Community meeting: Parks director addresses new downhill mountain bike courses

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation

Commission held a public meeting

on Tuesday night addressing the new

downhill mountain bike courses at Lake

Leatherwood City Park.

The commission approved a cooperative

agreement with the Walton Family

Foundation on Nov. 21 to build the downhill

feature. That decision came after the

commission’s Oct. 17 vote to allow parks

director Justin Huss to negotiate trail-specific

grants at a 10 percent match up to

$100,000, including a heritage inventory

at Lake Leatherwood.

Huss kicked off the meeting Tuesday

night by giving some of the history of the

parks commission, saying biking and hiking

trails have been part of Eureka Springs

for a long time. The biking trails are prominent

during the Fat Tire Festival, Huss

said, which will celebrate its 20th year in

2018.

“This has become a signature event,”

Huss said. “It brings tons of people to

town … a lot of heads in beds.”

It wasn’t until recently, Huss said, that

parks decided to promote the downhill

mountain bike courses at Lake Leatherwood

City Park. That’s because mountain

biking is blowing up, Huss said.

“Our local CAPC got on the wagon fast

with this. They’ve been doing marketing

… it’s a real concerted effort to see the value

in this,” Huss said. “They see what the

state’s doing.”

The parks commission has been working

on connecting the in-town trails system

this year, Huss said, so visitors and

locals can get from place to place on foot

or on their bike.

“Connectivity being the key … people

want to come in town, park their car, ride

Black Bass and Leatherwood and not get

back in their car,” Huss said. “It helps with

parking, too.”

The commission is still focusing on

that, he said, but the focus has shifted a

bit after the Walton Family Foundation

agreed to work on adding more downhill

courses at Lake Leatherwood. The courses

would be located near the Miner’s Rock

Trail, Huss said.

“One of the advantages of the area is

it’s not well-suited for anything else,” he

said. “It’s loose. It’s hard to walk on, and

it doesn’t grow a ton of things on every

area.”

While looking through the plans with

the foundation, he said, the commission

saw a few problems in the area. There’s a

part of the trail the city doesn’t own, Huss

said, but the foundation has already purchased

two properties in the area to secure

the rights to build the courses. Another

problem, he said, is the environmental impact

of the project. Huss said the commission

agreed to complete a heritage inventory

at Lake Leatherwood before moving

forward with new work there, saying the

environment is important to him.

“We had to pump the brakes a little bit.

We wanted to get everything in order,”

Huss said. “We wanted the disposition of

the property taken care of before we authorized

anything to go forward.”

The new downhill courses will feature

a shuttle to the top, Huss said, and a landing

pad for helicopters in case of a medical

emergency. Huss described what the

commission has been keeping in mind

throughout the project, saying parks needs

to secure a permanent recreational easement

for public access on the land used for

the courses, ensure safety where the courses

intersect with hiking trails and exercise

best practices for low-impact development

and storm water run-off.

“All work will be approved by me. Thisis with the help of other people and

committees that come in,” Huss said.

He’s already approved one course,

Huss said.

“We only approved that line. We

said, ‘We can agree on that one. We

can get you started,’ ” Huss said.

“We’re not going to approve anything

else until we do that.”

Adding these courses, Huss said,

will make Lake Leatherwood even

more of an attraction when it comes to

events like the Fat Tire Festival.

“It’s an extreme sport. We see that

with Fat Tire, with regular trail usage

all the time,” Huss said. “Having this

helipad at the top is actually going to

be an advantage. It’s much more controlled.”

As the commission works on the

new courses, Huss said, he plans to

move forward with the in-town trails

in mind.

“That’s still our goal. We’ll still

be working on it. You’ll notice a lot

going on this year,” Huss said. “They

say, ‘Life’s what happens when you

were busy making plans.’ We were

planning this in-town trail, and this

opportunity arose. Since we had the

planning processes in there, really this

fast forwards us. It puts the accelerator

down for a lot of projects at parks.”

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