The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission has distributed a worthy tribute to its retiring chief ecologist, Tom Foti, who actually retired in 2006 but returned to work “part-time” and has become known as state ecologist emeritus. His legacy is a wealth of protected natural areas.

The link above takes you to multiple articles about Tom’s 50 years of work to preserve the state’s natural heritage, beginning with opposition to damming of the Cossatot River and channelization of the Cache River in the early 1970s. He wrote prolifically on the natural divisions of Arkansas. A particularly interesting item in the Foti catalogue was his successful scheme to save a patch of tallgrass prairie that was to be lost to an irrigation project. See it in flower below.

Consider this, too, a point of personal privilege. I met Tom at Bearskin Lake at a group outing one summer day in 1974 and he helped me paddle to shore when our outboard conked out. Two friends who put the gathering together — Beth Terry and Ellen Bass — would become our wives. We’ve enjoyed a long friendship. Along the way, I Iearned a lot from Tom, beginning with a canoe exploration of the garbage-marred Fourche Bottoms, a natural wonder still not fully appreciated as a local attraction almost a half-century later. Maybe Tom will have time to work on that a bit now.

Looking for someplace to visit this weekend? Check out Tom’s top five natural areas, all in his beloved West Gulf Coastal Plain — Falcon Bottoms, Terre Noir, Lorance Creek, White Cliffs and Warren Prairie. All were added to the system with Tom’s advocacy. It’s a remarkable record.