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.