With less than a year in office, Governor Asa Hutchinson has suddenly rolled into the local cycling scene. I first met Governor Hutchinson during the last Governor’s race. I happened to be at Mount Magazine Lodge working with some of the park staff when then candidate Hutchinson was there having lunch. He came over to our table while we were eating to introduce himself. Ever the politician, he described a youth spent camping, fishing and hunting in the Natural State. We all smiled and went back to our meals.
Fast forward a few months- Mike van Abel, Executive Director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, was in Arkansas to speak at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism. He was invited to meet the governor in his office for a photo and as a board member of the local IMBA chapter, I was invited to tag along. While there, Governor Hutchinson mentioned that it would be great to find a way to save the Clarendon Bridge for cyclists and pedestrians. I had no idea that project was on his radar.
Recently, a presentation was made to the governor about a trail project in the delta that would tie West Memphis with Lake Village. The project includes the Delta Heritage Trail, a state park project under construction connecting Lexa (near Helena-West Helena) to Arkansas City. At the presentation he mentioned that he would like to ride some of the completed section in Barton this Fall.
The ride turned into a large promotion effort with donations going to the Boys and Girls Club of Phillips County. Loaner bikes were brought in from around the park system; a logo and fliers were created. It was going to be a short ride for just a few miles south from the park visitor center on Highway 49 but it would be worth the trip. We’d pick up some BBQ while we were in the Delta.
At the same time plans were being made for a big cycling announcement in Northwest Arkansas. The governor was scheduled to speak at the IMBA Board of Directors meeting in Bentonville the day before the ride in the Delta. Governor Hutchinson was going to spend the entire weekend promoting cycling in Arkansas from one side of the state to the other. This is a pretty big deal, governors tend to be very busy people.
Below is the governors weekly radio address from October 9. It’s worth a listen.
While speaking in Bentonville at the IMBA World Summit Announcement, Governor Hutchinson said this:
On Sunday, the governor headed to Delta Heritage Trail State Park, a rails-to-trails project undertaken by Arkansas State Parks to create a hiking/cycling trail 84 miles long. Twenty miles are completed on the north end from just west of Helena-West Helena. Much of it is covered by a beautiful leaf canopy with several small bridges, benches and historic markers. The weather for the day was perfect.
Here is what the governor had to say at that event…
Let’s hope that Governor Hutchinson continues to promote and support cycling in Arkansas. Welcoming the largest mountain bicycling advocacy group to the state and promoting one of the newest cycling trails in the state by actually riding a portion of it is a good start for state leadership. We may still have a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction.