The Friends of Little Sugar Creek and the Sugar Creek Chapter in Bentonville, AR are advocating for the removal of the Lake Bella Vista dam and the restoration of a free- flowing stream through this area of north Bentonville.
The lake is formed by a 100- year-old, man-made dam on Little Sugar Creek. Cooper Realty Investments conveyed the property containing the dam in 2000 to the Bentonville/Bella Vista Trailblazers Association by limited warranty deed. The Trailblazers conveyed the property to Bentonville in 2006 by special warranty deed. The city then included Lake Bella Vista in its park system.
The dam was first damaged during flooding in 2008. It was topped again by flooding in 2011, 2013 and December of 2015. After the flooding in 2008, the city planned to rebuild and improve the dam. At that time the Friends of Little Sugar Creek organized to advocate for the dam removal and restoration of the creek. FOLSC, the Ozark Society, other naturalist groups and residents at large asked the city to remove the dam and restore Little Sugar Creek to a free- flowing stream. Supporters of the stream called the dam an eyesore, a hazard and a liability to the city.
In 2018, the Walton Family Foundation funded a feasibility study with recommendations for the fate of Little Sugar Creek. The Parks Advisory Board reviewed the proposals and recommended the dam be removed and a park be created with a free-flowing Little Sugar Creek. The city council was scheduled to vote on the Parks Board recommendation; however, the vote was cancelled on Cooper’s objection.
In an August 7, 2018 letter to then-Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin and the city council, Cooper Communities’ president insisted that the city must maintain the dam and lake. Bentonville filed a lawsuit against Cooper Realty and the Trailblazers in May 2019. The lawsuit asked a judge to decide what rights the city had in regard to the property and whether any agreements limit the city in rebuilding or removing the dam. Benton County Circuit Judge John Scott ruled in August 2020 that the decision rests with the city whether to repair, replace or remove the dam. Cooper has since appealed the case to the state Appeals Court.
Floodwater washed out a new area of the dam on April 28. The city has currently contracted with the Watershed Conservation Resource Center to help stabilize a 50- to 60- foot hole in the dam. The work only deals with stabilizing the dam, not whether it should be rebuilt.
Council members Tim Robinson and Aubrey Patterson said they are in favor of a free-flowing stream. Robinson asked a few months back at a City Council meeting why the city couldn’t remove the dam while it waits for legal issues to be resolved. “At the time, I was told there would need to be big, costly upstream remediation if we were to do that so it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “Now that Mother Nature removed the section, I see no choice but to remove the rest of the dam while we wait as anything upstream will happen regardless of what we do, and it’s dangerous in its current state.”
Patterson said a majority of residents she has spoken with want to restore Little Sugar Creek. The Friends of Little Sugar Creek and Sugar Creek OS chapter agree with the council members and continue to advocate for a free-flowing Little Sugar Creek.
Lake Bella Vista Park is closed as of June 1, 2021.