One City’s Journey: Assessment to Construction
Standing on the tips of my hiking boots, I positioned my camera in between Northwoods Trail Specialist Jake Meredith and IMBA Trail Solutions’ Joey Klein. The two, comparing maps, just finished flagging up to the midpoint of the advanced, technical line that would lead riders to a high ridge speckled in novaculite deposits, scrub oak and ample options for descending. Remembering back to photos I’ve seen from 2016 (and published in part I of this series), Joey made a trip with a key group of stakeholders to scout what would come to be Northwoods Trail System in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Those woods resembled the landscape that we stood in today, as the team began flagging Phase 2: a blank canvas ripe with possibilities.
In mid-February 2022, IMBA Trail Solutions Community Engagement Specialist Joey Klein, Project Manager Steve Kasacek and Direction of Construction and Operations Josh Olson returned to Hot Springs, Arkansas to design the expansion of this system. After two years of not being on the ground in Hot Springs, Josh described coming back to design this next phase as a lot like coming home. The build team on Northwoods Phase I spent more than two years in the construction of Phase I for this progressive trail system, so they were able to experience the community riding the trails and the evolution of the riding scene in Hot Springs.
“Seeing the impact on the trails was huge because we were able to evaluate our work and what we were doing well and what we could do better. And seeing the community response was enormous,” said Josh. “It’s really special to see the community grow and watch this system mature.” Phase II is a response to that growth.
Under the crunch of cold, fallen deciduous leaves, Joey treks through acres of untouched ridges with Jake and Assistant Trail Specialist Dani Ward at his side. The three leapfrog over one another: Joey placing flags as we ascend the steep grade, Dani tying, and Jake checking the lines and looking ahead. Once we all arrived at 1260’, the highest point on the ridge, we break for lunch. Joey’s enthusiasm for designing in Hot Springs again was palpable.
“I wish Northwoods was in my backyard. With phase II, we’ll capture the highest vistas and most scenic of lakeside outings offered at this park,” said Joey. As we scanned the scenic views that were 180 degrees around us and swapped stories about the history of the area and our favorite rides, Joey looked over the plans for Phase II on his tablet. “I think hikers and runners are also really going to appreciate these backcountry experiences. Pair this with the existing mileage of Northwoods and Cedar Glades and there’s plenty for several days of riding and exploring.”
While Joey and the Northwoods team layer the woods with design flags indicating the advanced line, Steve and Josh snake around the bench, wrapping design points that will become an intermediate cross-country style trail. Steve and Josh are fast, checking their clinometers periodically as they continuously ascend and descend through the contoured landscape. While the two explore this remote section of the Northwoods property, Steve felt nostalgia creeping in. “[This phase] harkens back to the glory days of riding. Many folks don’t realize how big the property is and [this phase] will let visitors explore deeper into the remote corners of the forest,” said Steve. These longer trails will help riders feel like they’re having a remote experience from a trailhead that’s just minutes from Hot Springs' busy downtown scene.
Located in the northern section of the watershed property from the Sanderson Dam bridge, the team describes these new trails as backcountry-style, inspired by the series of southwest to northeast-trending ridges of the ZigZag Mountains. The second phase will take advantage of the impressive topography and 600-700 feet of elevation. The main area of interest is the high point of the entire site: roughly 1260 feet on top of a novaculite ridge at the northeast corner of the property.
The proposed mileage for this newest phase will total approximately 10.5 miles and includes something for everyone. Phase II will include a beginner-friendly trail that boasts beautiful, open vistas along the lakeshore, three intermediate segments that allow for a range of experiences, one advanced segment that serves as the outermost loop and one expert-level trail that is recommended as a hand-build only portion of the expansion.
“Imagine scenic views, scrappy and rugged traditional singletrack, in a remote mountainous setting,” said Steve. Phase II designs have been delivered to the team at Northwoods and there will be more details to come on how this moves forward.
And, phase II isn’t the end. While funding needs to be secured to bring these lines to life, another 800 acres offers up even more remote opportunities that could support up to 25+ miles of trail.