The Best Running in the Most Unexpecting Place

The Best Running in the Most Unexpecting Place

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A beautiful area for a run, more on the Delta Dash, 27K and 5K options

Despite the Delta’s reputation for being an exceptionally flat region, one of the steepest hills in the state of Arkansas is the one leading up to Battery C Park in Helena. When I lived there, I used to take the students I coached to repeat running on it, and it’s one of the few hills I’ve had to push a bike up. From the top of the hill, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. You can see the kudzu canyons immediately surrounding the spot, downtown Helena and the Mississippi River to the east, the flat soy and cotton fields to the south, and the rolling hills of Crowley’s Ridge extending to the north.

On May 11th, a new running event called The Delta Dash will take place just below this site. The Delta Dash will take runners on a 27K (17.4 miles) mostly gravel-road route from downtown to the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi Rivers and back. This unique running event will showcase the natural and cultural features of the town and the surrounding area.

The Delta has not historically attracted many runners, unlike the mountainous regions of the state, which are known for their iconic streams and vistas. Before living there, I never considered the Delta as a destination for outdoor adventures. However, upon moving there and exploring the town and surrounding areas on foot, I discovered some of the best running experiences I have ever had. I also found a sense of excitement and discovery that was not present in more established running communities. The vast and natural wild areas, combined with their proximity to the town, stand out when compared to other places.

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Downtown Helena.
Downtown Helena.

Just beyond the charming historic downtown square and courthouse of Helena, you will come across some stunning fresh murals. From there, you can proceed to the Delta Dash. Once you reach there, you can take a gravel road that runs along the top of the levee. If you look towards the river side of the levee, you will witness flood plains, soy fields, and woods that contain miles of winding dirt paths. If you decide to take these paths, you will end up right next to the river where you might find yourself keeping pace with barges headed downstream. And if the water level is low enough, and you don’t mind ankle-deep mud, then you can make your way out to Buck Island and add a few extra miles on the packed sand bars.

Continuing on the same path, the road soon leaves the town behind and goes past the Magnolia and Maple Hill cemeteries, which have wrought iron fences and Gothic monuments. These cemeteries are the final resting place of People of the Underground Railroad, freedom seekers, and Confederate generals. A little further down the road, you will come across the Dixon Cemetery, which is a hidden burial ground. E.C. Morris, one of the leaders of the early 20th-century black community in Helena, is buried here.

As you leave the town behind, the forest gradually takes over on one side, sloping up Crowley’s Ridge, while the other side is lined with flatwoods and cypress swamps, where alligators are hidden, leading towards the river. The woods, water, and wildlife have attracted people to this area for thousands of years. Some of the earliest Native American settlements in what would later become Arkansas were located here. The confluence of the St. Francis was the starting point for the 1815 survey of the region, from which surveyors made their way, hacking and wading in a line from there to Little Rock, measuring the land.

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Gravel Road Running in the Arkansas Delta.
Gravel Road Running in the Arkansas Delta.

On the Delta Dash, returning from the confluence will be much easier compared to the challenging journey in 1815. Although it will be warm, there will be plenty of shade. You will pass through the same places, but from a different perspective, giving you the chance to revisit anything that caught your attention on the way out and also discover new things that were previously unseen. As you move back from the forest, you’ll arrive in town where you can enjoy the company of your friends, food, drinks, and music that awaits you.

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There is also a 5k happening concurrently which takes a perfect route through historic downtown, along the levee, and through the Helena River Park, passing the mighty Mississippi and the harbor along the way.

Learn more about the event and register here: https://www.studiodriftar.org/events/delta-dash

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