ES Parks director explains new downhill mountain bike courses

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission held a public meeting on Tuesday night addressing the new downhill mountain bike courses at Lake Leatherwood City Park.

The commission approved a cooperative agreement with the Walton Family Foundation on Nov. 21 to build the downhill feature. That decision came after the commission’s Oct. 17 vote to allow parks director Justin Huss to negotiate trail-specific grants at a 10 percent match up to $100,000, including a heritage inventory at Lake Leatherwood.

Huss kicked off the meeting Tuesday night by giving some of the history of the parks commission, saying biking and hiking trails have been part of Eureka Springs for a long time. The biking trails are prominent during the Fat Tire Festival, Huss said, which will celebrate its 20th year in 2018.

“This has become a signature event,” Huss said. “It brings tons of people to town … a lot of heads in beds.”

It wasn’t until recently, Huss said, that parks decided to promote the downhill mountain bike courses at Lake Leatherwood City Park. That’s because mountain biking is blowing up, Huss said.

“Our local CAPC got on the wagon fast with this. They’ve been doing marketing … it’s a real concerted effort to see the value in this,” Huss said. “They see what the state’s doing.”

The parks commission has been working on connecting the in-town trails system this year, Huss said, so visitors and locals can get from place to place on foot or on their bike.

“Connectivity being the key … people want to come in town, park their car, ride Black Bass and Leatherwood and not get back in their car,” Huss said. “It helps with parking, too.”

The commission is still focusing on that, he said, but the focus has shifted a bit after the Walton Family Foundation agreed to work on adding more downhill courses at Lake Leatherwood. The courses would be located near the Miner’s Rock Trail, Huss said.

“One of the advantages of the area is it’s not well-suited for anything else,” he said. “It’s loose. It’s hard to walk on, and it doesn’t grow a ton of things on every area.”

While looking through the plans with the foundation, he said, the commission saw a few problems in the area. There’s a part of the trail the city doesn’t own, Huss said, but the foundation has already purchased two properties in the area to secure the rights to build the courses. Another problem, he said, is the environmental impact of the project. Huss said the commission agreed to complete a heritage inventory at Lake Leatherwood before moving forward with new work there, saying the environment is important to him.

“We had to pump the brakes a little bit. We wanted to get everything in order,” Huss said. “We wanted the disposition of the property taken care of before we authorized anything to go forward.”

The new downhill courses will feature a shuttle to the top, Huss said, and a landing pad for helicopters in case of a medical emergency. Huss described what the commission has been keeping in mind throughout the project, saying parks needs to secure a permanent recreational easement for public access on the land used for the courses, ensure safety where the courses intersect with hiking trails and exercise best practices for low-impact development and storm water run-off.

“All work will be approved by me. This is with the help of other people and committees that come in,” Huss said.

He’s already approved one course, Huss said.

“We only approved that line. We said, ‘We can agree on that one. We can get you started,’ ” Huss said. “We’re not going to approve anything else until we do that.”

Adding these courses, Huss said, will make Lake Leatherwood even more of an attraction when it comes to events like the Fat Tire Festival.

“It’s an extreme sport. We see that with Fat Tire, with regular trail usage all the time,” Huss said. “Having this helipad at the top is actually going to be an advantage. It’s much more controlled.”

As the commission works on the new courses, Huss said, he plans to move forward with the in-town trails in mind.

“That’s still our goal. We’ll still be working on it. You’ll notice a lot going on this year,” Huss said. “They say, ‘Life’s what happens when you were busy making plans.’ We were planning this in-town trail, and this opportunity arose. Since we had the planning processes in there, really this fast forwards us. It puts the accelerator down for a lot of projects at parks.”

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