Lately I’ve been finding myself gravitating to local trails in my area. Yes, you can attribute this to higher fuel prices, family responsibilities, and maybe just getting older. For the last ten plus years I’ve traveled all over Arkansas and the country in search of the perfect trail experience. Arkansas boasts classics like Buffalo Headwaters Trails, Womble, Ouachita Trail, Lake Leatherwood and Syllamo Trail System. Each trail has a special place in my mind and I have added them to my pool of mountain bike experiences. Epic trails bring out the wanderlust inside me to travel and explore new areas. I tend to gravitate towards the full mountain bike experience: miles of challenging trail, hanging out with friends, eating good food, and downing a few adult beverages. Traveling somewhere to race my bike has become less of a draw, and riding my bike for fun has become the extent of my ambitions.
After designing and constructing the trails at Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Park, I’ve realized that there is always potential to have quality trails close to home. Scott Linnenburger with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) considers the trails in Bentonville a model for any urban cycling community. I believe trails that are close to home can be the future of mountain biking. Don’t get me wrong. I still love packing my bike and gear up for the weekend to travel to great trail, but imagine riding out your front door, jumping onto a neighborhood bike path, and then ripping singletrack for a few hours before returning home. I just love the idea of not having to drive to ride. It not only saves time and money, but it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling from knowing you are doing something good for the environment.
Arkansas’ urban areas including Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Fayetteville/Bentonville have a wealth of singletrack opportunities. Little Rock trails include Burns Park, Camp Robinson, Allsopp Park, and Boyle Park. That’s over 50 miles of trail basically within riding distance from central Little Rock. Little Rock trails tend to be fairly rocky and technical, unless they are along river valleys. Make sure you purchase a CARP membership from a Little Rock bike shop before riding the trails at Camp Robinson. You’ll be provided a club card and a map of the trails. Fort Smith has about 20 miles of trails at Ben Geren Park and Springhill Park. Ben Geren Park has a perfect mix of twisty smooth singletrack and knarly, rocky terrain that will leave you humbled and completely wasted. Northwest Arkansas has Mt. Kessler, Lake Fayetteville, Lake Wilson, Lake Sequoyah, Hobbs State Park, and Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Park. You’ll need a local guide to show you the hidden trails at Mt. Kessler. Contact the Ozark Off Road Cyclists to show you this rough and rumble local trail. Hobbs State Park and Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Park have butter smooth singletrack with many optional lines to challenge more experienced riders. Lake Wilson and Lake Sequoyah are both challenging, short trails. Lake Fayetteville is the perfect beginner trail with mostly smooth trail and minimal elevation change. The miles of trail in this area include an expansive 60+ miles of singletrack.
As we spend more time closer to home, we can focus on improving the trails we all ready have. Take a minute to remove a log you would normally ride over during a quick afternoon ride. Cut the limb that keeps whacking you in the face on that steep descent you ride every week. Bring the weed eater on your next trip to clean up a section of trail overgrown with greenbriers and blackberries. How about joining the next trail work day with your local club and reroute that section of fall line trail that saps the fun out of that technical climb you just can’t make it up? Let’s make the trails we take for granted every day the epic trails we crave. There’s no need to debate what experience you expect to have when you ride the trail. Primary and alternate lines give everyone the experience they’re looking for. Since theses trails are close to home, they should be easier to take care of. No one would expect you to maintain a trail where you had to drive several hours just to get there. There’s plenty of room for the new riders who are just discovering the outdoors and the more experienced riders who get there kicks on rocky, technical trail. So put away your preconceptions, pick up some tools, and let’s make our trails better than they have ever been. It’s time to rediscover the opportunities in our own backyard.