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Coler Mountain Bike Preserve Set to Soar

September 7, 2018
In a region rich with cycling infrastructure, Coler will offer locals and visitors — whether on two wheels or two feet — a unique experience in Northwest Arkansas.

On most autumn afternoons, the trails of Coler Mountain Bike Preserve in Bentonville, Arkansas, are buzzing with student-athletes. My daughter, Abby, is one of them, gaining confidence and skills alongside her high school mountain biking team, itself a byproduct of the region’s growing prominence on the cycling world stage. Their chosen practice grounds? A sprouting natural oasis just a five-minute ride from downtown.

Right now, this urban escape is known and revered among area mountain bikers. Soon it will be celebrated as a unique and pioneering gathering grounds for the broader cycling world.

With all the options now available in Northwest Arkansas for cyclists — from the hard-charging jumps and bends of Slaughter Pen to the paved commuter paths of the Razorback Regional Greenway — Coler Preserve will offer an experience unlike any other.

Already, the 300-acre system serves riders of all skill levels on nearly 2 miles of greenways and 16 miles of natural-surface trails with jumps, berms and other structures. As plans drive toward completion, the ‘preserve’ aspect of this unique public space will take form, offering plenty of options for outdoor escape for those who opt to visit on two feet rather than two wheels.

A restored barn, café and event pavilions are in the works — as are campsites and outdoor yoga platforms. Public art installations and live music will also be a draw for a community and region flush with creators of all kinds.

A World-Class Community Gathering Grounds

We moved our family to Northwest Arkansas in 2003 and – just a few years later – the region was on the cusp of developing into a world-class destination for a sport that has been central to my life, both personally and professionally.

Gary Vernon, with his son, Grayson, and daughter, Abby

My son, Grayson, was pedaling by the time he was two and a half years old, and Abby started on a bike when she was three. It’s been a thrill to share this passion with them. “It’s definitely brought us closer together,” Abby says. “It’s fun to share the sport, and we all bond over our favorite trails.”

As a program officer for the Walton Family Foundation and avid rider, I’m proud to have helped bring to life what is destined to become not only a crown jewel of the region’s cycling infrastructure but world-class community gathering grounds.

The foundation enlisted D.R. Horne and Company, a nationally recognized design firm, to lead the project.

Of Coler, founder Douglas Horne says, “Every feature has been carefully considered to yield a pleasing, harmonious outcome in which structures and facilities are compatible with the natural characteristics of the site. The Coler project is noteworthy also for preserving environmental and cultural resources in the midst of a community experiencing rapid growth.”

As a lifelong rider, I believe there is no other place in the world quite like ours, and I’ve had top international professional riders tell me the same.

Gary Vernon calls Coler a "unique and pioneering gathering grounds" for the mountain-biking community.

What sets Northwest Arkansas apart, according to riders who’ve literally ‘seen it all’? The ability to bring in all different kinds of trail builders and let them push their art — yes, art — to new heights.

Usually you build a trail in the woods and call it a day. But at Coler Preserve, art-as-trail is etched everywhere into the landscape. For example, we have stacked rock berms that look like ancient ruins. They are built to last — with both sustainability and four-season cycling in mind.

The preserve also offers a microcosm of the diverse range of trails the region offers. For beginners, “Esther’s Loop” — named for the wife of the original landowner — offers a comfortable cycling experience. For more experienced mountain bikers, trails like “Drop the Hammer” and “Cease and Desist” up the adrenaline factor.

The signature show-stopper would have to be Peak One at The Hub — a 20-foot tall, free-standing steel platform with cedar planks that sits atop the trails’ highest peak and acts as a launching mechanism for riders, giving them an extra boost as they head downhill.

Of the iconic feature, Abby agrees: “When they first built the Hub, my mind was blown.”

There will be plenty of options to enjoy and be in nature, including tent and hammock camping, to Coler Creek itself, where a dam has been removed to restore the original topography and habitat. Local running and hiking clubs have also begun to utilize the space, taking in the unique blooms and diverse flora, along with the heart-pumping workout the trails offer.

Those who are early to the magic of the Coler Preserve quickly understand that this place is special. My family and I camped out at Coler through the spring.

Abby Vernon, the author's daughter, rides Coler's trails as part of her high school mountain biking team.

It was like being in the middle of a national forest, yet we were just two and half miles from the Bentonville Square. As bright as those stars shined, the highlight of the experience for me was having that time together. As many a parent knows, having a high school senior who still wants to hang out with her dad is pretty special.

As the full vision of this unique community biking preserve becomes reality over the course of the next year, I can’t wait for others to discover this special place as my own family has— not just as a wonderland for mountain bikers, but a world-class destination for everyone.

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