Growing up in the ‘80s at the end of a dirt road in rural Lonoke County, bicycles were a part of my everyday life. Then, in 1986, the bicycle-centric, cult classic movie RAD was available for rent on VCR at the nearby Welch’s Grocery. Countless afternoons and weekends were consumed with reading BMX magazines and building jumps and ramps with dirt, rocks and plywood in attempts to mimic what was seen in RAD.
This led to learning about a BMX track in Sherwood and mowing lawns to pay the entry fee to race on Sundays. It was there that a whole new world was opened – meeting other kids (or parents) just as obsessed with bicycles as I was.
But life happens to all of us. High school led to having a vehicle and the bikes were set aside to gather dust. In college a mountain bike entered the picture, and while there were a few rides in local state parks, they were not as exciting to me at the time nor did they provide the adrenaline rush that the BMX tracks did. I had a wreck on campus that caused more damage to my ego than my person, and the bike was put up again.
Prior to March 2020, I would guess that I had hopped on a bicycle maybe 10 times in nearly two decades.
I had read the articles and seen the videos on the growing – well, exploding – mountain bike scene in Arkansas, but I was not part of it. With the pandemic drastically changing how we can exercise and how we can fill our time, what a better time than the present to go check them out? What I had once written off decades back turned out to be exactly what I needed decades later. Funny how a pandemic could lead to such a fortuitous thing.
After a few rides, I discovered something interesting when I decided to take my bike in for a much-needed tune-up (necessitated by the lack of use and care over many years). It took me some 10 days to get a simple tune-up — thanks, Angry Dave! I realized the changes in market demand were not just on toilet paper and food items, but bicycles too. People were picking up their bikes again, just as I had done.
I had called a friend to go check out a trail in Hot Springs. Before we left, we ran into another friend who wanted to join. A couple months later, now Sunday mornings have been reserved for “Dirt Church” with a revolving congregation riding and exploring the different trails around Central Arkansas. This Natural State we live in is truly amazing. A whole new world was opened up – again.
The thrill of a downhill trail for the first time is a feeling all its own; a mixture of adrenaline, wind, gravity combined with a focus on where you are headed and where you are going, all the while adjusting your body weight accordingly and holding onto the handlebars like there’s no tomorrow. The experience of riding the same trail even the fifth, sixth, or tenth time is still a rush (albeit one with a bit more confidence behind you). A little faster. A deeper cut. A jump? No, not this time.
One of the buzzwords in my industry is placemaking. Wikipedia (an ‘80s-era dictionary wouldn’t have this word) defines placemaking as “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness and well-being.” While this term is often associated with urban areas, whether they know it or not, the folks at the Walton Family Foundation and the Arkansas Parks & Recreation Foundation are practicing placemaking in public spaces across the entire state. We don’t know how lucky we are.
Arkansas has a lot to offer anyone with a remote interest in the outdoors. We all know that. From the water to fish, the fields to hunt, the rivers to paddle; hiking, camping, spelunking, bird-watching to off-roading … you name it. Soon, mountain biking will become universally included. It’s already at the top of the list for many folks. Living in Arkansas without a mountain bike is going to be like living in Malibu without a surfboard.
You may have seen the abundance of articles and attention being given to Northwest Arkansas as it relates to the biking culture they are fostering and the hundreds of miles in trails they have built in recent years. Central Arkansas is not without trails, but it currently pales in comparison to what lies a few hours north. The Monument trails at Pinnacle Mountain do not disappoint, and hopefully there are more to come.
Central Arkansas should not only embrace and welcome these improvements but join in to help build and fund additional trails. At the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, we want to encourage people to live, work and play downtown. Access to trails, water, and nature for these same people to enjoy is an amenity to be encouraged, promoted, and expanded.
Gabe Holmstrom is the executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.