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Feb 24th
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Home Travel Trails Love Mountain Biking? Give Arkansas a Try

Love Mountain Biking? Give Arkansas a Try

State’s Womble Trail, Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail System Are IMBA ‘Epic’ Trails

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Arkansas is quickly gaining a foothold as one of nation's premier spots for mountain biking.

"I think people don't realize quite yet the sheer amount of riding in Arkansas," said Matt McFee, director and lead guide of Hermosa Tours, based in Durango, Colorado. "Most people think 20- to 30-mile ‘epic' days are a thing only to be found further out West, but in fact, they exist in abundance in Arkansas."

McFee's company offers guided mountain bike tours (both single and multi-day tours) in Colorado, Utah, California, Washington, and now Arkansas. He said the company decided to add the state to the mix due to its terrain and proximity to the Midwest.

McFee said popular riding destinations out West are largely defined by deserts or high mountain terrain. "What makes Arkansas so special is to have riding that is on par with the West, while at the same time delivering a totally differen t surrounding of a mostly deciduous forest with gorgeous vistas," he said.

The company's first tours in the state started in May, 2009, but they will offer single day tours year round. The tours will introduce riders to the terrain here and help spread the word about the up and coming destination. "Arkansas's mountain biking opportunities are amazing and I'm hoping to show more people that," said McFee.

Some of the trails highlighted via the tours include the state's two International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) Epics: The Womble Trail, a single-track route across the Ouachitas maintained by mountain bikers since the 1980s, and the 50-mile Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail System in Mountain View.

Each year the IMBA selects a handful of trails around the world that receive this special ‘Epic' status. These are defined as ‘must ride' routes for riders around the world to try out. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail, a 192-mile trail (137 miles open to mountain bikes) running east to west through the Ouachita Mountains, is also on the tour agenda.

According to David Renko, director of the Eureka Springs Fat Tire Festival and consultant with Progressive Trail Design, what makes the state stand out is the light use of the trails here.

"As far as miles to riders we probably have one of the highest ratios in the country," he said. "It's common to go to the popular cycling destinations here and find yourself alone in the woods."

Renko said the development of the Syllamo Trails, a project initiated by riders in 2001, was one of the most groundbreaking efforts for the sport in the state. He said the project made believers of advocates and land management agencies across the state that an epic trail could be built.

Renko added that other cutting edge projects include Eureka Springs connecting its parks and greenways with over 20 miles of riding trails and routes, Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area in Rogers creating 20 miles of horse/bike shared use trails, and Bentonville developing the Slaughter Pen Trail System and installing both freeride stunts and a challenge park in its 15-mile trail system.

Groundbreaking trail projects and interest by out of state companies such as Hermosa Tours are a sign that the state is gaining momentum as a high caliber riding destination. Mcfee said expanding the state's allure as a national mountain biking destination lies in the hands of the community.

"When the restaurants, bike shops and lodging in each local area welcome mountain bikers as valued visitors the overall destination experience really takes off," he said.

In the meantime, riders have plenty to look forward to.

Renko said planned projects on the horizon include the Buffalo Headwaters Trail System, the multi-use trail system on Pension Mountain near Berryville, the Argenta freeride and challenge park in North Little Rock, the development of a downhill specific trail at Lake Leatherwood City Park in Eureka Springs, and the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail.

More information on Hermosa Tours can be found at
www.hermosatours.net . Local Arkansas guides and outfitters are also available and can be found around the state. Renko mentioned Don West with Butterfield Publishing (Little Rock), Denton West with Adventure Mountain Outfitters (Eureka Springs), and How Kuff with Falling Trails (Buffalo River).

More about Progressive Trail Design can be found at
www.progressivetraildesign.com and more information about IMBA can be found at www.imba.com .

Story by Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism