A Puzzle of Rock
De Queen Lake has 32 miles of shoreline, more than 100 campsites, 8700 acres of surrounding public land, and until recently, zero bike trails. But that’s changing. The community will soon have its first four-mile trail at the lake, and with the help of an IMBA Trail Accelerator grant, they’ve expanded their vision to become the premier mountain bike destination in Southwest Arkansas.
The Trail Accelerator grant is a competitive grant offering for communities wanting to get started on building better places to ride. Awardees receive professional trail planning and consultation services to launch their trail efforts. Legacy Initiatives, a local nonprofit community development organization focused on improving De Queen and the surrounding areas of Southwest Arkansas, received $18,000 for a community-wide assessment.
Jason Lofton got things rolling (mm-hmm, rolling) when he moved to De Queen and joined a group of mountain bikers in town. As a representative of Legacy Initiatives, Lofton approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who manages the acreage surrounding the lake, to ask if his group could help build trails on the property. The corps approved their project, and Lofton decided he wanted to learn more about trail building.
Lofton attended IMBA Trail Labs, intensive workshops that teach land managers and community leaders how and why to create or improve community-based trail systems—sending them home with best practices so they can get started right away.
“I would encourage anyone considering getting trails in their community to attend IMBA Trail Labs,” says Lofton. “Going to Trail Labs helped me get started on our project. I found out about the Trail Accelerator grant, and they encouraged me to apply. At Trail Labs, you connect with other people and share information. Now I follow other people’s projects, and they follow mine.
“You get to ride new trails and see different trail styles. The IMBA team teaches you what trail building is all about, from construction and maintenance to what it takes to work with the Corps of Engineers and other government entities. It seemed overwhelming at first, and I wondered, ‘How am I going to get this done?’ but everyone was encouraging and showed me how it could get done.”
Lofton returned home and shared what he had learned: De Queen had the potential for a modern, shared-use trail system that would serve the community and draw tourists from throughout the region. His idea caught on like wildfire, and within days eager community members and small business owners raised thousands of dollars for the project.
In February, the IMBA Trail Solutions team visited De Queen Lake to meet with local stakeholders, survey the site, and begin marking trail routes. The IMBA team is excited about the opportunities they see in a landscape that includes creeks and delicate waterfalls, a scenic lake, rocky outcroppings, leafy woods, beautiful views, and great infrastructure. Steve Kasacek, IMBA project manager, anticipates a progressive network of trails that offers beginner to advanced level mountain biking as well as pedestrian opportunities, bike-optimized trails, and bike-specific skills development areas. The system could also support loops for NICA high-school bike teams and other racers. Local leaders and land managers would love to see trails around the entire lake.
What started out as a few people who wanted to ride mountain bikes has become an initiative to bring health, economic, recreation, and conservation benefits to an entire community. Supporters see the trails as a way to address the region’s obesity challenge, as well as a venue to welcome De Queen’s minority population to mountain biking. They hope that increasing recreational access to the area surrounding the lake will help protect it from unwanted development and preserve a natural resource. And they hope that since the new trail system is an easy three-hour drive from Dallas, Texas; two-and-a-half-hours from Little Rock; and an hour and forty-five minutes from Shreveport, Louisiana; they can draw visitors and tourism dollars from throughout the region to invigorate the economy.