Parks commission unveils new mountain bike trails at Lake Leatherwood

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Lake Leatherwood City Park has a new feature.

On Thursday, June 14, the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission officially opened the newest downhill mountain bike trails at Lake Leatherwood. Parks director Justin Huss thanked the Walton Family Foundation for supporting the trails, saying the project never would have happened without the foundation.

The foundation proposed the trails last fall, Huss said, and paid for much of the construction. Huss said the foundation will continue to support the project by providing funds for two new positions to help maintain the trails. The commission is seeking a trails manager and trails maintenance worker, Huss said. The reason for that, Huss said, is to be sure the trails remain in their current condition.

“We’re already creating two jobs in town through the trails,” Huss said. “We’re excited about that.”

Gary Vernon, the Walton Family Foundation’s program officer, described how important the project is to him. He’s familiar with Lake Leatherwood, Vernon said.

“This is a special project. It is. It’s special to me,” Vernon said. “I’ve been riding Lake Leatherwood for 20 years.”

Vernon remembered when the foundation first started building trails in 2003, saying Stuart and Tom Walton built five miles of trail in Bentonville.

“Tom and Stuart were out there digging trails themselves,” Vernon said. “Here we are a little more than a decade later, and this vision — their vision — has become the real thing. We are approaching some of the best riding in the world.”

He’s asked professional riders and industry leaders what they think about the mountain biking trails in Northwest Arkansas, Vernon said, and they are impressed.

“Everybody looks at us and says, ‘How in the world is this the world’s best trail? It’s in Springdale or Bentonville,’ ” Vernon said. “I say, ‘Wait until you see Eureka Springs.’ In my opinion, this is the best trail they have.”

He continued, “It’s got something for everybody. It’s got some downhill. It’s got some uphill. It’s got some smooth downhill. It’s got some crazy uphill. I don’t think anybody knows what this is going to do to Eureka Springs, but it’s going to be big. It’s going to be real big.”

There are nearly 30 miles of trails at Lake Leatherwood now, Vernon said, plus the trails in town and at the Great Passion Play. Looking toward the future, Vernon said, Eureka Springs business owners should get ready for an influx of visitors.

“Eureka Springs is going to have 50-plus miles of trails, maybe close to 60 miles of trails,” Vernon said. “Stock up if you have a store. Get well-stocked.”

Vernon recalled visiting the city during construction, saying he didn’t see many visitors in the winter.

“I think that needs to stop,” Vernon said.

He’s optimistic that the trails will stay in good shape, Vernon said, because of the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists. Huss thanked the Carroll County branch of the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists. Without that group, Huss said, the trails would look a lot different throughout Eureka Springs.

“Whether you mountain bike or not, if you like trails, they’ve built them,” Huss said. “They maintain them. They are so valuable to everything that happens and continues to happen in this area.”

The trails will be a catalyst for positive change in Eureka Springs, Huss said.

“It’s a means for increased revenue for the parks, for us to do more projectors, to be more solvent and self-sustaining,” Huss said. “We have world-class trails. We have to keep them world-class.”

Parks chairman Bill Featherstone presented a card to Vernon at the end of the ceremony thanking the Walton Family Foundation for all its help. Featherstone said the commission first engaged with the foundation in 2012.

“We were hopeful something like this would happen, maybe a little sooner,” Featherstone said. “But some things are worth waiting for. We can’t thank you enough for making this day happen. We look forward to a long, very long, partnership.”

Seeing the project become a reality, Huss said, has been fulfilling.

“Like everywhere else in Eureka, we’re a dysfunctional family, but we get it done in the end,” Huss said. “Everybody’s working. Everybody’s going for the cause and the greater good.”

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