Grady Spann was named chief executive of the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, based in Fayetteville, in May. He previously was director of Arkansas State Parks, serving in that role from 2016 until his retirement in December. Spann started his career with Arkansas State Parks in 1993 as the superintendent of Parkin Archeological State Park and worked in a variety of roles until his promotion to director. Before working for the parks division, he served in the U.S. Army for nine years as a military tactical intelligence and counterintelligence officer.
Spann graduated from Henderson State University in 1984 with a Bachelor of Science in parks administration and a minor in military science.
Spann grew up in Recife, Brazil, where his parents served as missionaries for 33 years.
What is the mission of the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust and how does it go about fulfilling that mission?
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust seeks to preserve and enhance the quality of life for all people in northwest Arkansas through the permanent protection of land. We work closely with landowners and donors who are interested in protecting lands for specific purposes, like habitat protection and restoration, water source protection, riparian zone protection, public access to natural areas, and farmland protection to encourage an economy providing local fresh fruits and vegetables.
All this is done through relationship-building, educating people about the importance of conservation and protection, and, most importantly, working with partners who want to leave a land legacy that will impact the quality of life for northwest Arkansas in perpetuity. We seek to work collaboratively and tirelessly to ensure that our region’s abundant scenic beauty, clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, local food supply and natural heritage are permanently protected for the benefit and prosperity of current and future generations.
What might our readers be surprised to learn about what a land trust does?
I think most people would be surprised by the depth of protection we provide. The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) organization that depends on support from people who believe in making a difference through protecting and saving land. This is accomplished through donations of lands, conservation easements, personal donations, grants and support from partners and foundations.
We manage 45 sites comprising over 6,000 acres. We are in the process of protecting a farmhouse along with surrounding property from the early 1900s and a Methodist church from 1881, and are involved in “growing farmers” in northwest Arkansas to help support a sustainable fruit and vegetable fresh market economy. Our primary focus is on four counties — Benton, Washington, Madison and Carroll — but our mission is to work to protect land in 13 counties that define northwest Arkansas.
Northwest Arkansas is growing rapidly. How does this affect your work?
The growth of the region is an exciting time for Arkansas and provides many benefits. How this rapid growth impacts our mission is in the urgency to permanently protect the most critical areas like watersheds, habitats, public access to natural recreation, and small farm operations. Our work directly impacts the quality of life and attraction for so many to this area of the state.
What did you learn from your many years with Arkansas State Parks that you are carrying into your work now?
Arkansas State Parks has always been involved in the protection and preservation of lands and historic and cultural sites and in allowing public access to these special places. What the NWALT does today is very similar to what Arkansas State Parks does, but at a local level. Protecting a resource forever is as important at the local level as it is at the state level.