Sunday, December 30, 2018

NLR Parks MTB Project Updates

Jeff Caplinger , NLR Parks and Rec Projects Director, recently sent out a short update on the mountain bike projects underway at Burns Park, the centerpiece of which will ultimately be the Big Rock Bike Park.

From Jeff:
Phase One is underway:

-          The new trail north of the Tennis Center has been flagged.  CATA will be clearing a corridor later this month and will schedule a work day in January* to try to finish it out so it can be open for riders in February.  Date to be announced by CATA.
-          The downhill portion of the green trail leading toward Arlene Laman Drive is complete.  The new section that will parallel Arlene Laman Drive has been flagged.

I was only superficially familiar with the woods north of the tennis center so I decided to walk the area and follow the flagging. The new trail will start at the Hospitality House and parallel the road for about 3/4 mile to a point near the softball fields to the west. 

The trailhead at the Hospitality House
 The trail runs along a fairly level line paralleling the adjacent road and a ridge
 The hill visible in the background is the site of the Overlook Pavilion. There are also plans for trail development in that area. 

 The new trail is on the shoulder of a ridge which is topped by a remarkably clear old road bed. There is also potential for more trails on the north side of the ridge, making for a nice little complex of a few miles, easily linked to many more nearby. 
 The road is visible from the trail for most of the way, at least in winter. 

End of the line. It is just a short hop from here to the Boy Scout trailhead across the I-30 overpass and the existing red and green trails. 

* The work day has been set for noon, January 20, meeting at the Burns Bark Hospitality House. 

I did not go over to check out the work on the downhill section of the green trail but will do so soon. 

Phase Two:
-          Architect has finished new renderings for pavilion and will have an estimated cost later this week.
-          Engineering cost estimate to come next week.

The pavilion mentioned would be the main building at the Big Rock complex. The first pass was had a modern look and I think it was thrown out there to elicit feedback from the committee. The consensus was that the buildings should be consistent with the rustic look of the existing Burns Park pavilions with a nod to the industrial vibe of the old quarry structures. It will be interesting to see how that has evolved. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice: Longer Days Start Now, But In The Meantime...

I always welcome the winter solstice, as it is the tipping point at which the ever shorter days of fall make their turn and begin to share more sunshine each day until June. At first the longer days are barely noticeable, with daylight hours increasing by less than a minute each day. By the end of January, the increase is 2 minutes per day, and then daylight savings time returns on March 10, opening up the after-work ride opportunities for the gainfully employed.

Time marches on and those days will be here soon enough. In the meantime, there are many folks who don't like to ride in the dark or the cold, and who find the prospect of trainer time and spin classes to be downright depressing.

Some changes in my cycling life
I'll confess that after quite a few years of compulsive year 'round riding, I've lost a bit of that drive. Even though I've retired and have much more available time, some extended time off the bike due to injury, a return to some previous passions, and the development of new interests have all added up to mean less riding for me. Of course, less riding has also meant less fitness and different kinds of rides than the big miles and hammer fests I so enjoyed. I've got mixed emotions about my more balanced life, but it has its rewards.

As a longtime kayaker, I'm no longer torn between missing a Saturday ride and going to the creek. If it rains in the right places, I'm back to loading boats. There are a lot more days available for riding than for boating.

Fall and winter mean good boating in Arkansas. Richland Creek. 

I'm getting more pleasure from my river house because I'm not anxious about missing a day on the bike. I'm cultivating mushrooms, fishing more, reading more, and learning more.

Probably my biggest revelation has been a love of hiking. When I was injured and recuperating from shoulder surgery last year, I took to walking the trails at Camp Robinson and elsewhere. The miles rolled by and I really enjoyed seeing the woods at a walking pace. That led me to start exploring some park trails and then some wilderness areas.

Take a Hike

Now is one of the best times of the year to hike in Arkansas. The color of fall is long past, but with the leaves off of the trees, the woods are open and many hidden features are revealed. Water flows more freely so our many waterfalls and creeks show their stuff. Here are a few places I've visited in recent months.

Camp Robinson, Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Burns Park, Allsopp Park

You could add any number of other local parks to this list, but I know that these have miles of good trail. A couple of hours covering 5-6 miles on foot is always a rewarding experience and can be done in any weather with a minimum of equipment--good shoes and weather-appropriate clothing. Having a dog or two along adds a lot to just about any adventure.
Burns and Emerald Parks in NLR offer good local hiking options.

Pinnacle Mountain Base Trail with Little Rock Hikers Meetup Group

Petit Jean State Park

I had not hiked the trails of Petit Jean S.P. since childhood until one rainy day this fall. I decided it would be a good day to hike to Cedar Falls and I was rewarded for my small effort.
Cedar Falls. Petit Jean is an hour away and offers a number of trails. 

Buffalo National River

I first floated the Buffalo River in the 70s as a poor student (both financially and in terms of academic interest) at the U of A in Fayetteville. We floated from Ponca to Pruitt, freezing our asses off at night and finishing our overnight trip famished as we didn't take nearly enough food. It could have been a miserable experience but it cemented my lifelong love of rivers. 
One of the memories that stood out was the sight of hikers 300 feet above the river on the narrow ledge of the Goat Trail at Big Bluff. I wanted to be up there. I made it this fall, twice in fact, several decades after that first sight. 
The Goat Trail

Whitaker Point/ Hawksbill Crag
There are many great hikes around the Buffalo. The problem in spring and fall is that there are so many people that the majesty of nature is overwhelmed by the masses, especially in the Ponca area. Hikes like Big Bluff, Hemmed-In-Hollow, and Whitaker Point get so crowded that traffic control is a problem. A winter trip avoids the crowds, along with the chiggers and ticks. Make a weekend plan or get an early start on a day trip to enjoy the Buffalo River country in the winter. 

More and more....
Some other very cool established hikes are available at Pedestal Rocks, DeGray State Park, etc. If you are a little more adventurous and want to get of the more heavily used trails, The Richland Creek Wilderness, the Buffalo River Trail, and sections of the Ozarks Highland Trails, etc, offer great day trips with a little planning. 

Kings Bluff and Caves at Pedestal Rocks

As is often the case, I bit off more than I can write about here, so I will stop now and end with the suggestion that you take a hike over the holidays. I'll be surprised if one hike doesn't lead to another. There are more amazing places to see in Arkansas than any of us are likely to cover in a lifetime.

I always felt that as a kayaker I was seeing places inaccessible to anyone not in a boat. I also realize now that there were wondrous things just beyond the tree line that can only be seen from a good pair of hiking shoes. 

A good tool for finding trails nearby is the Alltrails App. You'll find concise directions, reviews, photos, and detailed descriptions to help to pick your next adventure. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

You Have An Urgent Call: Take This 10-Minute Survey

There is significant momentum for the development of more bike/pedestrian infrastructure in central Arkansas. The entities, governmental and others, need information from potential users and the users of current facilities in order to shape their proposals and determine the level of community support for such.


The City of Morrilton, the head ranger at Petit Jean, Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, Metroplan, a couple local cyclists, and the Department of Geography at UCA are the organizers.  UCA is running the survey.

It took me right at 10-minutes to complete the survey. It needs to be completed by the end of the month. Please feel free to share it within your contacts, as more participation is a positive thing.

Follow this  link to the survey.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Southwest Trail Update

There are many trail projects at some stage of development in the State of Arkansas, but perhaps none have more potential than the proposed Southwest Trail. The trail will connect the Little Rock Central High School Historic Site with Hot Springs National Park, and will appeal to hikers, cyclists, birders, and just about anyone who enjoys the outdoors. The preliminary engineering and environmental study began in April of 2018 and should be complete by fall of 2019. It was funded by the three counties involved and by a federal transportation grant . The contract for the study was awarded to Garver, the North Little Rock based regional engineering firm.

Last week, public information meetings were held in each of the three counties through which the Southwest Trail will pass, Garland, Saline, and Pulaski. The purpose of the meetings was to inform the public of the proposed route, along with alternatives, and to seek comments and concerns from those along the routes. The meetings were each held from 4:00 to 7:00PM and were of an open house style. There was a 5-minute PowerPoint presentation that gave a broad overview of project, and large scale photographic maps were laid out on a number of tables. In addition, several members of the Garver team were on hand and available to address specific questions using laptop computers with detailed maps and more detailed information.


Dan Lysk getting a word from Lynn Bell of Metroplan. Jon Hetzel of Garver looks on as participants check out the proposed routes. 

