Some hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails have reopened at Burns Park in North Little Rock.
On March 31, 2023, 8 months ago, an EF3 tornado with winds up to 165 mph cut a swath between West Little Rock and Sherwood. The winds destroyed homes, businesses, and public lands. Thankfully, there were no direct deaths from this tornado but lives were severely affected. Repairs are ongoing, affected businesses have moved, rebuilt, or shut down, and homes and other buildings remain under construction throughout the area. Area parks continue to struggle with reopening. Besides several parks being incredibly damaged, some parks were used as debris dropoff points for rebuilding personal and business properties throughout the reconstruction. The damage these parks initially received was from trees falling. Between the removal of these downed trees and large truck traffic moving debris, more damage was created. Park roads were ground into the dirt, and utilities (water, sewer, electrical) that often travel under these roads were crushed.
North Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department was quick to reopen the Arkansas River Trail through Burns Park. According to North Little Rock Mayor, Terry Hartwick, we can thank Ward 4 City Director, Charlie Hight, for pressuring the city to get this major transportation and recreation corridor reopened. Since March, the rest of the trails, paved and natural surface, have been closed.
On November 9, the city announced on Facebook that the “equestrian trails” at Burns Park were reopened for horseback riders. Many of our readers were confused about this opening since it is known that the natural surface trails south of I-40 are considered multi-use trails, open to not only equestrians, but also mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners. A phone call to park staff revealed that the city was unsure exactly which trails were open and why they were only open to equestrians.
After reaching out to the Mayor’s office, we received a call from Mayor Hartwick and his Chief of Staff, Mike Davis. In that conversation, it was revealed that equestrians had reached out to the Mayor’s office to ask for the trails to be reopened due to the lack of safe places to ride horses during hunting season. There are other safe places to ride in the area including Two Rivers Park in Pulaski County but since the equestrians have been riding this for the past 8 months, they were ready to have Burns back. Mayor Hartwick then told me that they would have a solution to who could use the trails and which trails would be open. On November 15, the mayor was true to his word and the city posted a solution on Facebook.
I rode the open trails on a mountain bike this past Saturday. To get to the parking, go west on Joe K. Poch Drive from West Military Drive (across from the new fire station). Continue West and stay to the right of the Y in the road to take Arlene Layman Drive across I-40, parking is on the left.
I entered from the designated parking lot and tackled the Red Loop first, going clockwise. The trail was amazingly good, it was obvious that work had been done on the trail, leaves were cleared and treadwork made the trail a little less technical than it has been in recent years. At the second switchback, I met up with Burt Turner, volunteer extraordinaire. Burt has been doing trail work throughout central Arkansas for years (decades). Burt was by himself working on making the trail a bit user-friendly, particularly for newer riders. His hope is to draw out riders from the BMX track to enjoy the woods more. As I rode on I found that the trail was in great shape all the way around and back near the parking area.
Next, I headed down the Green Loop, again, clockwise. This was a different experience. The leaf litter was deep due to the lack of use this past fall, but the rocky terrain under those leaves was still there. It was not an easy ride but still doable, I expect the leaf issue will dissipate as more riders and hikers make their way down the trail. The Green Loop is closed where it meets the Green Loop Cutoff. I took the cutoff to rejoin the Green Loop Trail going right as to the left is closed. I rode to the Yellow Green Connector and turned left (west) and soon found myself near the covered bridge.
I finished the ride on the Yellow, White, Blue/White Connector, Blue, and Blue/Green Connector Trails. The Yellow is so thick with leaves that I lost the trail a couple of times, mostly on the Yellow. The total ride was 6 miles and I hit almost all of the trails that are open. I look forward to these trails getting cleaned up over the next several months and hopefully, the rest of the park opening up.
Please make sure you stay within the current limits of the park. Respect the closures and be safe.