Hobbs, High Country benefit from new foundation.
By Leslie Newell Peacock
Adventure is the word you’ll hear in the latest forays into trail building in Arkansas. It’s the word Suzanne Grobmyer, director of the new Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation, says describes the foundation’s goal in its work with funders to build biking and hiking routes in state parks. It’s the name of the outfit — Adventure Cycling — that the foundation is working with to build a phenomenal 1,100-mile mountain bike trail from Bella Vista in the Ozarks to Hot Springs in the Ouachitas and points south.
Like the arts, creating outdoors experiences has both health and economic benefits: the better the quality of life a place offers, Grobmyer says, the more people will come.
The Walton Family Foundation, which has transformed Northwest Arkansas with grants enhancing the quality of life there, got the state Parks and Recreation Foundation off the ground in May 2018 with a $310,000 startup grant; now, thanks to another $2 million grant to the foundation, 15 miles of new hiking and biking trail are in the works at Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area east of Rogers. The trail project will be the first of what the Parks and Recreation Foundation hopes will be many in Arkansas.
The new trail, which is slated to open in May but has yet to be named, will “blend architecture and art,” Grobmyer said. It will make reference to the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose iconic projects across the state have stood the test of time, with CCC-type fabrication by the design firm Hufft of Bentonville. Sustainable building methods will lessen impact on the land; cribbing will control drainage and erosion. Grobmyer anticipates the trail, which will provide the park’s first expansive views of Beaver Lake, will include gravel camping pads for both bikepackers and hikers. The new route will connect with the old by way of an underground passage below state Highway 12, which bisects Hobbs, the largest state park in Arkansas.
Grobmyer, a young mother and novice mountain bike rider, said the foundation wants to make parks attractive to people of all ages and all desires, from aggressive downhill mountain bikers to bird-watchers to NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) high school cycling leagues. The parks’ trails will include green, blue and black difficulty levels.
“Nothing’s a go yet for other development,” Grobmyer said, though as a Little Rock resident she’d like to see Pinnacle Mountain State Park be the next in line to get attention. Because Arkansas’s parks are free — Grobmyer said a joke at national meetings of state parks is the promise of a free annual pass to our state parks — dollars for park improvements need the boost of private philanthropy. The clear economic boon that the Northwest Arkansas trails have brought — $137 million in 2017, according to a Walton study — will help the foundation make the case.
Thanks to a pass-through gift from the Walton Family Foundation, the Parks and Recreation Foundation was able to provide Adventure Cycling a grant of $100,000 to help it route and map the north-south mountain biking trail, called the High Country Trail. The on and off-road route is planned to pass through or near nine state parks (Pinnacle Mountain, Cossatot River State Park, Lake Ouachita, Queen Wilhelmina, Mount Magazine, Mount Nebo, Lake Dardanelle, the Ozark Folk Center and Woolly Hollow), 15 U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, nine Army Corps of Engineers parks and three national parks. The cartography should be completed in May; plans are for the trail to be complete in 2020.
Adventure Cycling (adventurecycling.org) also offers van-supported guided cycling tours.