Skip to main content

One City’s Journey: Assessment to Construction

One City’s Journey: Assessment to Construction

Unlikely Trail Potential in Northeast Arkansas

Posted: September 26, 2023
Photo courtesy of: Jonesboro Unlimited

Pockets of communities across the United States are wrestling with economic development strategies. In the past, many have left out a key component: population retention.

A student-athlete with Jonesboro Ridge Riders rides through the newly constructed trails in Craighead Forest Park. // Jonesboro Unlimited


A vestige of autonomy in the Mississippi River Delta, Jonesboro, Arkansas, is reconciling with such strategies. Jonesboro is the fifth-largest city in the far northeast corner of the state. Embedded in the Arkansas Delta, this flat plains region couldn’t be more different from the rolling hills of the Ozark Plateau and Ouachita Mountain regions of the state's western half.

However, thanks to the narrow strip of Crowley’s Ridge, a natural loess accumulation point, the area boasts undulating hills that rise between 200 and 250 feet. And with that, potential for dynamic natural surface trails is evident.

Jonesboro is due east as the crow flies from the self-proclaimed “mountain biking capital of the world” (Bentonville). This three-hundred-mile expanse across the northern part of the state accounts for a tremendous gap of natural draw in mountain biking tourism. However, thanks to partnership efforts, this gap is narrowing.

An aerial view of Craighead Forest Park including the new natural surface trails (bottom). // Jonesboro Unlimited

Coordinating with the area’s Chamber of Commerce and Jonesboro Unlimited, the City of Jonesboro engaged IMBA Trail Solutions and Arkansas nonprofit StudioDrift to study the existing trail system in Craighead Forest Park and develop a mountain biking master plan. This 692-acre park is a quick 10-minute drive from Jonesboro’s growing downtown. In February 2022, IMBA Trail Solutions Project Managers Leah Mancabelli and Shane Wilson were on the ground for that assessment.

Existing trail features captured during the February 2022 assessment. // Leah Mancabelli


Existing trail features captured during the February 2022 assessment. // Leah Mancabelli


Shane Wilson pauses to view the sunset over the lake during the February 2022 assessment. // Leah Mancabelli


Along with assessing existing infrastructure, the team met with members of the local mountain bike advocacy group, Northeastern Arkansas Trails Organization (NEATO), to assess the existing volunteer-built trails in the park and what trail-type considerations should be included in creating the concept plan. This plan consists of opportunities for all levels of riding, allowing for a progressive experience for the community and visitors.

Leading up to this assessment, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Copenhaver visited trailheads around the state and saw the potential of similar amenities in town. So much so that he committed $500,000 over the past two years. “The goal was to create an attraction that could make a first-class mountain biking course in a bike-centric city — it seemed like a most natural fit,” Copenhaver said. “If done well, it would serve not only Jonesboro residents and youth, but become an attraction known to riders all across the mid-south. And if done extremely well, become a checklist destination for serious riders around the country.”

A student-athlete with Jonesboro Ridge Riders rides through the newly constructed trails in Craighead Forest Park. // Jonesboro Unlimited

In April-early May of 2022, IMBA Trail Solutions returned to Jonesboro to field design 5.7 new miles of trail ranging from traditional beginner bidirectional trail to expert-level jump lines.

All construction began in March 2023 by Rock Solid Trail Contracting, and the first phase was completed in the Summer of 2023. As a result, the local NICA team, the Jonesboro Ridge Riders, has grown in popularity with a dialed location for practices. Additional signage will be added, and the next construction phase will start in early November 2023.

About the author
Liz Chrisman portrait

Liz (she/her) grew up pedaling a garage sale 10-speed on the dirt roads of the Arkansas River Valley and on tarmac throughout college. While finishing her master's program, a coworker handed her a rigid Gary Fisher, drove into the Ouachitas and they conquered mileage on the IMBA EPIC Womble…

View complete profile

Ride Vibes

Positive trail vibes for all

Responsible riding is a simple and powerful tool that all mountain bikers can use to create a positive trail experience for all. We can make trails places of respect, inclusivity, safety, and enjoyment.

Spread good trail vibes
Two people riding mountain bikes on a trail
Photo courtesy of: