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A Monument to Epic Cycling

June 25, 2019
In bike-friendly Arkansas, a major new trail project sets its sights on a natural but untapped resource—state parks

Tucked into the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas, about 45 minutes east of Bentonville, lies Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. Carved out of ancient karst rock, 12,000 acres of steep limestone cliffs and interlocking caves await the parks’ visitors. At the center of it all is Beaver Lake—a jade-colored reservoir begging for a dip.

The park also is home to the recently opened first Monument Trail, an ambitious statewide project that aims to build a collection of Arkansas State Parks into world-class destinations for mountain biking and outdoor recreation of all kinds.

Created through a collaboration between the Walton Family Foundation, the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation and the Arkansas State Parks and Tourism Department, each Monument Trail will offer enduring outdoor experiences to riders and hikers of all skill levels, showcasing the work of the world’s finest trail builders and operating at the cutting edge of sustainability, innovation and craftsmanship.

The hope is to create a ski town feel, say organizers, revitalizing these often-remote communities through tourism and optimizing the existing topography, natural features and elevation to impress even the best riders in the world.

For over a decade, the foundation has supported cycling and trail building in and around the urban centers of Northwest Arkansas as a way to boost the local economy, attract newcomers and encourage the community to get active and outdoors.

“We’ve really been focused on convenience,” says Gary Vernon, a foundation program officer who focuses on cycling. “So we supported building trails in urban areas where riders could leave work for a lunch ride or commute to their favorite restaurant or museum.”

Monument Trails carves a different path. Capitalizing on the eight million visitors a year who already head to Arkansas’ state parks, the project presents an opportunity of unprecedented scale to expand access to cycling.

“The underlying infrastructure already exists,” says Gary, referring to park lodging options, transportation, guides and more.

“We’re taking everything we’ve learned over the last decade to make sure that Monument Trails are built to a standard that nobody’s ever seen,” with features that connect users to unique riding experiences through landscape art and “purpose-built stopping points” that encourage riders to disembark and take in the surrounding natural beauty.

At Hobbs—the first Monument Trail to open—this vision has come to life in the form of 17 new miles of multi-use trails and campsites that create greater access to some of the park’s most stunning features.

‘The portion of Beaver Lake in Hobbs is incredible, but before these trails were cut, no one was getting out there because you just couldn’t reach it,” says Suzanne Grobmyer, executive director of the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation.

Now, four miles of sustainably constructed lakefront trail meanders along the water’s edge, and an under-highway tunnel safely connects visitors to previously difficult terrain.

Suzanne is one half of a women-led team bringing Monument Trails to life. She and her trail manager Amber Chambers have brought a new perspective to the process. A true professional and avid rider, “Amber has lived and worked in some of the most iconic mountain biking communities in the country,” explains Suzanne. “She knows what we need to build to stay relevant.”

Unlike her counterpart, Suzanne is new to cycling and a young mom looking for unique family experiences.

“Through Monument Trails, we are telling people that cycling is for everyone, especially in state parks. Women often lead the way in planning weekend family activities, and the more we can make this an accessible sport, the better.”

Further south in the state, the team is busy planning and constructing new Monument Trails at Mount Nebo in Dardanelle, Pinnacle Mountain outside Little Rock and Devil’s Den outside of Fayetteville, among other state parks, underlining the project’s statewide scope and economic potential.

“When I think about Monument Trails, it’s really not a vast departure from the creation of the state parks themselves, way back during the New Deal through the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps,” says Suzanne. “The quality and legacy of what we are building is something that the state will have forever. It’s pretty amazing.”

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