Parks commission hears from citizens about new mountain biking trails

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Auditorium was packed Tuesday,

Dec. 19, with citizens concerned about

the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation

Commission’s decision to create 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.

Doug Stowe kicked off the conversation

Tuesday night by thanking the commission

for all the improvements at the

parks over the years. Stowe said he saw

a map of trails on the commission’s website

that features conceptual trails, saying

lines are drawn all over the place on the

map. Stowe asked what the difference is

between a conceptual trail and a proposed

trail.

“In terms of the bike trails, some of what

I’m seeing are trails for the daredevils, and

I think we really need to make certain we

serve families … trails that are general

enough that a father and his daughter can

go down and get the same rewarding pleasure

someone might get who comes from

miles away,” Stowe said. “I ask that all

stakeholders be considered.”

Pat Costner said she has gone to Lake

Leatherwood City Park for years with

her family. She’s concerned about safety,

Costner said, where the mountain bike

trails cross the hiking trails.

“There are no signs telling people who

are walking that they are crossing the

trail,” Costner said. “The only sign is one

that’s up the challenge trail saying, ‘Watch

out,’ and that’s not helpful up there.”

Pat Matsukis recalled voting to approve

the 0.125 percent tax for Lake Leatherwood

City Park improvements earlier this

year and said she wants those tax dollars to

go toward activities locals can enjoy.

“We voted for that because we thought

we were going to get something. We still

do not have any after-school, summer or

weekend programs for the kids,” Matsukis

said. “Yes, we now have a playground.

Hallelujah. That only took 15 years.”

She’s happy to see tourists enjoy the

parks, Matsukis said, but wants the focus

to be on the people who live in Eureka

Springs.

“Why are we in this business of tourism?

You should be serving us, the residents,

and if tourists get to enjoy it, great,”

Matsukis said. “They should not be the

primary emphasis. I do not want to see

more cabins out there, because it interferes

with hotels and motels.”

She continued, “We gave you the tax.

We can take the tax back any time we

want. I want you to really think about how

to put residents’ needs first. Government

has to be inclusive of all the people and I

want to see this happen.”

Faith Shah said she used to mountain

bike before having an accident that could

have been deadly.

“I almost killed myself, broke my helmet

and missed being impaled by a cedar

branch. It was on a similar type of course,”

Shah said.

One of her friends was killed while

walking in the park, Shah said, when a

mountain biker hit her.

“He didn’t try to kill her,” Shah said. “It

can happen.”

Shah still enjoys being at the park, she

said, but she’s a walker now. She said she

wants everyone to work together to make

the park a place for locals and tourists.

“I think it’s great that we’re going after

tourism, but not at the detriment of

the fragile ecosystem that exists in Lake

Leatherwood,” Shah said.

Salvatore Wilson said he is concerned

about the way the project has been moving

forward, saying the community should

have been informed before the groundbreaking

took place.

“Overall, I think the downhill trails are

a great concept, but I’m concerned that by

asking for forgiveness rather than permission,

we’re sacrificing the quality of the

end-game for parks,” Wilson said.

Chairman Bill Featherstone said the

commission is in a tough spot.

“If we’re doing anything at all, we’re

not going to make everybody happy,”

Featherstone said. “If we’re doing nothing

at all, we’re not going to make everybody

happy.”

Eureka Springs depends on tourism,

Featherstone said, and that has been true

since it was founded.

“There is no great divide between

tourists and locals, nor should there be,”

Featherstone said. “We live together and

we prosper together.”

It’s important for the commission to add

mountain biking trails, Featherstone said,

because the mountain biking industry is

becoming very popular. He encouraged

those who are skeptical of the project to

support the trails.

“I choose to just recognize trails and

mountain biking for what they are: major

outdoor recreational activities that appear

to be destined for long and fruitful lives,”

Featherstone said.

When it comes to trails, Featherstone

said, the commission’s goal is to help everyone

who could benefit from using them.

“What we’re really talking about here is

trails … all residents being able to walk

and bike from their homes to the grocery

store, to school, to downtown,” Featherstone

said. “[It’s] making Eureka as hiking

and biking friendly as possible and making

motorized vehicles as expendable as

possible. That’s the vision.”

He added, “It’s incumbent on all of us

to not just focus on downhill trails or this

trail or that trail, because all are mere parts

of the plan. Rather, we should view all as

one big trail system that’s connected with

something for everyone. That’s where

we’re going.”

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