Grand Plans for a Grand Loop
For the past five years, grant writers, planners, land managers, municipal government officials, and bike advocates gathered in Bentonville, Arkansas, to reimagine what trails could be like in their local communities.
In early April 2023, participants from 15 states met at IMBA Foundations to learn about planning, building, and promoting mountain bike trails. This two-day intensive workshop offered classroom-style sessions as well as tours of bike facilities in the area.
The first day of workshops explored the fundamentals of trails, including finding support and funding. Leading those conversations were Mike Repyak of IMBA Trail Solutions and Danny Twilley of West Virginia University. Kalene Griffith of Visit Bentonville and Gary Vernon of the Walton Family Foundation spoke about the history of the local trail systems and how Bentonville became the "Mountain Biking Capital of the World."
The group then visited Thaden School, an educational institution that incorporates a bike program into their curriculum and witnessed the school's asphalt pumptrack in action. The group met David Wright of Bentonville Parks & Recreation at the Bentonville Bicycle Playground, toured the area and asked questions. Day one ended with a walking tour of the popular All-American Trail, whose trailhead starts in downtown Bentonville and connects to the multi-phase Slaughter Pen system.
"You can give kids bikes; you can give families bikes, but if they don't have trails close to home that's inequitable access," commented Sarah Zaki of Vallejo, CA. Sarah is the Grants Manager for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) and steward for Bay Area Bike Project. "But that's easier said than done." Sarah was drawn to Foundations because of IMBA's overall mission and ethos surrounding trail development in communities. "I think one of the quotes from the class was 'You can't just build trails and expect people to come; you're building a thriving community that has bike trails.'"
Conversely, Nick Ybarra, host of the Maah Daah Hey 100 mountain bike race and founder of Save the Maah Daah Hey, sought out inspiration for bettering long-distance trail experiences. The Maah Daah Hey, a 144 mile non-motorized trail that curves through the badlands of North Dakota, connects multiple communities. A small handful of Region 1 United States Forest Service staff based in North Dakota accompanied Nick and his team representing the Maah Daah Hey. "This gave us an opportunity to make a connection with them [the USFS staff] and build stronger relationships." Nick plans to take the education learned from the two day workshop and open up discussions from the perspective of a mountain biker and trail user using vernacular that is relatable. "It's tough to communicate when you're coming from two different worlds."
Day two's classroom session explored how to plan, build, and activate trails led by Danny and MIke. After lunch, the participants spent the rest of their day touring Coler Mountain Bike Preserve with Scott Dirksen. Participants learned about the programming onsite, toured the system via the Razorback Greenway, and visited Coler Camp to learn about the camping amenities on site. Jess Hana, aka Jess The Maker, made a special appearance to discuss her time living and working in Bentonville so far and discussed the importance of communities' embracing mountain bikers of all walks of life.
After two days of taking notes, asking questions, and relating with other trail-minded participants, Danny Twilley advised participants to incorporate the uniqueness of their local community into the trail experience. “Don’t go home and build Bentonville. Build trails that make sense to your community.”
"One of the biggest things that stuck out to me was the practice of telling stories," said Sarah. She recognized that organizations are often great at working in the dirt but keep much of their success to themselves. "We don't often share our wins or communicate our needs or value."
"The first thing we're going to do when we land at home is start building that 'dream team' and inviting people from the community to discuss what the next right steps are," said Nick.
If you and members of your community are interested in attending the October Foundations workshop in Cedar City, Utah, the dates for that workshop are October 10-12, 2023: