Growing up in Bentonville, Arkansas, there were only a little over 11,000 of us in the city. Downtown wasn’t the hub of activity that it is now, and we didn’t have trails or museums. Things have changed a lot in the last two decades. Today, Northwest Arkansas’ population grows by that amount every year, and it is nationally known as one of the best places to live in the U.S.
The natural beauty of the region is vital to the livability of our communities. That’s why the Walton Family Foundation is partnering with six cities in Northwest Arkansas to increase and diversify the local tree canopy. Collectively, 2,000 trees of 50 different species will be planted in Bella Vista, Bentonville, Centerton, Gravette, Pea Ridge and Siloam Springs this fall. This builds on previous tree-planting initiatives we have supported in the area. And we will continue to expand this program with the future of the region in mind.
As more millennials join the workforce, the quality of life in a community becomes increasingly important. Young professionals are choosing places to live that offer the right balance between work and home. We want to support efforts to improve livability and economic activity by planting trees near trails, highways, parks, airports, elementary schools, playgrounds, golf courses and public spaces. According to the U.S. Forest Service, mature trees help increase foot traffic and retail sales in commercial districts, as well as drive up property values in residential areas.
In Northwest Arkansas alone, green spaces are among the most popular assets in the region. Last year, 83% of residents reported visiting a park within the last 12 months. And according to the Outdoor Industry Association, amenities like trails and parks sustain 96,000 jobs across the state.
As the region continues to grow, demand for development will keep increasing. It is vital for communities to continue to support bold ideas like preserving green spaces in urban environments. My hope is the trees we are planting today are the seeds that will inspire Northwest Arkansas residents to preserve our region’s natural beauty for future generations.