A Whole City Embraces Exercise
My first contact with anyone from Bentonville Mountain Biking took place at the 2014 IMBA world summit held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I approached a booth and began to tell the young man (his conference badge read David Wright) what I do… travel to destinations, ride the trails, and then show & tell about my riding experiences on my website. As soon as I paused to take a breath, David quickly said, “You need to talk to Blair, but she is not here right now. She is over…” his voice faded out as he gawked to the other side of Gondola Square… but then abruptly picked up, “Hey Blair, you have got a rider over here!” When I looked the direction he was yelling I saw a young woman bustling our direction. It had to be Blair.
From the first time I spoke to David… to the time of this post, it has become obvious to me why Bentonville Mountain Biking has climbed on the national scene. The gusto exhibited at the booth continued… an enthusiasm that carried over into all of Blair’s communications, to her attention to the details of my stay, to all the people I met in town … to everyone and everything involved in making my trip to Bentonville a memorable one. I am going to provide information about Bentonville and Bentonville Mountain Biking based on who offered the information as best I can remember.
Blair Cromwell… Vice President of Communications for the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
As soon as my plane landed in the Northwest Arkansas airport I turned my phone on and… sure enough, Blair had left a message informing me she was outside at the curb, in a dark gray Subaru, in a black shirt, black pants, and a lavender cardigan. She was easy to spot. After a quick tour of Bentonville, Blair took me to my cottage (she had rented a rustic cottage near the center of town for me), where she gave me my itinerary, four $25 gift cards to some local restaurants, and several other informational fliers about events and attractions in and around Bentonville. The following are some of the events and attractions set-up or recommended by Blair:
- Ride with David Wright (Director of Bentonville Parks and Recreation) 8:00 Thursday morning.
- Breakfast and a ride with Misty Murphy (Northwest Arkansas Director of Trails) 8:30 Friday morning.
- Dinner with Alan Ley (leader of a non-profit organization called Bike Bentonville) 6:30 Friday evening.
Blair informed me the rest of the time was mine, but she highly recommended I check out the the following:
- The Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art
- Wal Mart Museum (Bentonville is the town where Sam Walton started Wal Mart), and
- Wal Mart Corporate Headquarters… the place that reminded me of a one story elementary school (I expected to see a huge high rise building for the largest company in the world!)
- The nationally renowned annual Bacon Bowl and World Championship Squirrel Cook-Off being held Saturday in the town square.
Blair was emphatic, if there was anything I needed, just let her know. Blair was efficient… I wish I could hire her to work for me.
The Phat Tire Bike Shop surprised me… larger than most shops in San Diego, a huge repair center, and plenty of workers willing to help. One of the workers (Connor) took about twenty minutes to explain not only his favorite Arkansas trails, but also several I could ride when I visited northern California later in the month.
I like when workers are allowed to talk with customers, not having to look over their shoulder for a boss ready to tell them to, “Get back to work!” The store had some very unusual stools, for customers who wanted to stay in shape while they were waiting!
I rented their best bike… a Santa Cruz Tallboy (carbon)… at a very reasonable rate, and then returned to the cottage. I pulled on some riding clothes and my camelback, and biked toward the Slaughter Pen Hollow Trails to do some Bentonville Mountain Biking. One thing I did not take was my Garmin Edge 800 GPS, for Kayley (my youngest daughter) had called to tell me I had dropped it in the middle of her driveway (in Houston) and she would FedEx-It to me (which I received Friday afternoon).
I easily found the trailhead (just off the town square) just as Blair had showed me from her car… and started down the concrete path.
I quickly took the dirt singletrack that veered to the left and enjoyed the All American Trail, a mixture of log rides, small jumps and berms, artificial rocks, and a couple of ladder runs. I had a blast riding this portion, holding back a little for I was on a new bike, and it had only been 11 days since I had separated my shoulder on a jump in San Diego.
I rode the trails in Slaughter Pen (Phases 2 and 3, the ones closest to Bentonville and on the western rim of the hollow) until I could hardly find my way back to town due to darkness. It felt so good to be back on a bike (I had been in airplanes and cars for the previous 2 days) and the trails were a kick! I rode straight to the Peddler’s Pub for dinner to use one of my gift cards. (I will tell about the riding on a page called Slaughter Pen Trails.)
I was soaked through and through… not due to any rain… but due to other aspects of weather (95 degree, 95% humidity). I told the Peddler’s Pub hostess I was sweaty and stinky, and asked if people really did visit their restaurant after riding… for I’d seen only one other bike outside in the rack, and saw no one inside that looked like they had just biked. She said, “Sure, come on in,” and took me a table, strategically placed away from the other patrons. The food was good and the service okay. My ride back to the cottage was dark and cold… nothing a long, hot shower could not remedy. Then rest up for some more Bentonville Mountain Biking.
