Groups are building out the state’s growing bike trail infrastructure
Story and photography By Bob Robinson
With trail construction exploding across the state, it is a great time to be a mountain bike rider in The Natural State. New trails and major expansions to existing trails are announced so often it’s difficult for cyclists to keep up. It’s a great problem to have.
Over the past two decades, the Walton Family Foundation has been the driving force behind the majority of the new trail development in the state, with both financial and leadership support. The foundation has supported several nonprofit organizations, such as the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation, NWA Trailblazers, OZ Trails and Ozark Off-Road Cyclists, as it channels private resources into bicycle-related projects designed to improve connectivity and the quality of life for Arkansans. Much has been written of its generous contributions to making the state a fat-tire destination; however, there is another side of the story that has not been as well publicized. This is about the trail warriors performing the construction: the boots on the ground.
PROGRESSIVE TRAIL DESIGN
When selecting a company to design and construct soft surface trails or bike parks in Arkansas, there is one name that quickly rises to the top: Progressive Trail Design.
President and founder Nathan “Woody” Woodruff has been constructing mountain bike trails in the state since 2007, beginning with the dirt jump and free-ride park for phase one of the Slaughter Pen Trails in Bentonville.
Having owned his own landscaping business for seven years and being a former event promoter and trail-building volunteer, Woodruff possessed the skills needed to grow Progressive into a major player in the design and construction of bike trails, riding features and mountain bike parks across the United States.
Included among PTD’s 25 employees are some of the most recognizable names in the state’s mountain bike community: Josh Hardy, Chris Crone, Jon Bryan and Dave Renko. Renko has built more single track by hand than the entire PTD team combined.
The list of trails PTD has been involved with is too extensive to list, but a short rundown of the standouts includes Slaughter Pen, the Railyard Bike Park, Back 40 Trails, Two Rivers Bike Park and Thunder Chicken. But, the project that sets the bar for progressive mountain bike trail systems, and not just in Arkansas, is the Coler Mountain Bike Preserve in Bentonville.
As the general contractor for Coler, PTD raised trail construction to an art form, particularly when working in collaboration with Fayetteville architecture firm Modus Studio and L&L Metal to create the Peak One Hub.
Located at the top of the preserve’s northernmost hill, this state-of-the-art steel and wood elevated platform launches riders into three different adrenaline-pumping downhill runs.
Along with the Peak One Hub, the Coler preserve offers another challenging feature not found at other mountain bike trails in the area: a dual slalom. No more having to rely on apps like Strava to determine who is king or queen of the mountain. On Thunder Dome downhill trail, you and your biking bud can compete head–to-head in live action.
PTD is now working on the Buffalo Outdoor Center Trails, which may prove to be a greater attraction than Coler. PTD is building five downhill lanes in an area behind the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca. One stretches over two miles, with an easy shuttle service back to the top. The Buffalo Outdoor Center Trails are scheduled to open in the fall.
Rogue Trails, led by founder/owner Phil Penny, is another homegrown trail construction company skilled in the design and construction of soft surface trails in Arkansas and other states.
Penny began racing mountain bikes in 1991, a time when most trails were built and maintained by volunteers. Later, during his eight years as president of Ozark Off-Roads Cyclists, Penny became more involved with trail construction. He discovered that much of what he’d learned from his bachelor’s degree in environmental science and engineering, coupled with his hydrology training on the job at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, also applied to bike trails. When on any Rogue-constructed trail, riders appreciate the company slogan: “Putting science into the art of trail building.”
With his increased involvement in the mountain biking community, it was a natural evolution for Penny to migrate toward trail construction. Leaving Game and Fish, he accepted a position building trails for Crossland Construction Co.
After almost two years with Crossland, Penny was offered an opportunity to build a new bike trail network at Siloam Springs. He decided this was a chance to transform his passion for mountain bike development into a business; the rest is history. When the Boy Scouts of America organization decided to add a mountain bike trail to its Camp Orr facility in Newton County, it contacted Rogue Trails. Rogue also constructed the Vian Lake Trail, along with the Monument Trail at Hobbs State Park, which opened in June. Later this fall, Rogue will be applying the finishing touches on the highly anticipated 11 Under Trail in Bella Vista. Rogue’s portion of the new trail system consists of 20 miles of tight single track, rock technical features, jump lines, tall berms and several miles of Rogue’s signature intimate hand-built trails.
