Story & photography by Bob Robinson
Mountain biking in Arkansas has exploded in recent years and trail construction has expanded right along with it. There have been many new trails built in just the past year alone.
We thought this would be a good time to write about several of these new trails to help cyclists plan their upcoming mountain biking road trips. We hope this will encourage you to strike out on new mountain biking adventures within the Natural State.
Siloam Springs Trail
This trail was included in the “new rides to do in 2018” not only to get the word out about a new area mountain bike trail, but also because this is a great model for other communities to follow for bringing mountain bike trails to their area. David VanSandt, chairman of Borderline OORC (BOORC), began growing support for the trail back in 2001. By the time construction officially began in 2017, he had the cooperative support of Siloam Springs city officials, community members and experienced volunteer labor from area mountain bike group, Ozark Off-Road Cyclists (OORC).
The plan is to have a pump track and 3 miles of trail constructed around the City Lake area, and this will lead to another 3 miles of intermediate trails across the highway behind the lake.
VanSandt and son Glendon met me at City Lake, located just north of Siloam Springs, in early 2018 to show me around. The trails around the lake were still under construction but the intermediate trails were good to go. So, our group crossed the highway to the completed trail.
Rogue Trails completed the initial 3 miles of trail that are now completed, and Borderline OORC, runners, hikers and other volunteers will construct the remaining trails.
It is definitely some sweet single track, winding its way around and over rolling hills. There are a few small short climbs, but nothing too challenging. Beginning mountain bikers will enjoy this trail and return often to refine their skills due to the limited exposure to injury if they make a mistake, which we all do.
More advanced cyclists will also enjoy these trails, especially the nice downhill run located at the end of the trail. This run includes an elevated wooden launch deck to give riders a little push to get started and two tall wooden walls built by Fast Rack in the high banked sweeping turns. The run then finishes at the bottom with three drops of progressing heights that guarantee cyclists leave the trail with smiles on their faces.
If you want more miles, there is a 3 ½ mile connector bike path you can ride to reach the Sager Creek Mountain Bike Trail (SCT) located on the John Brown University campus, which is only about a year old itself.
SCT has approximately 7 miles of what they classify as beginner and intermediate trails. It’s flowy and fun, without too much climbing.
Total miles for both trails plus the connector ride are over 16 miles, which will more than justify the drive to Siloam Springs to check it out.
The Fast and Furious
For those mountain bikers who like fast and technical downhill descents, Lake Leatherwood Park (LLP) should be at the top of your list of upcoming road trips.
Unlike most trail systems in the area that offer only a single downhill course, LLP will have six separate downhill runs, each over a mile in length and loaded with an assortment of exciting super-sized features. Also unlike other area trail systems, all six routes will be rated as either intermediate or advanced—no beginner trails here.
In early 2018, while researching trails for this article, Chad Landowski of Rock Solid Trail Construction gave me a tour of the first two trails they were working on at that time. Enroute to meet him I ran into Chase Coffman of Springfield, Missouri and invited him to join us. I had captured Coffman in four rapid succession photos performing a backwards flip on the Whale Tales jump at Rogers’ Railyard Bike Park for an earlier article. I knew he and Landowski would provide me with some great photo ops.
The launch point for the two trails we visited began at the same site as the downhill route at the 2017 Fat Tire Festival. The elevated platform currently in use will be replaced by an even taller “more better” platform that will propel riders down both the existing downhill route and the two new ones.
The trail Landowski led us through first was rated advanced, and the features constructed here more than lived up to that rating. However, even though the features are very technical and challenging, there is an easier bypass route around them. Landowski said all technical features on the new trails will provide a bailout path.
The trail began nice and flowy with tall perfectly angled earthen berms, allowing riders a chance to get into a rhythm. This was followed by a spacey double dirt jump that wasn’t too demanding, and a short drop, and then BOOM, the flow line was blocked by what looked like a solid eight foot rock wall. I quickly realized this was where advanced features began.
I humbly chose the bailout route and then perched myself on a nearby rock ledge where I could photograph Landowski and Coffman, the real mountain bikers.
I was glad to see that even they pulled up short at the base of this jump to study the ramp’s steep incline and discuss the ten-foot gap they would have to bridge at the top of the rock jump to reach the desired landing.
