Renko's love of the sport and his participation in one of the first Fat Tire races at Devil's Den State Park back in the 90s ultimately led to the creation of perhaps the best mountain bike racing weekend in the state of Arkansas. According to Devil's Den Park Ranger and USA Cycling Official, Tom Scott, Renko started out as a volunteer and racer at the first races there and decided to bring a similar event to Eureka Springs.
"The thing about the Eureka Springs race is when David got it going he did it at a time that would help boost tourism. He also blended mountain bike racing with things to do in town and changes it up each year to keep it interesting," Scott said. Unlike a lot of races which are out in the middle of nowhere, you can have something going for the whole family in Eureka Springs."
Renko calls Scott "Arkansas' premier pioneer of mountain biking" since Scott was the first to bring the sport to Devil's Den in an ongoing event still being held there each September. The two found a mutual interest when Renko competed there and Scott is also one of the Eureka Springs festival's longest running volunteers.
Renko's first event in 1998 was a one-day lap race on the Beecham Trail around Lake Leatherwood. The next year it was a two-day affair and officially became the Eureka Springs Fat Tire Festival.
"We, the Ozark Off Road Cyclists, a mountain bike advocacy group formed by myself and other enthusiasts, were invited by the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission to create and promote a mountain bike event at the park. We had been doing some volunteer trail work at the park. The first race had under 100 participants, and the trails were minimal, but adequate," Renko recalled.
With the help of his company, Progressive Trail Design (PTD), Renko has since created bicycle-related trails and facilities such as Downhill Trails, Slope Style Trails, Pump Tracks, Flow Trails, Dirt Jump Parks and Challenge Trails -- most or all of which are now part of the current festival and provide the variety so loved my mountain bikers.
"About fifty percent of Leatherwoods Trails were built with volunteer labor and currently are almost entirely cared for by advocacy and stewardship. Our company, PTD, is responsible for building the last three major trail projects in town -- Oil Springs Trail, the Downhill Challenge Trail and the Sycamore and Bluff Trails at Black Bass Lake -- two of the three being volunteer organized and free of charge to the community," Renko explained.
Last year the festival had grown to 400-plus competitors and an equal number of spectators and recreational riders. More than 100 volunteers and sponsors usually join in on the fun. This year Renko expects more than 1000 people to be involved. "Through the years we have had riders from too many states to count and several countries including Great Britain and Australia. Most riders come from the surrounding 6 -- 8 states," Renko added.
He and his army of organizers and volunteers were already looking toward 2013 before the first mountain biker ever arrived in town for this year's event.
"We began planning for next year weeks ago. Safety and family fun are our biggest considerations. Volunteerism stretches from trail building through the whole gamut," Renko said, "because all operations at some point have volunteers. It truly takes a village even though the size and scope of the event has forced us to hire more professional services. Jobs include course marshals, food prep, parking coordination, first aid, production and multi-media. Sponsors provide everything under the sun: food, tents, scaffolding, water, banners, venues, music, money, printing, prizes and lodging -- you name it. The community, regional businesses and industry supporters have continued to provide exceptional support."
Renko's most rewarding experience has been witnessing youth riders ascend from training wheels to over-all event winners during the last 15 years.
"I lived here [Eureka springs] for two years from ninety to ninety two and cut my teeth riding the area although there were no official mountain bike trails. We often rode at Lake Leatherwood, the Madison County Game Reserve, Butler Hollow and the Mark Twain National Forest. I moved here again in 2000 to work for the Parks and Recreation Commission as the Trails Coordinator with a directive to work with Eastin Outdoors to create and realize a Master Plan Trails System for Lake Leatherwood. I came here for the same reason everyone does: to be somewhere magical," Renko said.
Renko's plans for the future of the Fat Tire Festival are to do more trail building, have a Super D race competition and create even more family fun. As a resident, his hopes are "to see our community have one of the most significant public trail resources in this part of the country."
To that end, he's well on his way.