Last week we broke the news that new mountain bike trails were proposed for Mena, Arkansas. On Thursday, the land managers involved: Arkansas State Parks, the US Forest Service, and the City of Mena, along with the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation, held a public meeting in Mena to introduce local citizens to the idea.
On the drive to Mena, driving past Hot Springs first on Highway 270 and then Highway 88, I couldn’t help but realize that I was riding parallel to the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, the Womble Trail, and the Ouachita National Recreation Trail; each having earned the status of International Mountain Bicycling Association EPIC Trail. Mena is the county seat of Polk County, to its east is Montgomery County which is the only county in the country that is home to more than one IMBA EPIC Trail. This area is ripe with great mountain biking.
The approximately 8000 combined acres of Arkansas State Park, National Forest, and city property designated for the project includes Rich Mountain, the second-highest peak in the state. This will open the possibility of trails with the greatest vertical relief in the state, around 1400 feet.
The public event was attended by City of Mena Mayor, Seth Smith, Ouachita National Forest Supervisor, Troy Heithecker, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, Stacy Hurst, Director of the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation, Suzanne Grobmyer. There were also representatives from US Senator John Boozman’s office and US Representative Bruce Westerman’s office.
Held in the Historic DeQueen Street Armory in Mena, on a basketball court, Ms. Grobmyer pointed out that at times the event felt like a school pep rally. With between 150 and 200 people in attendance, the bleachers were overflowing with mainly local citizens interested in details on the project. Easels were set up around the perimeter of the court that explained the vision and process. Flyers with maps showing the area of the possible development were handed out.
The stated vision is, “To create a unique and inspiring visitor experience with a focus on gravity fed and backcountry trails that allows for the realization of a higher potential for outdoor recreation, economic vitality, and quality of life by capitalizing on the terrain and relationships between local, state, and federal partners.”
Timeline to Build
The expected timeframe for the project is to begin building in the Spring of 2023. The timeline for construction will depend on the final scope of the project. Below is the expected timeline.
- Fall 2021 – Defining a Vision
- Winter to Early Summer 2022
- On-Mountain Planning – Planning hubs, trail character, type, mileage, operations, balancing compatible uses, entitlement/management.
- Public Open House – Public input and feedback on the opportunity and progress to date.
- City Study – Understanding walkability/bike-ability and streetscape.
- Summer 2022 – Transition to NEPA*
- Fall 2022 to Spring 2023 – NEPA process
- Spring 2023 and later –
- Site-specific environmental analysis prior to construction of priority trails.
- Trails and infrastructure constructed.
*National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) directs federal agencies, when planning projects or issuing permits, to conduct environmental reviews to consider the potential impacts on the environment by their proposed actions.
The Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation has been involved in project management and funding of several trail systems in the state, most famously the four Monument Trails at four Arkansas State Parks. When asked if these trails would be another Monument Trail system, Ms. Grobmyer said, “At this juncture, we are unsure if the trails at Mena will be Monument Trails. With the introduction of new partners in both the city of Mena and potentially the US Forest Service, that will be an ongoing discussion.”
More information is available at trailsatmena.com.