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Arkansas Home to Epic Mountain Biking Trails

March 2, 2007

Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Each year the International Mountain Biking Association, IMBA, selects a handful of great trails around the world that receive special “Epic’ status. These are ‘must ride’ routes for mountain bikers around the world to try out. Arkansas serves as home-base to two such routes-the Womble Trail in Hot Springs and Syllamo Trails in Mountain View.

Over the years, the state has become somewhat of an under the radar mecca for mountain biking. Only 37 trails across the nation currently hold ‘Epic’ status. “Mountain biking in Arkansas is highly regarded for the variety of terrain.” said Mike Van Abel, executive director of IMBA, based in Boulder, CO. “It offers everything from mountain ridge lines to river valleys. The trails range from beginner-friendly smooth singletrack to rocky and challenging sections that demand expert bike skills. This range of experiences is what makes mountain biking in the state shine.” Another plus is that since Arkansas is centrally located in the nation, people throughout the country can get here in a reasonable amount of time.

Epic rides are selected each year by a committee of IMBA staff. Just two or three new ones are appointed in a given year. It takes a special route to be considered. It has to not only offer riders a good experience and miles of trail, but it also has to have local clubs who take care of the trail and plenty of off trail activities in the area.

The 50 mile Syllamo Mountain Bike Trial system is located in Mountain View, traversing through the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. Unlike many mountain bike trails across the nation that have a limited area for trail construction, the Syllamo, which is named after a famous Creek Indian that used to roam the area in the early 1800’s, stretches over thousands of acres of the Ozark National Forest and offers riders changing scenery and beautiful views of the White River, Sylamore Creek Valleys, and the Ozark Mountains.

“The trail is catered to riders.” said Steve Parker, coordinator of the bike race Syllamo’s Revenge and an avid mountain biker instrumental in landing the route its’ ‘Epic’ title. “It was built specifically as a mountain bike trail and the route has a lot of flavor…it’s a well-rounded trail system.”

Five interconnected loops pave across the hilly Ozark terrain, challenging riders with tight switchbacks and narrow passages through blocks of limestone and rewarding them with fast descents on wide, smooth, track.

Due to its epic status, the trail has already expanded exposure to other biking trails across the state. “I love what the trail has the potential to do for Mountain View with the attention it’s been receiving as an active destination.” said Don West, the state’s IMBA representative and President of the Ozark Off Road Cyclists.

Another epic route, the Womble Trail, is in the Ouachita National Forest, 7 miles North-east of Mt. Ida. This route is 37 miles point to point with an 8 mile loop option. In some spots, the trail follows ridge tops and bluffs above the Ouachita River and Lake Ouachita offering pristine scenic views and photo opportunities for riders.

The state is also a popular stage for mountain bike races, some bringing in hundreds of riders to tour or race on 50 to 60 mile routes. A case in point, The Ouachita Challenge, which takes place in late March, sold out in 24 hours this year. “Mountain bike racing is very strong in the state.” said Mike Kelsey, one of instigators behind the popular Ouachita Challenge. “The Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series has one of the best off-road series in the country.”

Other standout routes across the state include the 34 mile Huckleberry Mountain Horse Trail at Mount Magazine State Park and the popular Camp Robinson trails located in the North Little Rock Army National Guard Base.

New to the state is the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. The first phase is now open for bikers with more phases set to open this year. When completed, the system of hiking and mountain biking trails is expected to include around 40 miles of trails connecting resorts and recreation areas on the lake’s southern shore. For more information on riding in the state, visit www.arkansas.com/outdoors/biking/ and click on the mountain biking option.

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