The Syllamo (S?l’-l?-m?) Mountain Bike Trail five miles north of Mountain View in Stone County, Arkansas, consists of a series of interconnecting loops offering mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners 50 miles of trail, most of it singletrack. The trail name dates back to an infamous resident of the area in the early 1800s, a Creek Indian named Syllamo who was tolerated by the native Shawnees. His favorite hunting grounds were a particular creek drainage that was named for him. Eventually the name was anglicized to its current form – Sylamore (S?l’-?-m?re).
The Syllamo has earned The International Mountain Bicycling Association’s Epic trail designation and has been one of the two “destination” rides in the state for years; the other being the Womble located in the Ouachita Mountains in the West-Central part of the state. Over the past several years, the Syllamo has been under attack. Without a local organized advocacy/maintenance group of volunteers, the trails have fallen into disrepair. Ice storms, forestry operations and low rider numbers had allowed much of the trail to become less than optimal for riding and the Syllamo was in danger of losing its Epic status.
A small group of riders and trail runners from around the state and even Memphis have been working at getting it back in tip top shape. They have spent several weekends clearing and riding, but a 50 mile trail system is nearly impossible to manage with just a few volunteers and a loosely organized effort.
In the nick of time.
Recently, the state got its first IMBA Regional Representative and he quickly went to work on organizing a crew to save the Syllamo. A Subaru Trail Work Crew was dispatched to hold a training class in trail building and maintenance in the area, work days were scheduled around the training and a buzz grew around the state for the event. As a result of the efforts of the volunteers and IMBA’s involvement, a permanent trail crew for the Syllamo has been formed.
This past weekend the bikes began to arrive in Mountain View, Arkansas, a small town that was featured in Outside Magazine as one of the Top 20 Outdoor Destinations in the United States and one of Men’s Journal’s Best 52 Weekends in the United States. On Friday about 30 people showed up to work on the trails, cutting brush, clearing downed trees and putting things right. By Friday night, volunteers gathered in homes, hotels and campsites all over the area talking mountain biker talk and sharing tales of trails ridden.
Early Saturday morning almost 70 mountain bikers from as far away as Memphis, Siloam Springs and Little Rock descended on the Ozark Folk Center State Park. The park offered discount accommodations and a free auditorium for the training session. After introductions and the awarding of Arkansas Traveler Certificates to the IMBA trainers, Jesse Livingston and Lori Reed, the course work began. The basic outline is below, go to the website to learn more about the class.
General outline of the classroom presentation:
- Introduction to IMBA
- Introduction to the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew
- Trail building theory
- Essential elements of sustainable trails
- Designing a trail
- Constructing the trail
- Rerouting and reclaiming trails
- Advanced trail construction techniques
After spending the morning indoors, these outdoor oriented folks were ready to head to the trail. Of course sustenance would be needed before starting the trail work and Rusty Frazier with the Stone County Leader along with other volunteers stepped up to feed the masses. Chili, hot dogs, grilled chicken and hamburgers were waiting on the First Security cooker at the Scrappy Mountain Trailhead. It wasn’t long before Jesse and Lori rounded everyone up for a quick lesson on proper tool swinging etiquette. With a group this size it would be easy to get a little too close to one another while working diligently on a root, rock or other trail hindrance. IMBA classes are normally limited to 50 but, as Lori explained to me, they didn’t want to turn anyone away since it was the first class called by the new regional representative. You just don’t want to shut down this kind of enthusiasm.
It was time to get back to work on the trail. The day before, a small section near the trailhead parking lot that needed a reroute was chosen for the work of the afternoon. The section had a drainage off the nearby road that was diverted straight down, causing the trail to get washed out. Some trainees were directed to start cutting the flagged section where the new trail would be while others worked to shut down the old section. The volunteers tried their hands at working with various tools. Lori and Jesse walked up and down the line making sure questions were answered and giving added direction when needed.
Although the section worked by the crew wasn’t the greatest need of the trail system since most of the trails really need more clearing than re-routing, the training seemed to follow the proverb, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” The expectation is that with 70 new trained trail builders in the state, not only will there be more people to work on the Syllamo on a regular basis but also to work on other trails in the state.
The new trail was finished within a couple of hours, a beautiful new trail…you should go ride it. That night volunteers were treated to fried chicken and Ozark Folk Music at the Skillet Restaurant in Ozark Folk Center State Park. Unfortunately, the Trail Karma didn’t pay off this time as snow moved in the next morning and only a few ventured out for a quick ride. But then, maybe it’s best to save the Karma for Syllamo’s Revenge Mountain Bike Race.
Speaking of Karma, special thanks goes out to the Mountain View and Stone County community for supporting this effort and welcoming such a large group of “dirt bag” mountain bikers to the area. Special thanks go to:
- Rusty Fraser (Stone County Leader): food/cooker/drinks
- Nancy Kirk (Inn on the Square): lodging/support
- Sandie Cloud (For Mother Earth): food/cooking/coordinating volunteers
- Jimmy Edwards (Ozark Folk Center): lodging/meeting space/dinner and music
- Jay Swafford (US Forest Service): lodging/tools/collaborating work
- Sage Holland (Planet Sage Beads): food/cooking/lodging
- Bell and Company Mountain Biking: tools and support
- Ozark Off-Road Cyclists: tools and skilled labor
- Central Arkansas Trail Alliance: promotion and labor
And the work goes on.
This Sunday, February 9th, Central Arkansas Trail Alliance will be going out to the Jackfork Trail at Pinnacle Mountain State Park to do some clearing and possibly some re-routing on the trail. Also, on March 1st, the Syllamo Trail Cleaners will be hosting another workday up on the Syllamo. Let’s put those new skills to work. If you haven’t been to an IMBA class yet, you can still come out and help, there is always plenty of work for everyone.
Also, get up there and ride the trails, they have something for all skill levels. (Download Trail Map and Info)
Jesse and Lori give there take on the weekend on the IMBA website.
Special thanks to Justin Ray of RevRock Cycling for sharing this video from the day.