Following more discussions and several practice approaches, soon both riders were speeding down the trail on their approach. Hitting the rock ramp they were propelled high into air, gracefully flying across 10 feet of dead air space and then nailing a perfect landing.
It was true art in motion watching the pair repeat the jump several additional times before proceeding to the next feature.
The route contained several more equally demanding and challenging features that I, and by this time several other bikers who had gathered, watched on while Landowski and Coffman did their thing.
Landowski explained that the remaining four trails will be constructed on an adjoining mountain side. They are scheduled to have all six trails completed by the end of April 2018 and be included in the 2018 Arkansas Enduro Series, which is a qualifier for the World Enduro Series. So, start practicing your bike skills.
Lake Leatherwood Park also offers camping and a 20 mile fun mix of cross country mountain bike trails. It is also just a short 5 miles to visit the unique funky town of Eureka Springs, which offers lodging and an assortment of eating venues.
The city of Eureka Springs is also considering including adding a route from the lake to the top of the bike trails in their bus transit schedule, which will provide a welcome shuttle service for cyclists.
Color West Trail
With the grand opening back in the Spring of 2017, Phase 1 of the Coler Preserve Trails (CPT) rewrote the manual on mountain bike trail construction in Arkansas. For those cyclists who haven’t ridden this super challenging and exciting trail you need to put it on your to-do list, ASAP.
For 2018, Progressive Trail Design (PTD) has written a new chapter in that manual with the construction of Coler Preserve Trails West addition, which premieres the Natural State’s first dual slalom downhill course.
Sure, it’s cool chasing your friends’ KOM or QOM Strava segments, but as Chris Crone of PTD expressed it, “There’s nothing like going head to head against your racing buds.”
Case in point, when you’re cranking out pedal strokes at what you know has to be as fast as humanly possible; if this is a Strava segment you continue pushing on. But, head to head, when you see that you are closing in on the real wheel of your competition, you always seem to able to dig down a little deeper and find whatever it takes to pull ahead. You don’t experience this real time adrenalin surge on Strava.
But even if you are merely freewheeling it solo down the slalom course, packed with high banked turns, rollers, and drops, it will still be a sweet candidate for many do-overs. And, with PTD being longtime mountain bikers themselves it was a given for them to include a quick short return route to the top.
But there is much more to the 7 miles of soft trails within Coler West than the Slalom, although that experience alone would be worth a road trip.
There is also the very technical “Black Traverse Trail” that slices right across the middle, north to south. A totally hand cut “old school” path that, for seasoned cyclists will rekindle memories from the early days of mountain biking. It will have the young guns saying, “So this is what those old dudes have been talking about.”
There are also 4 ½ miles of rolly-flowy single track called Esther’s Loop. Named after one of the area’s original homesteaders, this section may not have the hard-core features of some of the other trails at CPT; however it is a fun fast ride with minimal elevation gain to slow you down.
There will also be 3 beautifully constructed wooden Flyovers intended to keep the bicycle traffic flowing smoothly at trail intersections.
On my last visit to the west side trails in early 2018 PTD was putting the final touches on Dual Slalom trail and not all of the other features were completed. However, even at that time there was plenty of mountain biking adventure to be had; just honor the Trail Closed signs if PTD is still working on enhancements.
The Coler Preserve Trail trailhead is located approximately 6 miles west of Bentonville on Peach Orchard Road. There are plans for additional trailheads and other facilities at the preserve, including a campground and music venue, so stay tuned.
In total, with the completion of the west side trails, Coler Preserve Trails will have approximately 16 miles of exhilarating mountain bike trails for your riding pleasure.
Come earn your merit badge
Exciting news for mountain bikers in the Natural State!
There is a new mountain bike trail within the Buffalo National River Wilderness Area. After 50-plus years of operation, the Camp Orr Boy Scout Camp, located within the wilderness, has added mountain biking to their list of outdoor activities. On January of 2017 Phil Penny and his Rogue Trails crew began laying out bike routes at the camp that will be available for use by the general public.
Chris Daughtrey, Executive Director/CEO of the Westark Area Council explained, “We wanted more people to have an opportunity to enjoy this state jewel located in the heart of the wilderness area.”
With the camp already offering backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing and other outdoor activities, Daughtrey and others responsible for managing the facility believed mountain biking would be a perfect addition. There is even a mountain biking merit badge the Scouts can earn for riding the trail.
In early 2018 Penny invited me up to check out the trails, so I eagerly loaded up my bike and headed for the mountains. Turning off State Highway 74 in Mt. Sherman, I followed signs for Camp Orr down a steep gravel road that ran all the way to the banks of the Buffalo River, where I joined Penny.
With Penny as anxious to show off his new creation as I was to ride it we mounted our bikes and headed out.
The 4 miles of trail they constructed on the south side of the Buffalo River offers cyclists some excellent flowy single track that winds its way over and around the heavily forested mountainside. This section makes for a fun ride and is a great environment for newer cyclists to hone their mountain biking skills.
However, from what Penny had been telling me, the really challenging stuff was located on the 8-mile loop located on the north side of the river. So the north trails were calling me.
Penny recommended we ride the loop clockwise. Our ascent would then be on the river bluff side of the mountain, which would allow more opportunity to enjoy the scenic views, and also distract us from our burning thighs.
This plan worked out great, as we slowly progressed up the often ledgey challenging climb, I enjoyed numerous vantage points with unobstructed views of 300-foot walls of sheer rock, such as Buzzard Bluff, that frame the emerald green waters of the pristine river.
The Rogue Trail crew did a great job of leveling out the long climb, with only a couple of quick short climbs approaching a 20% grade and an overall average gradient of less than a 5%. This was accomplished by incorporating a number of well-designed switchbacks, resulting in some 80 turns over the entire 8 miles of the loop.
As the trail negotiates several sections on the steep, sheer mountainside, many riders won’t even notice the extended crib walls the trail crew had to construct in order to create a ledge that would hold the trail. But those of us who have built trails will both notice and appreciate the hard labor that went into their construction.
Once cyclists crest the mountain summit they will be rewarded with an exhilarating 4 mile descent through deep woodsy hollows and drainages on the return route that will make them forget all about the strenuous near 1,000 foot climb up the mountain. Following this workout the 4 miles of less strenuous trail on the south side of the river is a welcome sight.
The Camp Orr Trail is a great addition to the growing list of classic mountain bike trails being developed across the Arkansas. It also showcases the majestic views of America’s first National River and offers yet another outdoor activity for visitors to experience their own true wilderness adventure.
The trail is constructed on the Boy Scout property, and as of early 2018 Daughtry said they had not decided how they were going to provide public access to the trail. The camp facilities also include a dining hall, trading post, cabins, platform tent campsites, and co-educational facilities, and would present a number of possibilities for visitors to enjoy the camp and the trails.
He suggested visitors check their website, www.westarkbsa.org, prior to a planned outing for information on the process to follow for accessing the new trails and facilities.
Best Kept Secret
A lot of mountain bikers have probably driven past this hidden gem of a trail on their way to ride other trails. However, once they do stop and check out it out it usually becomes a regular destination.
The trail I’m referring to is located at Lake Fort Smith State Park, on State Highway 71 just north of Mountainburg. As of the start of 2018, the time of this writing, there were approximately 10 miles of completed trail, with another 3 miles under construction, and 2 miles in the planning phase.
I have ridden the Lake Fort Smith Trail (LFST) before, however preparing for this article I invited Shawn Griffith (Park Ranger) and Kyle Copeland (Arkansas State Parks Trail Crew) to join several friends and myself on a ride for some photo ops.
The entrance to the trail is located on the right, immediately after entering the park headquarters conveniently located parking lot. The recommended direction to ride LFST trail is counterclockwise, but it is open to be ridden in either direction. The route is well marked with blue blazes; however, there are a couple tricky intersections that might split up your group. Just remember, “If you stay right you can’t go wrong”.
You pass two Y intersections early into the ride. At the second one, you begin a steady 600-foot elevation gain that takes you across the paved highway you drove in and then up the mountain side.
As you grind out the climb be sure to enjoy the views of Lake Fort Smith far down below, because on the speedy descent you won’t want to take your eyes off the trail.
Griffith and Copeland did a great job laying out this 3 plus mile out-and-back lollipop located across the highway, incorporating well positioned switchbacks and following the natural contours of the mountainside. They also did a great job eliminating momentum killing sharp turns. It’s just “flo and go” all the way down.
As the trail topped out and our group was about to begin our descent, we paused to watch the other member of the state park trail crew busy at work constructing new trail. Perched at the controls of a Kubota excavator, Sheila (Sissy) Hall paused just long enough for a friendly wave and smile then resumed positioning a large boulder in place to support a sweet dirt high berm she was building.
Hall and Copeland are members of Arkansas State Parks Trail Crew. They construct hiking, biking, and multi-use trails at state parks across the state. They began working on the LFST in 2013, constructing the trail a section at a time in between other projects around the state. They have been working on this lollipop section on the upper side of the highway since January 2017. Both of them have attended Professional Trail Builders Association and American Trails Symposium trail building classes so they are well versed on how to build trails.
The descent back on the lollipop isn’t a totally out of control freefall, but riders will satisfy their need for speed as they flow through double banked berms and sweep around wide turns.
Once you cross back over the highway and cruise down a short descent riders rejoin the trail they rode in on to continue to their right around the course.
With the major climbs behind them, riders can settle into an enjoyable fast and flowy 5 miles of undulating, twisting, turning, well-groomed trail. If you need to shorten your ride there is a blazed return trail branching off to the left that will knock off about 3 miles of trail. Everyone in our group passed it by.
Even though construction on the original 4 miles of trail actually began in 2013, due to the trail’s limited visitation in those early years and the additional miles constructed over the past year, I wanted to include it here.
When you plan your visit be sure to include time for a multiday visit. With beautifully crafted stone and wood cabins, swimming pool, hiking trails, 30 spacious RV sites, group facilities, a marina with boat and kayak rental, and a visitor center there will be plenty of activities to occupy your non-riding hours at the park.
Other notable new enhancements
Ozark Off-Road Cyclists volunteers logged over 850 hours this past summer on Mt. Kessler Trail to improve sustainability and to just make it even more fun to ride. Plus Progressive Trail Design (PTD) also constructed a fast new run paralleling Crazy Mary that includes a rock drop and several other techy features. This 9-plus mile network is located in Fayetteville.
Fort Smith’s Ben Geren Park Trail has a new flow trail added to its network of soft surface trails. With 41 dirt jumps, rollers, kickups, and high banked berms packed into a shortish mile, EnduroFlo provides nonstop action for cyclists.
This is a great example of the cycling community working together, with J. J. Ames, Blair Lively, and other volunteers providing the labor while Taylor Rental Center, of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, sponsoring the heavy equipment.
Even though it’s a short run, surrounded by 17 miles of old school trails it is well worth a visit. If your only experience on Ben Geren Trails is from the River Valley Rumble AMBCS race held there each year, you probably haven’t ridden some of the best trails at the park, which were not included in the race course. Zippidee Doo Dah and Gravity Fed are two of the fastest routes in the park.
Conveniently located just a short ride from the trail is the Fort Smith Brewing Company, home of an impressive selection of thirst quenching, great tasting, handcrafted Arkansas brews.
Over the fall/winter of 2017 Slaughter Pen has experienced numerous major enhancements. Progressive Trail Design (PTD), Rogue Trails and Rock Solid construction companies have all left their mark on a long list of the trails improvements.
From the tech-gnar Apple Turnover and Schroen Train, to the fast-flowy runs on Ozone and Angus Chute, and the Arkansas signature stone on Rim Trail, these crews have taken an already versatile network of trails and made them even “Mo better.”
Located in Bentonville, I recommend beginning your tour of these revamped trails at the parking located on NE A Street where NE Cub Circle joins. You will be centrally located to launch onto these and other improved trails in this area.
Back 40 Trail system has also received some recent “trail love”. Connector trails like Taylor Homestead and Rago saw a lot of the attention with berm and tread work, along with a few added fun rock-kickups, but you might just discover something new on other sections also.
More to come
There doesn’t seem to be any letup in the wave of mountain bike trail construction in the near future.
The 16 miles of trail construction in Phase I of Cedar Glades Trails, in Hot Springs, is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2018, with the remaining 28-plus miles of trail to follow.
Beginning in 2018, construction of an additional 15 miles of trail will begin at Hobbs State Park mountain bike trail system.
Plans have already been approved for an additional 40 miles of trail to be added to Back 40 Trails.
Alma hired Progressive Trail Design to compile a master plan for construction of a mountain bike trail system around Lake Alma.
The list of proposed biking trails continues to grow.