Penny’s training in conservation and creating sustainable natural features carried over to Rogue Trails. His team of 23 employees includes three environmental scientists and two members with degrees in parks and recreation. This scientific approach to trail construction has aided Rogue when applying for government projects. But even when a project’s guidelines does not require him to follow strict conservational guidelines to build sustainable trails, Rogue still does, because as he says, “it’s the right thing to do.”
Aaron Rogers’ Rock Solid Trail Contracting enterprise was recruited from Copper Harbor, Mich., to assist with the numerous trail projects under construction in preparation for the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) World Summit held in Bentonville in 2016.
At one time, there were five separate trail construction companies actively working on trails in Northwest Arkansas. Rogers’ team brought with them a list of impressive credentials: Rogers himself had worked for IMBA, where he learned to construct, and train others to build, trails according to the association’s sustainable standards and techniques. His team also included members with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and construction, with years of hands-on trail design and the creation of trail networks.
Rogers brought a crew of 17 with him on that initial visit. They worked on the original Coler Mountain Bike Preserve trail system. The slabfest of a trail with the company’s namesake, Rock Solid Trail, contains the group’s signature rocky features. In addition to their work at Coler, the company has also reworked several of the Slaughter Pen Trails (Ozone Trail, Angus Chute and Schroen Train). That work, plus its work on the Back 40 trail system in Bella Vista, established Rock Solid as a builder of exciting and sustainable trails.
Rock Solid’s relationship with Arkansas trail construction proved to be a great fit for the company and Arkansas has become a second home for Rogers and his crew. Trail crews were more than happy to be working in the mild weather conditions found in Arkansas’s fall and winter as opposed to those in Michigan and Minnesota.
The Lake Leatherwood Downhill Gravity Trails, with seven separate downhill runs ranging in skill levels from beginner green to double black diamond expert, has become a popular Rock Solid project. These downhill trails include high bank earthen berms, challenging rock drops, table-tops and gaping jumps. There is something to challenge all levels of riders.
Rock Solid will be returning once again this fall to put the final touches on the south section of the new 11 Under trail system in Bella Vista and the much-anticipated Mount Nebo Downhill Trail. Its 7-mile Monument Trail on Nebo opened in July.
AFFORDABLE TRAIL SOLUTIONS
The newbie in the world of trail construction businesses in Arkansas is Affordable Trail Solutions out of Clinton.
Jeff Gannon and Dirk Merle’s story is a familiar one: Both had spent several years building trails as volunteers. In December 2018, having volunteered on past trail projects for the Arkansas chapter of The Nature Conservancy and experienced in the type of trails it builds, they decided to bid on TNC’s trail project on a section of its Rattlesnake Ridge property west of Pinnacle Mountain. Gannon and Merle won the bid, purchased a mini excavator and joined the ranks of trail construction companies.
When complete, the Rattlesnake Ridge Trail network will consist of a smorgasbord of styles, with cross-country, downhill and multiuse trails. The skill levels will range from beginner to expert.
Gannon has submitted bids on several other trail construction projects. While the company builds technically difficult trails, it is also filling a niche for communities that are constructing less complex trails system for area cyclists. Thus, the appropriately named “Affordable Trail Solution.”
Brothers Kris and Josh Carroll followed a different path into the world of professional trail building. When they took up the sport of mountain biking, they were disappointed with the functionality of bike racks on the market.
Having more than 15 years of experience building custom frames and other metal fabrication work with California Custom automotive service, Kris decided to design and build a custom bike rack. The finished product proved to function faster than other commercial racks. When their friends began referring to it as a “fast rack,” the brothers chose the name Fast Rack for a business that had yet to be established.
Shortly after producing the bike rack, they built a portable bike stand to mount their bikes on after unloading them, so they wouldn’t have to lay them on the ground or against their vehicle. The brothers then built a multipurpose trail rake that trail-building crews began to buy.
Now on a roll, and with the approval of California Custom to use its plasma cutter, Kris Carroll designed and built Fast Rack’s first bike-park skill-course feature. It was just a simple triple rollover structure, but when the Carrolls installed it at a local trail, the word spread and they began receiving requests to build more.
Skip forward two years, and Fast Rack Modern Cycling Solutions has become a full-function bike-skills park developer. Both brothers are skilled in the design, layout and construction of parks, and have added wall-rides and other assorted skill features to their catalogue. With metal-based frames, their products are more durable than customary wood-based features.
Fast Track has built skill parks at Siloam Springs City Lake Park, Fayetteville’s Gregory Park Skills Park and the NWA Arkansas Children Shelter. The company has even shipped its bike skill features to Palm Beach, Fla., and Woodbury Park in Minnesota. The business continues to grow as more bike trail contractors and clients discover their products.