I attended the Pulaski County meeting, which was the last of the three. I took the opportunity to speak with Jon Hetzel, communications manager for Garver, and to ask him about the feedback he had received thus far in the process. Jon stated that most of the attendees at the Garland and Pulaski County meetings were potential trail users, while the Saline County event drew a larger number of land owners concerned about the potential impact of the trail on their property. I had heard that there was some significant pushback at that meeting but Jon didn't see it that way. "People got a mailed notice of a meeting about a trail right-of-way that might cross their land so they were understandably concerned." 
The intent of the routing is to minimize negative impact on the environment and on private landowners so it will largely follow existing right-of-ways. Hetzel said most seemed satisfied when they saw the plans. Of course, there will be more direct discussions as the plans become more firm, and, as with any large scale project, funding for engineering, land acquisition, and construction will be key. This is a years long project that will have multiple phases but it got a good start when the three counties approved the initial funding for the environmental plan.  

 A Garver representative discusses the plans with the aid of large scale, detailed maps.

 I showed up as the meeting opened at 4 o'clock and there were already a number of interested people on hand.
The maps of were laid out in a linear manner and divided by county, making it easy to locate specific points. 
The maps and supporting documents are available from ARDOT

The Southwest Trail will build on out state's already impressive portfolio of cycling and trail resources. One needs only to look north to the Katy Trail in Missouri to see how a point-to-point route for cyclists and hikers can become a regional magnet for tourists. Local economies all along such route benefit as BNB's, hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other retailers grow their businesses on the influx of new visitors. The proximity to the Arkansas River Trail, the new Northwoods Mountain Bike Trail, the Iron Mountain Bike Trails at Arkadelphia, and the proposed Big Rock Bike Park in North Little Rock would make central Arkansas a destination for cyclists of many disciplines.

 This kind of growth is good for our economy, good for our image, and good for the health of the citizens of a state where 35.9% of adults are obese. For our youth to have a chance to break this cycle, we need to continue to provide more opportunities for healthy activities. My personal experience is that better nutrition follows regular exercise. Put that fast food burger down and give peas a chance. 
I don't sell anything or don't have a clue on how to collect data.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Back To Camp Robinson-Getting A New Pass, Upcoming Closures and More.

A Rite Of Fall

I'm primarily a road rider. I enjoy mountain biking mostly as a chance to get out of the cold wind in the woods and to let my trail dogs enjoy the freedom of running unfettered for miles. Camp Robinson is my preferred locale for doing that--it is just a few minutes from the house and is a perfect place for Willie and Ivy to do their thing. I also prefer to get out on the dirt after most of the snakes, ticks, and chiggers have hunkered down for the winter.

There were a few puddles after recent rains but the upper trails are hard packed and hold up well. The pups like to cool their paws when they get a chance. 

There are about 40 miles of well maintained single track in TA 2, the mountain bike area. Frequent community work days complemented by the regular efforts of folks like Basil Hicks, Jr and 3, and Scott and Sharon Saunders mean that the trails at Camp Robinson are always in top shape. 

The leaves are falling fast but there is still plenty of color and the trails are still clearly visible. 

There seems to be an annual debate as to how much leaf clearing is appropriate. I come in somewhere in the middle on this discussion. The most frequently ridden trails may benefit from some protection afforded by fallen leaves, while trails like Merlin's and Shipwreck can be rendered invisible when buried under the thick cover. I've found myself off trail on more than one occasion and rocks and roots can become hidden mines. That said, this is a quiet debate that resolves itself.

Trail Dog Training

I've been asked several times how I trained the pups to be such good trail dogs. I can't take any credit. Willie and Ivy, like their predecessors Zuli and Josie, take to the trail naturally. They go where I go, whether that be hiking or riding, and they love having the freedom to run, something I can't afford them on leash. The dogs seem to instinctively want to take the lead and I take great pleasure in being able to witness their sheer joy of running.

 Willie and Ivy always lead the way. I do my best to keep the pace and distance low on fall rides but they are not real patient. Willie is the most senior athlete and, like me, he needs more conditioning  and recovery these days. Ivy's bandana makes her more visible in the woods.

If you trust your dog to stay with you, and most will, Camp Robinson is a good place to take a well behaved dog for some mutual exercise. Keep aggressive dogs at home. 


