Passion Play working to build mountain bike trails

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Great Passion Play is working on a new attraction to bring outdoor enthusiasts to town.

Kent Butler, director of marketing for the Passion Play, reported last week that the Passion Play is looking into building a large section of trails for mountain bikers. The play has had hiking trails for a while, Butler said, where the Holy Land Tour is offered.

“What we were really trying to do was engage our local community and get people into nature,” Butler said. “We’re such a community that loves nature, and we wanted people to experience our little slice of heaven at the Passion Play through the Holy Land Tour.”

Last year, Butler said, youth mission groups helped build 2.5 miles of trail through the Holy Land Tour.

“That connected to a lot of the neater things to see on the Holy Land Tour, like the tabernacle in the wilderness and the inn at Bethlehem,” Butler said. “Those were specifically developed as hiking trails.”

Along with showcasing the Holy Land Tour, Butler said, the hiking trail gave tourists and locals something else to do on the Passion Play grounds.

“You can experience that free of charge 365 days a year. It’s very beautiful any time of the year, especially the fall season when the trees are changing colors,” Butler said. “You just can’t get some of the scenic vistas you see when you’re driving, but when you’re walking on a trail, you see those all the more.”

Butler said he got the idea to expand the trails to mountain bikers while hiking with members of the Carroll County Ozark Off-Road Cyclists last fall.

“We hiked Magnetic Spring to Christ of the Ozarks. We saw that hiking was just the beginning and that mountain biking was something people wanted to do,” Butler said. “That happened in November of last year. We sat on it for a long time. We wanted to make sure we do this right, that it’s sustainable and a trail you’d want for incredible rides.”

One thing turned into another, Butler said, and he connected with Brannon Pack, executive director for Ozark Off-Road Cyclists. Pack saw potential in the property at the play, Butler said.

“He said, ‘You guys really need a master plan. You need something where you’re not just building a section of trail. You need to encapsulate the whole 600-plus-acre property,’” Butler said. “He said we could potentially put over 15 miles of trails in this area. We were blown away by that.”

There’s quite a bit of property at the play, Butler said, and only 200-250 acres are in use.

“That’s the Holy Land Tour area and the Passion Play,” he said. “Mountain bike trails could still go through those areas.”

From there, Butler said, he met Tony Boone, who wrote a book on how to build single-track trails and other riding experiences.

“He has built world-class trails. He is right now on the Passion Play grounds putting together a master plan,” Butler said. “We’re continuing this discussion of how we can use what is undeveloped at the Passion Play to really connect to the community, as well as connect to a whole group that knows about mountain biking and give them a unique experience on the Passion Play grounds.”

He described a potential mountain biking trail, saying it would be placed below the Christ of the Ozarks statue.

“You’d round the hill below the Christ of the Ozarks and see woods all around,” Butler said. “Then, out of nowhere, the Christ of the Ozarks crests above. It’ll be great for people to ride from or to start from the Passion Play, go downtown, eat lunch and come back.”

After Boone helps get a master plan together for the trails, Butler said, the play will apply for a grant to build them.

“If we’re able to secure the grant money and funding, he’ll actually build those trails,” Butler said. “This could possibly be done by May of next year. That’s potentially. There’s always moving pieces.”

The Passion Play is trying to show tourists there’s more to do in Eureka Springs than one might think, Butler said.

“I think it’s very important for us to continue to diversify. We have a beautiful property out there,” Butler said. “People just think there’s only a Passion Play to do, that there’s only things to do at night. I think it’s important for us to show all we have to offer.”

Offering more activities like this, Butler said, will help Eureka Springs on the whole. It will bring tourists back to town after their initial visit, he added.

“We need to give them multiple reasons to come to Eureka Springs and more to do once they get here,” Butler said. “We’re trying to make sure people are not just having a great first experience but people have reasons to come back year after year after year.”

He continued, “Eureka Springs in itself is an attraction. This will just add to it. We’ve got the cake. We just need a little icing, and maybe some ice cream sometimes, too.”

The ultimate goal, he said, is to make Eureka Springs a year-round destination. Though the Passion Play is performed only six months of the year, Butler said, it’s open 364 days a year.

“It’s really about creating that year-long destination. The Bible Museum is open. The Holy Land Tour is open,” Butler said. “The hiking trails are open, and hopefully next year we’ll be able to say we have excellent mountain biking trails as well.”

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