Arkansas trails are exposed to almost every weather phenomenon known to man. Rain, snow, ice, flooding, drought, wind, etc. Arkansas trails also exist in diverse landscapes, rocky soil, sandy and loess soil, gravel, rock slabs, karst, and rooty ground. On top of that, Arkansas is home to almost every type of trail with some being built nearly 100 years ago and new trails being added at over a mile a week in some parts of the state. Arkansans and visitors want to know what to expect as they visit the thousands of miles of trails throughout the state.
Currently, the biggest draw to Arkansas trails is mountain bikers. This is a user group that is uniquely in tune with the condition of the trails. The International Mountain Bicycle Association has been key to trail advocacy over the years, teaching trail builders how to build trails sustainably. Sustainably built trails have to do with how much maintenance the trail will need over time.
So how do mountain bikers know the condition of trails before loading up bikes and making the drive to the trailhead? With over 1000 miles of mountain bike trails in the state, it would be impossible for land managers to report on conditions in a timely manner. The internet and in particular, social media have been used by trail advocates to report on trail conditions since its inception. In Arkansas, we have a system of trail condition Facebook Groups where riders can report on trail conditions.
The Facebook Trail Conditions pages work, but only when someone is willing to visit a trail with little to no information on the trail condition and then reports back. What tends to happen is that shortly after rain or a weather event, people post questions about the trail condition, but no one knows. It’s not a perfect system.
Some mapping apps like Trailforks have features that allow reporting of trail conditions but they run into the same problem that the Facebook pages have. Plus, these apps require membership fees that keep many from using them.
A High Tech Idea
There is a new source of information on trail conditions. A new group of entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas decided to find a solution to the problem and what better place to test it out than the “Mountain Bike Capital of the World.” Bryce Paden had an idea and along with his partners, created Flowfeed.
“One of the problems with user-reported conditions is that you get a different standard with each source, Flowfeed gives an objective report based on the facts.” – Bryce Paden
Flowfeed uses 50 micro-weather sensors from Bella Vista to Fayetteville to collect current weather data. This data is then filtered through algorithms that create trail condition reports for not only each trail system but each trail within that system. These algorithms are based on knowledge of how each of these trails handles water and other weather effects. For example, the Karst geology at Hobbs State Park makes these trails drain much faster than trails at Mount Kessler.
This data is updated every hour giving visitors the most accurate and timely information available. Mr. Paden said, “One of the problems with user-reported conditions is that you get a different standard with each source, Flowfeed gives an objective report based on the facts.” He also said, “Flowfeed is constantly evolving, it is still in the Beta phase of development but is open for use and feedback as our team continues to tweak the algorithms.”
When users drill down through the trail status they can let the developers know of any issues with the reports. Paden did mention that they are currently looking at upgrades like a hazard reporting feature and a manual closure option.
Another user-friendly feature is that there is no need to download an app. Since much of the mountain bike traffic in Northwest Arkansas is from out-of-state, the developers felt that the site would get more use by those not wanting to add another app to their phones. Since it’s internet-based, they don’t have to create a different app for each phone type.
How will they pay for it?
It costs money to develop and maintain a system like this. We asked if Flowfeed would monetize through a subscription model or advertising. Paden said that he expects to have local convention and visitor bureaus, chamber of commerce, and hospitality agencies to financially support the company. Mountain biking has proven itself to be an economic engine, particularly in Northwest Arkansas. A unique solution to this old problem may be just the thing to keep the money coming in.
So take a look at Flowfeed for those trails in Northwest Arkansas and use the Facebook Trail Conditions pages for other areas. Go for a ride and let everyone else know how the trails are doing.
See more outdoor recreation developments in The Natural State at ArkansasOutside.com. #AROutside #ThisIsMyArkansas #TrailConditions #Flowfeed