This wet fall has created a perfect environment for mushrooms. Like many other folks, this has spurred my interest in learning more about them.
Coral mushrooms like these are everywhere at Camp. They are edible but I've refrained from trying them without some expert confirmation.

 These caught my eye due to their size-they were 9-10" across

I'm just trying to learn some basics of mushroom identification and have not eaten any wild finds. The variety of types is almost overwhelming but very interesting. 

Current Sportsman Pass Procedure
Access to Camp Robinson for riders requires a Sportsman Pass. The procedure has been slightly different each year since the system used for hunters and fishermen was made to include cyclists.
I renewed my pass yesterday and the current process is below, subject to change:

1- At the visitor center, where riders normally check in, present your driver's license, along with current auto registration and proof-of-insurance
This step is required even if you have a current pass, as they run the required new background check at this point.
You will be issued a temporary pass that confirms the background check. 

2- After entering the gate with your pass and photo ID, proceed to Building 4201, where you pay $30.00 in cash or check (no credit cards) for the annual pass and will get a receipt.  This is a new step from last year's procedure. 

3-After getting a receipt for your payment, go to the nearby HQ building where signs will direct you to the office where passes are issued. They will want to see your pass, receipt, and photo ID. They'll take your picture and issue a new pass and dashboard card. 

The process is only slightly tedious, and I would suggest allowing about 30 minutes and a little patience. 

Current hours for obtaining passes are Monday-Friday 8:00AM-3:00PM, closed from 11:00-12:00 for lunch. 

The most common hang-up is lack of current proof-of-insurance. Check your documents before heading out to avoid delays. 
This was mentioned to me by the security guard because mine had just expired and my new proof of insurance was laying on my desk at home. I had to call my agent and have it e-mailed to my phone as I waited. 

Upcoming Closure Dates
TA 2 is closed from time to time for hunting and for military operations.

 Note the closure dates shown above.

I'm looking forward to my annual re-learning-to-mountain-bike experience. I love being in the woods and I also get reacquainted with my dedicated dirt riding friends. Wednesday evenings are regular ride nights at Camp for many folks, often including a post ride social hour.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Best Little Ride In The Ozarks: Pedestal Rocks Road Ride and Lick Fork Gravel Grind

Saturday, October 20

What began a few years ago as the Pedestal Rocks 40 road ride from Witts Springs to Pedestal Rocks has expanded and evolved to include multiple road distances and several challenging gravel routes. Starting last Friday afternoon, riders from around the region gathered at the Witts Springs Community Center to pick up packets or register for this unique cycling experience. 
At 9:00 Saturday morning, all riders shared the same start at the Witts Springs Fire Department, with road riders turning right and gravel riders turning left at the intersection with Highway 16 a few yards away. It was apparent at the split that the gravel ride has outgrown the road aspect of the event. Even though last year's ride was held in a foggy drizzle there seemed to have been more road riders then.

Saturday was perfect for a ride, with many of us scurrying back and forth from the start to dump unneeded layers as the sun warmed things up from the morning chill. 

 Riders gather under blue skies for the start at the Witts Springs Fire Department.
Gravel and road riders all roll out together. The vibe is mellow so the groups sort themselves out easily. 

I'll state right here that I chose the 40-mile road ride which, even with its 3600 feet of climbing is one of the easier options available. I'm a roadie at heart and this little-traveled stretch of Highway 16 is a fine place to ride in the fall. 
There were relatively few of us and there were no really large groups, so I was happy just rolling along at my own pace, stopping from time to time to get a photo. Though there were no road closures or traffic control, I was probably passed by no more than a dozen cars and a couple of small packs of motorcyclists over the course of forty miles. Some of the road riders elected to ride the 50 or 68 mile course, further thinning out the riders along the road. 
 The open road was almost all ours.
 There was virtually no traffic on the Hwy 16. The only time I was startled was when a couple of tandems blew past me on a downhill. 

The gravel (respectfully poached from Missy Vail's Facebook post). 

I can’t speak directly to the gravel experience but it gets 100% positive feedback from every rider that I heard from. It’s not easy—the popular 40 mile option has about 4600’ for climbing, while the 68 miler has a whopping 7400 feet—but the scenery is remarkable and the support is outstanding.  It seems that the entire Searcy County community turns out to play some role, whether that means making food for the rest stops and post-ride potluck or running the roads in pickups and ATVs in support of the riders. 

Friday Rain

Rain all day on Friday may have put a damper on the plans of some riders who had planned to camp overnight, but our hosts make it easy for everyone to sleep in the dry. The community center was open to those who wanted warmth and a roof overhead.

 The weather for my drive up on Friday was less than ideal, but the Ozarks' beauty comes through in all conditions.

 I chose my usual GMC Portable Ghetto mode of camping and I was quite cozy.
Several folks decided against trying to set up their tent in the steady rain. There was plenty of room in the Community Center gym for everyone to have their own space.

The Community

Witts Springs' proximity to Richland Creek means that it is a familiar place to many of us who are boaters. I am dating myself, but when I first started kayaking Richland Creek back in the early 80's, a stretch of Highway 16 between Witts Springs and Ben Hur was still unpaved, and I've dealt with road blockages due to washouts and fallen trees way back in the day. I've driven from the creek to what is now Cindy's store to use a pay phone or to supplement camp chow and get warm. I always felt like a bit of a foreigner, but no more.
After all of those years, I now feel like I have a connection to this small mountain community and, according to feedback from event organizer Dirk Merle, that feeling goes both ways. The folks around Witts Springs love having cyclists come up and we have gained a great appreciation for the unfettered hospitality offered by them. On top of the ride support and the big ol' post-ride potluck, individuals reached out to make sure everyone had what they needed. As some late arrivals set up their tent in the rain on Friday, a family pulled up to offer their nearby barn as a camping alternative. "We're right over there and you're more than welcome...".

The Swag
The swag bag is itself cool, and it comes stuffed with actual useful stuff like a T-shirt, sunscreen, Biofreeze, a coupon for a free frozen pizza, a home baked chocolate bar that is worth trading for, and a lot more. 
Better than the average rider bag.

I'm not sure where they come up with all of the sponsors, and I regret that I didn't get photos of the potluck and the door prize tables. EVERY RIDER is a winner. Really. They had tables covered with cool stuff and all you had to do is match your bib number to a prize to claim it. Last year, I got a cool coffee cup and a flat kit. This year, I scored big with a $79.00 Patagonia shirt. It's really pretty amazing. I found myself throwing money in the Community Center fundraising jar multiple times to assuage my slight pangs of guilt for getting so much more value than my $40.00 entry fee. The desserts I ate were probably worth half the fee. 

Next Year- October 19, 2019

Put it on your calendar now so that you don't have to make excuses. And don't feel like you have to wait until then to visit Searcy County and its surrounds.
It is worth the two hour drive to see nearby Falling Water Falls after a rain or to take a hike at Pedestal Rocks. 

Side Trails

I've become, for better or worse, less obsessed with riding over the last couple of years. 2017 included retirement, a mountain bike injury, surgery and long rehab, and a divorce, all of which likely contributed to a shift in my focus to a broader range of activities. While I was off the bike with the shoulder injury, I would gather the dogs for long walks in the woods. Those miles helped me maintain some of my fitness and peace of mind while renewing my love for the pace of walking and the observations that such a pace allows. 
I took advantage of my weekend in the area to do a couple of hikes at the Pedestal Rocks area. The King's Bluff and Pedestal Rocks loops share the same trailhead.

King's Bluff

The parking lot was empty and I had the King's Bluff Loop to myself on Friday. The steady rain was not much of a bother and it fed the waterfall.

Pedestal Rocks

I've been wanting to check this out for years, and might have been a bit disappointed in the tree-obscured view of Pedestal Rock were it not for a chance meeting with friend Tina Chwalinski on the hike in. She advised me not to miss the caves present below the bluff line. Wow! She was right.
Happy trails. I love walking in the woods, especially now that the chiggers are somewhat subdued. 
When I encounter folks with dogs, I tend to focus on the dogs rather than the people they are walking. I was surprised to look up and see Tina attached to these leashes. She turned me on to the caves that were the best part of this short 2-3 mile hike.

Fall color is just starting to show. 

 There is an extensive system of bluff shelters and shallow caves at Pedestal Rocks. I doubt that I found them all--I went in half a dozen or so-- but I'll explore more on my next trip.

Get out. Ride your bike. Walk Your dogs. Put on your hiking shoes and head for the woods. It looks to be an outstanding fall in Arkansas.