NWA Mountain Bike Trails Growing

DEVIL'S DEN STATE PARK, Ark. - Mountain biking trails are one of Northwest Arkansas' claims to fame, attracting tourists from all over the world. 

"They've designed the trails with so many great features where you can really take advantage of everything from bridges to drops to rock features for climbing, it's really incredibly diverse here," said Moon Passino, a mountain biker from St. Louis. 

You can often find mountain bikers shredding the trails that have made Northwest Arkansas a hot spot for the sport - but it hasn't always been that way.

"Mountain biking started appearing on the scene at the park," said Tim Scott, assistant superintendent at Devil's Den State Park. 

Scott has worked at the park for the last three decades. Back in the 1980s, he and another park employee saw an opportunity. 

"Northwest Arkansas could become a destination for mountain biking," Scott explained. 

Their curiosity proved to be on point. 

"Now we have over 200 miles of mountain bike trails in the region," said Paxton Roberts. Roberts is the chief bicycle officer and executive director of Bike NWA, an advocacy group for biking in Northwest Arkansas. The organization serves as a resource for cyclists of all skill levels by providing information about cycling clubs, nonprofits and bike shops in the area.  

Riders today get to explore new landscapes, thanks to volunteers from organizations like Ozark Offroad Cyclists, which have been creating trails since 1997. 

"Whenever I've built trails with my hands, I know that I'm leaving, you know, truly a legacy on the community," said Brannon Pack, executive director of Ozark Offroad Cyclists. 

Taxpayer dollars paired with thousands of volunteer hours and millions in private donations have led to an explosion of trail building, from Mount Kessler in Fayetteville and The Railyard in Rogers to Slaughter Pen in Bentonville and Coler Mountain Bike Preserve in Bella Vista. 

"The cool thing about it is we're establishing these trail systems right in the middle of communities," Pack explained. 

Thirteen-year-old Carson Brantley has been biking his entire life. He's a regular at The Railyard. "It's crazy, a lot of people don't have this and I mean it's in my backyard basically," Brantley said.

The mountain bike scene in Northwest Arkansas has evolved from a local hobby into a destination for bikers of all skill levels fueling the sport as well as the economy.

"We had over 85,000 unique riders come to Northwest Arkansas and ride mountain bikes over the last year," Roberts said. 

Mountain bikers can hit the trails all year long in the Natural State.

"As Colorado and Utah and Wyoming are starting to get snow-capped, their ridership, the people from these other large recreational states, they're all coming here," Pack explained. "I mean you can go to some of our parking lots on a busy Saturday, you're running into people from Canada, from Wisconsin, from all these other areas."

Passino and his friends first discovered the trails last year. 

"We were blown away with the trails, the systems are incredible," he said. "We keep coming back here because there's more here every year." 

The Walton Family Foundation is funding a study to figure out how the trails have benefited Northwest Arkansas' economy. It's expected to be done by the end of the year, but the impact is already apparent.

"We're seeing growth in our commerce and growth in the businesses making Northwest Arkansas their home based on the recreational offerings that we can give their employees, that's going to a create happier employee, it's going to create a healthier employee," Pack said. 

It's been a steady incline for mountain biking in our region over the last 30 years. Scott believes it's only the beginning. 

"Now that we've seen this, there's no telling what the future may bring," Scott said.  

For more information about all of the trails Northwest Arkansas has to offer, visit this website.  

Newer riders might want to start on the Fossil Flats Trail at Devil's Den State Park, where the sport got its start in Arkansas, while Fayetteville residents can find a local favorite in Mt. Kessler.

If you're looking to bike Bentonville, check out this map. You can also find trails in Rogers at Lake Atalanta.

If you're not sure where in NWA to take your particular bike, BikeMag performed extensive testing in 2017 on all Arkansas trails, and may have some suggestions.  

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