Detailed report: Council hears from parks director on downhill trails project

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

When it comes to the new downhill mountain bike trails at Lake Leatherwood City Park, parks director Justin Huss is clearing the air.

Huss gave a detailed report on the project Monday night at the Eureka Springs City Council’s regular meeting. Funded by the Northwest Arkansas Trailblazers on behalf of Tom Walton, Huss said, the project has had its challenges.

Huss said the construction site was shut down to unauthorized personnel last week to discourage hikers and bikers from exploring the area before it’s completed.

“It was time to close the area and keep people out of there for safety reasons,” Huss said.

The downhill trails committee has been working on evaluating the routes, Huss said, which have changed quite a bit from the original plan. Initially, Huss said, trail builders suggested using Miner’s Rock in the downhill trails.

“That is of major significance, so we’ve looked at different routes,” Huss said.

Because of the project, Huss said, Lake Leatherwood will have better safety precautions all around. People are going to get hurt on the trails, Huss said, and someone could die. That’s what you should expect on biking and hiking trails, he said.

“It’s the nature of the business, and it’s something we’re prepared for,” Huss said. “We feel really good about our plan. We’ll be able to expedite our reaction to any injuries.”

This is possible through multiple extraction points at the park, Huss said, including some that lead directly to Highway 62.

“To get this response system in place, this will branch out to the entire park,” Huss said. “To have these zones, to know exactly how to respond … again, we feel confident.”

The continued improvements to the park have caused revenue to increase, Huss said. According to a handout, the park had $12,870.49 in revenue at the end of 2017. So far this year, the handout says, the park has brought in $26,946.57.

Alderwoman Kristi Kendrick said she had lots of questions but hadn’t contacted Huss with any of her concerns since the project began last fall.

“I’m doing it in this context because I think it’s very important that the rest of council hears the answers, as well as the public,” Kendrick said.

She asked if part of the trail is still located on private property, and Huss said those properties will be donated to the city after the project is completed. Kendrick asked if the location of the donations have been determined.

“Yes, aside from the cabin property at the top of the hill and four areas that’s been taken out, the entire property is to be donated to the city,” Huss said.

“Has it been surveyed?” Kendrick asked.

“It was sold by plat and they are surveying out the property that will be separate from the donation,” Huss said.

Kendrick asked how the helipad will work, and Huss said it will be located on private property but the city will have an agreement with the property owner to use it.

“You’re already talking about entering into these regional agreements and things, yet, to me, we haven’t discussed the legalities of this project yet,” Kendrick said. “What property is being given to the city under what conditions? I’m just confused.”

“I feel like we’ve covered this before, but I’ll talk about it again,” Huss said.

“When did we discuss this before?” Kendrick asked.

“We discussed it in the packet I gave you and we’ve discussed this before,” Huss said.

There are four parcels purchased at the top of the hill, Huss said, and the agreement was for an easement to donate the property to the city.

“It seems very wishy-washy at this point,” Kendrick said.

“Everybody has their opinion,” Huss said.

“How can I not think it’s wishy-washy when I haven’t been given any terms?” Kendrick asked.

“Have you called me?” Huss asked.

“I’m doing this in public so the public can hear it,” Kendrick said.

“You understand my frustration to be told you haven’t been told this when you won’t communicate with me to ask about this,” Huss said.

“It’s because I want … I want the city to know,” Kendrick said.

“Could you not have said, ‘We had a conversation about this?’” Huss asked.

Mayor Butch Berry said to keep it civil, and Huss said communication is a two-way street. Kendrick continued with her questions, asking what a gravity trail is, if the project is primarily gravity trails and how shuttles will work. Will shops or restaurants, Kendrick asked, be located at the top of the hill? Huss said that isn’t part of the plan.

“There will be restrooms. We might have rentals … and potentially some campsites,” Huss said.

Berry asked if Robert’s Rules of Order allowed him to call on other council members, saying Kendrick had been asking a lot of questions.

“I do, and I’d like all of them answered,” Kendrick said.

Alderman David Mitchell said he’d wait for her to finish, but alderwoman Mickey Schneider said she had one comment.

“In the future, talk to [Huss] before the meeting so you have it in front of you like I did,” Schneider said. “Then you can bring it up without wasting everybody’s time.”

Huss answered the rest of Kendrick’s questions, saying hikers will not be allowed on the bike trails and the bike trails are being rerouted under a bridge on the road to the park. Kendrick asked Huss if he planned to redraw the city’s boundaries including the new property at Leatherwood.

“Point of order,” Mitchell said. “Wouldn’t that be up to our legal counsel?”

Alderman Bob Thomas had a point of order, too.

“Mr. Huss was invited here to give a detailed report on the Leatherwood trails project, and I think it’s inappropriate for him to be grilled incessantly,” Thomas said.

Berry said the report should satisfy everyone on the council and asked Kendrick if she was almost done. She said she was.

“I am happy this information is out there, because I had very, very little information on this before I asked you these questions,” Kendrick said.

“I would interject that they’ve held several public meetings and public comments at parks meetings over these items, and the public has been in the paper multiple times,” Berry said.

Mitchell expressed support for the project.

“Everybody is very supportive of this project,” Mitchell told Huss. “I’m sorry you have to clean up the process, but you’re doing a great job doing it.”

Also at the meeting, the council agreed to have a training session on Robert’s Rules of Order later in the year and approved first and second readings for an ordinance for paying down bond payments.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 23, at The Auditorium.

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