David Wright… Director of Bentonville Parks and Recreation
I met David Wright at 8:00 Thursday morning. He was sitting in his car in the parking lot of the Bentonville Department of Parks and Services, his place of employment. The weather was in the 60’s and a steady drizzle fell from a cold, gray sky… quite a change from 12 hours previous. David asked if I still wanted to ride, to which I said, “Yup.” He asked me what part I wanted to do. I told him I had biked most of Phases 2 and 3 (of the Slaughter Pen Trails) the previous afternoon… so I preferred to go to phase 1. He complied and we headed to the trailhead. We rode on a couple of trails on the way down to Phase 1 since they were heading the correct direction and would be more fun than riding down the cement path that travels through the middle of Slaughter Pen Hollow.
When we got to Phase 1 Dave explained quite a bit about the bike park, trails, pump track, and the Slaughter Pen Jam event they had hosted the previous weekend. He told me:
- They began to build trails in Slaughter Pen Hollow 7 years previous (2007).
- The trails were built by Progressive Trails, an experienced company that did most of their work in Colorado.
- The trails are maintained by a local volunteer group called FAST… Friends of Arkansas Singletrack.
- The Walton Foundation helped with the cost of the trails… Sam Walton’s sons were avid mountain bikers.
- They hoped to expand the bike park in the area, starting construction as early as the summer of 2015 and finishing in 2016.
- The Parks and Recreation Department still offered baseball, football, basketball, etc. The reason they were so focused on biking was because it is a life-long sport.
- The reason Bentonville Mountain Biking received the Silver IMBA award was in a large part because they have created such a nice system of trails right on the edge of town, easy to access.
- The cement path running through Slaughter Pen Hollow was approximately 36 miles long… running from the town just north of Bentonville (Bella Vista) south all the way to Fayetteville (home of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks), and was called the Razorback Greenway.
- Due to the widening of the freeway, the trails will change slightly.
We then rode most of the trails in Phase 1, including the downhill course… then headed over to Park Springs Park. While straddling our bikes David told me the following:
- They had changed the school curriculum to require mountain biking.
- Park Springs Park was adjacent to some schools so the students would ride the trails in the park during their physical education period.
- During the Civil War confederate troops hung out in the Park Springs Park area.
- Building the Slaughter Pen trail system changed the attitude of the entire town. People were now riding bikes, jogging, forming riding and running groups… a new focus on exercise and health.
After leaving Park Springs Park David and I headed back into town where we said our goodbyes. I returned to my cottage to shower, and eat lunch… then biked back up to town to visit the Wal Mart and Crystal Bridges Museums (slide show to follow). I ate dinner at the Tusk and Trotter restaurant (gift card), then returned to the cottage to work on the website (still no FedEx box with the GPS).
Misty Murphy… Northwest Arkansas Director of Trails.
The next event on my itinerary was to have breakfast Friday with Blair and Misty Murphy at the Press Room Restaurant, then do some riding with Misty. Blair was the first to show up and she said Misty was going to be a little late as she had a gas leak in her house, a house she just moved into 3 days previous. Blair asked me about my ride with David and wanted to know where I wanted Misty to take me. I told her I had heard a lot of good things about Hobbs State Park, and I had already biked most of the Slaughter Pen Trails. She was quite sure Misty would take me out to Hobbs. Misty showed up a couple minutes later and explained about the gas leak. She said they all had headaches ever since they moved in, but not until that morning had the gas built up enough for them to smell it. She had been trying to figure out if she should get a plumber, and who was going to pay for the work. None of us ate anything and soon we were heading to Hobbs State Park in Misty’s Prius. To read about my ride with Misty please select Hobbs State Park.
A few things I learned about the trails from Misty:
- Hobbs State Park is surrounded by Beaver Lake… which provides water to northwest Arkansas.
- There are 9 big mountain bike races in Arkansas each year.
- She had raced at Hobbs before… was the Cat 2 Arkansas State Champion in 2013.
- One of the 9 races would start at Devil’s Den the next day (Saturday).
Alan Ley… Founder of Bike Bentonville.
He was a very busy man, as he spent a good part of our dinner time outside answering various different phone calls. A few things he did teach me:
- He took a large role for getting mountain biking into the school curriculum.
- Finding places to store the mountain bikes at the schools was more of a problem than finding the funding to buy them… solved by getting some large semi-truck type of containers.
- Mountain Biking in Quachita National Forrest was fabulous.
I asked him mostly about the school mountain biking curriculum as Cindy (my wife) works at a low income elementary school that I feel could really benefit from a similar program. Alan said he was willing to help me implement a mountain biking plan within her school … all I had to do was call him.
During most visits I take many more photos than I can place on a page. The following is a slide show showing all of the Bentonville Attractions I captured … 61 photos in all. Tap the space bar to pause or restart.
Interested in Bentonville mountain biking? If you want/need help with lodging, restaurants, maps, etc. just contact the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Center. Trust me, you will find nothing but the nicest people.