Update on Mena Trail Project

Update on Mena Trail Project

The Community Bicyclist

Lining up so many government agencies and private partners takes time. The trails project near Mena, Arkansas is moving forward but at a slow pace. Some of the players include Federal, State, and City land agencies plus a couple of private foundations. Still, the movement is forward and the next phase starts on March 24, 2023, and runs until April 24, 2023. During this one-month period, the public has the opportunity to make comments within the scope of the project. According to the US Forest Service, “[this] will help identify issues that will be used to focus the analysis of the Environmental Assessment (EA) and generate additional action alternatives, if needed.”

More information on the Plan

The proposed Project includes the following actions on National Forest Service lands:

  • Issuance of a Special Use Permit (SUP) for developed recreation within select locations and corridors across 8,832 acres of National Forest Service lands;
  • Construction of up to 100 miles of primarily natural surface trails on NFS lands;
  • Development of a Base Portal for arrival and guest services;
  • Construction of parking areas and improvements to the existing pull-offs along Highway 88;
  • Development of uplift infrastructure to transport users throughout the SUP area;
  • Construction of ancillary support facilities and amenities within the trail network;
  • Creation of non-trail based, developed recreation opportunities; and
  • Improvement of existing road segments and creation of new access routes

The map below shows the scope of the project. According to Mitchell Allen with the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation (APRF), “The scope includes all possible features and facilities in the area and once approved will be built in phases. There is no guarantee that everything in the scope will be built.” Allen went on to say, “The current plan would be to focus on the Ward Lake Zone first. this area is adjacent to the City of Mena and would be near hotels, restaurants, and other amenities.”

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Figure 1 - Overview.
Figure 1 – Overview. (Click on the map to see a larger version)

There are four distinct zones in the plan, the State Park Zone (the area around Queen Wilhelmina State Park), the Fire Tower Zone, the Eagleton Zone, and the Ward Lake Zone. It is unclear if these will be phase separators or if phases will be based on types of facilities or both. This plan has a total of 5 lifts. There are no new trails shown on the map but the Earthquake Ridge and Ouachita National Recreation Trails are shown.

The project is on the downslope to the southwest of the Talimena Scenic Highway between Queen Wilhelmina State Park and the City of Mena, Arkansas. The park has several hiking trails and is along the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. It also has camping, a modern lodge and restaurant/bar operation, picnic areas, and a miniature train ride. Polk County is a “Wet” county meaning that alcohol is available in Mena. The area is served by the Mena Open Trail Alliance (MOTA) a volunteer trail-building and maintenance group that has been building new trails near the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain Community College.

Cyclists riding on the Talimena Scenic Highway.
Cyclists riding on the Talimena Scenic Highway.

The map below shows a concept for the Ward Lake Zone which will be in the area of the current Earthquake Ridge Trail system. This trail system goes back several decades and was a stop on the  Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series in the early days of the race series. Those who have ridden it will know the area where the current National Forest Visitor Center is just up the road from downtown Mena.

Proposed Ward Lake Zone.

Proposed Ward Lake Zone. (Click on the map to see a larger version)The maps do show approximately 115 miles of trails with 40 in the Ward Lake Zone. Mr. Allen said that the trails would be a mix of gravity and cross-country trails. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail is open for mountain biking from Queen Wilhelmina State Park going east for 110 miles all the way to Scenic Highway 7 near Jessieville, Arkansas. This is an International Mountain Bicycle Association, EPIC trail that also connects to the Womble Trail for another 39 miles of EPIC Trail. This all would make Mena a hub for mountain biking, unlike any other system in the country.

Again, it’s important to remember that the project is still in its early stages and whether or not the full vision is realized will depend on the completion of the NEPA process, funding, construction, and concessionaire search. The good news is the project continues to move forward.

If you would like to comment on the project, the National Forest Service asks that your comments address only the scope of the project. You can get more information on the project at the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Project Website and the Forest Service Project Website.

Comments can be made between March 24, 2023, and April 24, 2023, at the National Forest Service Comment Page.

Searcy County Waterfall

If you would like to mail or fax your comments, send them to 1603 Hwy 71 North, Afena, AR, 71953, Fax: 479-394-2389

Previous articles on this project:

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2 Responses

  1. I am wondering if any part of the trail can be asphalt topped so people in wheelchairs can also participate in the experience. I ask because my late husband spent time in a wheelchair & it was amazingly wonder when we realized a trail was adaptive & we could enjoy it together.

  2. Excited for a potential real gravity / uplift system in Arkansas. There is a significant market in AR and surrounding states that travel out of state to spend money elsewhere to enjoy the same. Feel this will be the real distinguishing factor to separate this system from just being another similar (albeit large) trail system like we have in state currently.

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