Parks commission considers partnership for shuttle services
By Samantha Jones
The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is considering a plan to streamline shuttle services for the downhill mountain bike trails at Lake Leatherwood City Park.
On Tuesday, July 21, the commission heard from director Justin Huss about a proposal to work with Dustin Slaughter on the shuttle service. Huss recalled when the commission purchased two shuttle buses in 2019, saying the original plan was for the commission to manage the shuttle system. With the COVID-19 pandemic changing so many things, Huss said, it’s time to reconsider the plan to operate the shuttles.
Huss suggested working with Slaughter, an agreement he said would give Slaughter exclusive rights to run a shuttle system throughout the city of Eureka Springs. Huss said Slaughter would take on a management role, taking the lead on ticket purchases, general operation of the shuttles and promotion on social media. Huss compared the proposed agreement to a country club that hires a golf pro.
“We would have a trail pro. We’re looking at working with Slaughter Guides for the shuttle operations,” Huss said. “That’s something [Slaughter] does and has built his business on already. The better everything does, the better his business is going to do with that.”
Huss said Slaughter hopes to lease the shuttle buses for the first five months of the proposed agreement, which would significantly cut costs for the commission. The commission can reassess the partnership once those five months are up, Huss said.
“They can lease our shuttles from us, covering those costs, removing staff positions from us, taking a lot of management challenges on … things we don’t have the opportunity for and, I think, giving us a better product all around and allowing us to really focus on what’s our wheelhouse,” Huss said.
Chairwoman Ruth Hager compared the proposed agreement to the commission’s work with accountant Rusty Windle.
“He’s an accountant. He knows how to deal with money better than we do,” Hager said. “This guy’s a trail person. He knows how to do that better than we do, too.”
“They could offer more services than we do throughout our town, whereas as a governmental agency we couldn’t take people to the Passion Play,” Huss added. “It wouldn’t be appropriate.”
Slaughter said he looks at the proposed agreement as a way to improve the overall experience at Lake Leatherwood City Park. He said he would be happy to link his website to the Eureka Springs Parks website so mountain bikers can book a spot on the shuttle online. He loves promoting trails on social media, Slaughter said, and would enjoy doing that for the trails at Lake Leatherwood.
“We’ve been offering downhill shuttles even back to 2016 when there was just one trail and also doing skills coaching,” Slaughter said, saying he has a lot of repeat clients. “We do a lot of multi-days and multi-discipline days where we focus on skills progression while … getting to experience places like Leatherwood and the Passion Play.”
Ideally, Slaughter said, the proposed agreement would lead to a strong partnership between his business and the commission.
“The plan would be to enhance all the services. We’re not just focused on the shuttles,” Slaughter said. “It’s all those pieces … so hopefully the plan is that we further establish this place that we’re really passionate about and grow the ridership.”
Commissioner Scott Bardin asked about private businesses that run shuttles at the park.
“I can see it becoming a problem if we don’t officially say you’re the vendor for parks and rec,” Bardin said. “If that’s the case, I want the riders to know you represent us in this matter versus someone showing up with a minivan hauling bicycles around.”
Huss said he expects the proposed agreement to be an exclusive arrangement for operations.
“I believe this should be our vendor if we go with a vendor and that’s it,” Huss said.
Slaughter said he wouldn’t be taking any operations away from the park.
“We want to find a way to give back to the park and the commission,” Slaughter said. “We’re now sharing this ridership, so instead of both of us spending money on costs to run individual shuttles, this is consolidated into one operation.”
Bardin said he’s on board with the plan.
“Linking parks trails to your website would be very good for our parks system. You are well respected in your field and I think people are going to want to be around what you have to offer,” Bardin told Slaughter.
Before moving forward with the proposed agreement, commissioner Dave Hartmann suggested discussing it at a workshop.
“This is the first most of us have had any look at this,” Hartmann said. “You’re asking us to give an exclusive agreement to operate the shuttles. I’m assuming that’s something we can do.”
Huss said the commission has the authority to regulate that and Hager said it would be a great way to manage control issues. Huss said he could have a full proposal prepared for a special meeting and the commission agreed to scheduled the meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, at The Auditorium.
The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18, at The Auditorium.