View off the mountain from Queen Wilhelmina State Park (photo courtesy of ADPHT)

New Trails in Mena Move Forward

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.

Zones 1 through 4 show areas that may represent different types of mountain bike trails.
Zones 1 through 4 show areas that may represent different types of mountain bike trails.

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.

Historic DeQueen Street Armory
Historic DeQueen Street Armory

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.

See also  Proposed Mena Trails Project
There is a lot of local interest in the project.
There is a lot of local interest in the project.

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.”

See also  Workshop Announced Concerning Allowing E-bikes on Some National Forests trails

More information is available at trailsatmena.com.

13 Responses

  1. Was at the presentation at the Armory, but had difficulty hearing what was being said as the echo in the Armory was significant. I have been active for a number of years, building bridges on the local trails, with one of the largest built on the Womble Trail. I have helped to form work crews to help keep trails clear of brush and briars on the Ouachita Trails, the Womble Trail, and Earthquake Ridge Trail. I presented the first Mountain Bike Races in Polk County at the Visitors information center for a number of years as well as on the Womble Trail and on the Ouachita Trail. I look forward to this project and will certainly pursue being a part of the effort to maintain these new trails. This is such a great project. Many visitors from Louisiana, and Texas come to Arkansas to enjoy the Mountain Bike Trails. A lot of these visitors end up traveling all the way to NW Arkansas where very much effort has been put forth to provide hiking and mountain bike trails. With this local project here in the Ouachita Mountains, I would expect a good number of those travelers will take the time to visit this trails system. This will be good for Mena and Polk County.

    1. Mike, I’m sorry I missed you at the meeting. Thanks for your perspective. This is very exciting.

    2. I agree!! This would be so good for the area and after living and mt biking in Central Oregon, I am so stoked to have something back home. This area has some much beauty that few outside the state know about. This would certainly help and explode the local Economy too. Especially real estate…

      1. I am concerned about new roads and parking areas destroying some very unique areas. What will be set up to feed people to the trails?
        Thanks

    3. Last year we fell so in love with the trails (and mural art), that we moved from Texas, and we love Texas. Being outdoors with our kids all the time was the difference maker. The trails draw exactly the type of tourism a city wants… People who blow cash, and are too tired at the end of the day to party 😉

  2. Good to hear from you Mike,
    your leadership in the Arkansas man bike races was inspiring and the trail work was
    much appreciated.
    Your fund of witty stories was always welcome and made the races fun even in the face
    of our often abysmal performances!

    Roger Smith

  3. we were expecting a lot more detail and other info at this meeting. we were really disappointed as it seemed to be just a way to get (some people together ) but not really talk about the details. electric bikes on trails and people hiking could be a bad choice. today’s youngsters have zero respect for people and these are exactly the people this attracts. Batteries them selves are a problem (fires ect)
    15 minutes of hey were gunna build a trail (really) that was pretty much the sum of it all.
    Im for more hiking trails and some bike trails. but worry about more people all over the place and the parking . the roads needing much repair as it is , this will add to the problems and we have heard nothing about road repair. all i hear is money ,money ,money coming in. WHAT about fixing stuff that really matters (roads) along with these trails??there is more to say ,BUT does it really matter the powers to be will always win

    1. Electric mountain bikes are permitted on almost all NW Arkansas trails and have no more impact than regular bikes. Restrictions limit the ebikes to max speed of 20mph and you rarely ever get near that soeed on a trail. Your comment about young people is unfortunate. I coach young people through the NICA mountain bike organization and find this to not be remotely true. I think you will find the powers that be in mountain biking are mainly volunteers. I urge you to get out and investigate this mountain biking phenomenon, especially NICA and OORC, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

        1. Allowing e-bikes has yet to be determined. As of right now, e-bikes are not allowed on trails that aren’t open to motorized vehicles on USFS land. That could change as the new direction from the USFS is to allow the local forest, in this case, the Ouachita National Forest make the decision. This is spelled out in this article: https://www.arkansasoutside.com/usda-forest-service-issues-e-bike-guidance/

          Currently, Arkansas State Parks (the property they manage at Queen Wilhelmina State Park) allows class 1 e-bikes. E-bike access to the portion that is city property will be decided by the city. Currently, class 1 and 2 e-bikes have the same rights as bicycles on roads within the state.

  4. Very thrilled! This will be awesome for Mena! Tired of driving to NWA to ride with the gas prices lol.

  5. This is awesome news! I live in the Texas Panhandle and my wife’s relatives live in Mena. I’ve been to Bentonville to ride, but would certainly rather spend our time and money there in Mena. Be ready for an economic boom!

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