ALMA — Plans for a multi-use woods trail for hiking and mountain bike near Lake Alma is in the works as part of Alma Kick Start Community campaign.
Alma, the second-largest city in Crawford County, was selected last year in a statewide competition as the 2017 Community Development Kick Start by the University of Central Arkansas Community Development Institute and the Center for Community and Economic Development.
Lap Bui of Frontier Ozark Off-Road Cyclists spoke to members of the Kick Start Alma committee on Tuesday to provide more information on what’s needed for the so-called “soft-surface, multi-use trail.” The local mountain biking group is the largest branch of Ozark Off-Road Cyclists, a member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, and a group behind many of the popular mountain biking events around the state like the Phat Tire Festival at Eureka Springs and a new annual event in Springhill Park at Barling.
“The goal in Alma is to have similar events at Lake Alma,” Bui said, explaining the financial impact on a city that is near a mountain bike event.
The Walton Family Foundation has funded an economic study on cycling for the River Valley region and the results are expected to be available “soon,” Bui added. The economic impact on the 2016 IMBA Summit at Bentonville, he noted, was en estimated $400,000 over the course of several days with about 600 people attending. There were about 200 riders and 150 to 200 spectators at the race in Springhill Park at Barling.
“Two hundred riders spending money has a financial impact,” Bui said. “Riders typically come to the trail two or three times to practice before the race.”
Arkansas, so far, has five mountain bike trails rated as “Epic” by the IMBA, and although the Lake Alma trail would not be long enough to qualify as “Epic,” it would be another “great attraction for the region,” Bui added.
“There is a movement to make Arkansas the next Mecca for mountain biking,” Bui said, much like it is in Utah and Colorado.
In addition to being a tourist draw, Whitehead, director of UCA’s Community Development Institute, said there is an “emerging consensus” trails in general are “critical in economic development” for a community development in 2018.
“It’s a quality of life and quality of place piece to attract and keep a workforce, and businesses,” Whitehead explained.
About 100 acres of city-owned property north of Lake Alma would be used for the trail, according to Alma Mayor Keith Greene. There is currently a four-mile trail around Lake Alma. The mountain bike trail would be in a more wooded area with tougher terrain.
The $10,000 needed to develop the master plan for the trail was raised by private donors in two days, according to Lap Bui of Frontier Ozar Off-Road Cyclist.
“Alma and city leaders are really on board with the trails,” Bui added. “Trails promote a healthy lifestyle. Amenities attract people and business. Cycling is a low-impact sport that most everyone can do.”
“There’s a lot of interest in it,” Greene said of the trail project. “This is 100 percent privately funded.”
Greene noted that grants from “major private foundations” would likely be needed to complete this kind of trail, which could cost about $35,000 a mile. Whitehead said grants also may be available from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and Arkansas Transportation Department.
The cost, however, is much lower than the price of concrete, or “hard surface” trails. Construction of the 1.6-mile Greg Smith River Trail in Fort Smith, for example, cost about $2 million and was funded with $1 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation and a $1 million match from the city.