The view from the LOViT Trail

Arkansas is Epic

Fleet Feet Little Rock

For years, Arkansas has promoted itself as being in the top three states in the number of International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Epic Trails. For several years we were tied with Colorado and just behind California in the number of these unique trail systems. Not bad for the smallest state completely west of the Mississippi River. But these numbers have changed.

Mountain Bike Racing on the Womble Trail
Mountain Bike Racing on the Womble Trail

First, What is an IMBA Epic Trail?

According to the IMBA website, “The IMBA EPICS designation denotes a true backcountry riding experience. IMBA EPICS are what many mountain bikers live for and make travel plans around: immersive rides that are technically and physically challenging, beautiful to behold, and worthy of celebration. EPICS are demanding, majority singletrack trail experiences in a natural setting and at least 20 miles in length.

Arkansas currently has 5 IMBA Epic Trails, Womble, Syllamo, Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT), Upper Buffalo Headwaters Trail, and 100+ miles of the Ouachita National Trail. All of these trails are open for not just mountain biking but also hiking and trail running. The Womble and Ouachita National Trails were both hiking trails before being opened up to mountain bikes.

Ouachita National Recreation Trail
Ouachita National Recreation Trail

What is changing?

A glance at the list of IMBA Epics on their website shows that there are now four Epic trails in Colorado and four in California. Arkansas still shows its five trails. Last week I talked to Marty Caivano, the Community Engagement Coordinator at IMBA via email. Marty directed me to a 2014 article in Singletrack News that describes IMBA’s Hall of Fame Epics program. The Syllamo was once moved to this designation due to a lack of maintenance but it is back in the Epic category now. Marty went on to tell me, “Some years ago, we retired a list of older Epics that didn’t fit the latest criteria. They still have “Hall of Fame” status, where we honor their former place on the list, but we don’t include those on the Epic map on our website. So yes, this is how California, Colorado, and other states lost Epic trails.”

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Few trails feel as remote as the Syllamo.
Few trails feel as remote as the Syllamo.

We’re Number One!

So there you are, Arkansas now has more IMBA Epics than any other state. We would be tied for first if the Syllamo hadn’t come back into the fold. But why didn’t any of Arkansas’s Epics get cut and how did the Syllamo get back on? Check out the answer to that below, but first here is a video that James Gaston did for Arkansas Outside in 2013 at the Buffalo Headwaters Challenge. Classic, Epic Arkansas mountain biking.

Moving Forward

“The existing volunteers that work on the various trails are the real secret sauce and the ones doing heavy and important work. We could not do it without them.” – Suzanne Grobmyer

Currently, maintenance of the Epic Trails in Arkansas is managed by the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation (APRF). According to Suzanne Grobmyer, Executive Director of APRF, the organization has been working with local groups and trail maintenance companies for the last year to keep these trails in shape. The funding is coming through the NWA Trailblazers. According to Grobmyer, “The existing volunteers that work on the various trails are the real secret sauce and the ones doing heavy and important work. We could not do it without them.” To meet the goal of keeping all of the Epics in ridable condition, she said, “The foundation is currently looking for a long-term maintenance contract to meet this goal.”

The Community Bicyclist
A Workday on the Syllamo.
A Workday on the Syllamo.

What’s next for the Epics?

When I asked her about future Epics, Ms. Caivano said, “To be fair, we haven’t accepted any nominations for Epics in a couple of years, since we’ve been trying to overhaul our Model Trails program (which also includes Ride Centers). There are probably many great trails that have been completed recently and would shake up the current list, but we haven’t been able to review them for Epic status.” Arkansas also does well with the Ride Centers which include the towns of Bentonville, Fayetteville, and Hot Springs, plus the Regional Ride Center known as Northwest Arkansas. According to the IMBA website, “Ride Centers feature extensive trail networks, masterfully designed for mountain bikers of every skill level and built by professional trail builders and local volunteers.” To date, I believe Northwest Arkansas is the only Regional Ride Center created.

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A 100-mile trail run on the LOViT.
A 100-mile trail run on the LOViT.

So what do you think? Which Arkansas trails should be considered Epic? Iron Mountain? The Monument Trails? We are currently building a lot of smaller, urban trails (see our recent article on the growing number of local trails) are we going to create any new Epic-type trails? How about Ride Centers? Eureka Springs? Little Rock? Russellville/Dardanelle? I guess we’ll need to see what fits the new criteria.

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