Property near Winslow donated to land trust
Owner hopes to protect wildlife in future
Posted: July 7, 2013 at 2:53 a.m.
John Rule inhales the fragrance of a handful of crushed spicebush leaves Tuesday while walking a trail on his 151-acre property south of Winslow.
Rule donated the property to the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust for conservation June 17. He will continue to live on the land during his lifetime.
Ponds, streams and a spring on the property flow into Lake Fort Smith, contributing to the region’s water quality and making it animportant piece of land to protect, said Terri Lane, executive director of the land trust.
Rule, 83, has lived on the land without electricity or running water for nearly 40 years. He and his wife, Margaret, moved to the property in 1975. Margaret died in 2009.
A once-thriving garden provided the couple with the staple foods they needed to survive, Rule said. They pulled water from a spring on the property for many years until a well was dug. Rule chops firewood from fallentrees and gathers news of the day from a battery-operated radio, he said.
“You have to work at all times and live here at all times,” Rule said.
The Rules built a oneroom house from wood and stone on the property for shelter. A sod roof and fireplaces help maintain the temperature. Vases and wind chimes line the windows, and books are shelved on exposed roof beams.
The only way to reach the Crawford County property is a 45-minute drive from U.S.71 on a rough, overgrown dirt road. The Rules spent f ive hours hiking to the property the first time they visited in 1963, he said.
The couple were English teachers at the time, and their children were raised by the time they settled the property.
“In 1874, they had logged the dickens out of it,” Rule said while explaining what the land looked like when he purchased it. “When the 1920 family moved in, there wasn’t a tree in sight.”
There was 100 head of cattle, little vegetation and “a whole lot of copperhead” in the 1960s, Rule said. Today, a large variety of trees provide a shaded canopy to plants below.
Rule points out buckeye, witch hazel and paw-paw trees while walking down the trail leading to a portion of the Frog Bayou that runs through his property. He also leans over to examine beaver markings along with deer and raccoon tracks.
“That is the way nature is - you turn your head and it is gone,” Rule said, recalling nature writer Ralph Waldo Emerson while telling stories of wildlife he has seen over the years.
Rule writes poetry about his experiences on the land. He recently published a poetry book, Bird.Moon.Star. His granddaughter, Sarah Moore Chyrchel, has also created a documentary, Witch Hazel Advent, that explores the life of the poet. The film won best documentary at the 2012 Offshoot Film Festival.
Nature has always been a constant in Rule’s life, he said. His family moved across the country multiple times when he was young. He said wherever they lived, he found a “green place” to familiarize himself with.
“I feel a great loyalty,” Rule said about the property. “It is my privilege to live here.”
After his death, the land trust will take ownership and only a small group of Rule’s family and friends will have restricted visitingrights to the property.
“I feel like it should act as a gene bank,” Rule said. “When we decide we want to value our flora and fauna, this will be an assistance.”
Wildlife, vegetation and the water on his property will be protected by the trust, Rule said.
“It allows things to move through without being shot,” Rule said. “I want to protect the lives here. I don’t believe in the culture of death, animals or people.”
Rule said he also wants to protect the land for his family.
“I wanted something for them to come back to and see the stars,” Rule said.
Rule’s land is critical to the protection of the Lake Fort Smith watershed, said Tim Smith, an aquatic biologist with the Fort Smith Utility Department.
“Disturbances or developments in that particular area could have some critical impact downstream,” Smith said. “It is a good that that it is going into protection.”
The land trust accepts only land that holds certain value, such as recreational, historic or ecological. Rule’s land is bordered on all sides by the Ozark National Forest, adding to its value, Lane said.
“It is a pretty pristine piece of the Ozarks,” Lane said. “Since Mr. Rule has been on it, it has been allowed to regenerate.”
The land trust was established as a nonprofit conservation organization in 2003, Lane said. It maintains seven properties, including Rule’s, totalling 1,000 acres. Rule’s donation is the second land donation of 2013.
Lane said the trust was developed as a response to the rapid urbanization of the region.
“We were growing so fast with no plan for places that needed to be conserved,” Lane said.
The organization receives private donations and government grants tomaintain properties it owns, Lane said. Funds are used to restore properties, including the removal of invasive species or the protection of endangered ones, she said. The properties are also monitored for changes from encroachment by poachers or activity from neighbors.
Land can be protected by the organization in several different ways including land donation and conservation easements. The land trust works with owners to develop land restrictions, Lane said.
Hunting is one thing that will be restricted on Rule’s land. Family and friends also will be unable to live on the land or visit for more than two weeks.
Northwest Arkansas, Pages 11 on 07/07/2013