth diverse.

Make Slay, karst biologist with The Nature Conservancy, reported on subterranean species in Sherfield Cave, including seven species which are previously known and are being studied.

Doyle Crosswhite, Ozark Rivers Project manager, reported on sediment and nutrient input control.

Noting Marty Roenigk's reputation as a waterfall collector, Crosswhite pledged to work to keep the streams pristine.

He also noted that he is working with counties, including Carroll County, to reduce the impact of sedimentation wash on various streams, including Kings River.

He praised the Roenigks for taking the initiative to buy the property in 1999 while other groups were still wrestling with how to preserve the area, then introduced Marty Roenigk.

Marty Roenigk acknowledged his love of waterfalls and wild forests, and stated that in 1999 he was approached by Tim Ernst regarding photographs taken by Glen Wheeler in the Smith Creek area, including shots of two waterfalls, Hole in the Rock and Rainbow, on Smith Creek.

Having been looking for property to conserve, he contacted an area Realtor who told him the property was being eyed for development. Falling in love with the area, he said, he bought it.

"I am pleased to be in a position to support this conservation," he said, noting that Friday night's event was originally to have been a fund-raising effort, before Wal-Mart Foundation announced its $400,000 grant for the project. He singled out the Duppses for arranging the initial meeting with Wal-Mart officials.

On Saturday, approximately 60 persons were to meet at Boxley Church to be shuttled to the property.

With the preservation of the Smith Creek property, $400,000 in matching funds remains, which will be used in studies and other aspects of the area's conservation.

The property connects with six forest conservation areas in Newton County, creating a 24,595-acre forested conservation area. It also serves as an additional connection between the 1.2-million-acre Ozark National Forest and the 95,000-acre Buffalo National River Wilderness Area.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: