I’m whipping along miles of gorgeous singletrack, whizzing through tight trees and barely keeping the rubber side down. I glance over my shoulder and there’s a massive bluff overlooking acres of green forest. I stop to take a breath near a bubbling stream and that’s when I remember — I’m biking in Arkansas. And it’s awesome.
While Arkansas is well known for bass and trout fishing, and even has some pretty great rock climbing, it has, until very recently, flown below the radar of many in the mountain bike world.
But now, just two years after construction, two Arkansas trail systems were awarded prestigious Bronze and Silver honors from IMBA, one of the leading mountain bike organizations in the world. The awards were given to the cities of Bentonville and Fayetteville for the trail systems such as Slaughter Pen, Blowing Springs, and Hobbs State Park, which are near the cities.
So how did Arkansas suddenly end up with two great trail systems? Well, riders, beyond the hard work of dedicated volunteers and avid riders, you have an odd bedfellow to thank in this one: Walmart.
About a decade ago, Walmart sent a memo to all their 1,400 vendors telling them that, in order to continue doing business with Walmart, they must open up sales offices in Bentonville. And so started a transformation that would turn the rural countryside into the sprawling suburbia-like metropolitan region now known as northwest Arkansas.
With an influx of business executives, salespeople and support staff came a need for entertainment, and much of it came from the outdoors. To help fulfill the need for more outdoor sporting opportunities, several groups banded together and, over the last few years, have built more than 250 miles of paved and unpaved trails in the hills of northwest Arkansas.
With the backing of some of the world’s wealthiest people through a planning group called the NWA Council, two trail volunteer groups known as Progressive Trail Designs, Friends of Arkansas Single Track (FAST), a handful of local shops like Mojo and Phat Tire and a groundswell of passionate cyclists the trail systems were quickly designed and constructed.
It took little time before these well-funded trails drew the attention of riders all over the country.
Now, only two years after starting construction, they have won two prestigious awards for trail systems with the designation of Fayetteville and Bentonville as Bronze and Silver ride centers.
This is a big deal. Aspen Snowmass was recently awarded a bronze designation. Silver carries even more prestige; there are only 10 silver ride centers in the world including: Bike Taupo in Taupo, New Zealand, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Not bad company for a region with a young but booming mountain bike scene.
In my exploration of the systems, I’ve found something for everyone. There’s plenty of dirt jumping at Slaughter Pen (the name of the trail system in Bentonville) a decent downhill course, miles and miles of cross country, and more paved trails than you can ride — and this all came together in just a few years.
The momentum for the biking community in northwest Arkansas continues to grow. With big money backers, a passionate community, and a short but successful track record of winning awards, it’s just a matter of time before this area becomes known as a mountain biking hub.
— Yoon Kim lives and works in northwest Arkansas.