"Build it, and they will come,” Fred Phillips says of cyclists and hikers making visits to a new, four-phase trail that is under way near the Iron Mountain Spillway area. Phillips, who chairs the Clark County Strategic Plan’s tourism subcommittee, said last week that the first phase of the 30-mile trail system already has a bicycle race scheduled upon its completion.

 



"Build it, and they will come,” Fred Phillips says of cyclists and hikers making visits to a new, four-phase trail that is under way near the Iron Mountain Spillway area. Phillips, who chairs the Clark County Strategic Plan’s tourism subcommittee, said last week that the first phase of the 30-mile trail system already has a bicycle race scheduled upon its completion.



The Arkansas Mountain Bike race is slated for mid October, and Phillips said there’s “no better way to get (the trail) kicked off than to get some of the state’s best racers on it.” A couple hundred people are expected to race on what will then be 10.5 miles of multi-level-difficulty, unpaved trail. Construction advertisements are being published this week, with bids to open in May.



Phase 1 of the trail system is expected to be complete by early September.



The trail system, all of it on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is being paid for by a federal $65,000 Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Recreational Trails Program grant, with 20 percent matching funds and in-kind donations like labor coming from private individuals and Phillips.



Phase II will open up at the Spillway and roll along through wooded areas for about eight miles, connecting Skyline Drive to Channel Road via the Lower Lake bridge. With one avenue up the trail and another one down, it will be a combination of new trail and unpaved forest roads. Phillips said the RTP grant will be submitted in June.



Portions of the trail will be easy terrain for beginners and casual hikers, while other portions will be challenging, with aggressive terrain, for experienced cyclists. Phillips said one of the more casual loops of trail will be behind the Corps Field Office on Channel Road.



All trails will be marked based on difficulty.



“I betcha I’ve walked a hundred, a hundred and ten miles” working on the trail system, noted Phillips, who has spent about eight weeks flagging the trail since last winter.



But trailblazing isn’t just about trekking through the woods and marking trees with fluorescent flagging. “To make a trail interesting is not just dirt work,” said Phillips, a 15-year veteran of trail making. “There’s a certain amount of art associated with it.”



First and foremost, he said, a trail must be sustainable. “You can’t just go straight up a hill” with a trail because rainwater would flow down it after precipitation, creating only a bed of water along the trail and at the bottom of the hill. Rather, Phillips noted, a trailblazer must go diagonally across a hill or find another route.



Phillips laid out the DeGray Lake trail system to be what he calls “stacked loops,” a network of loops designed like the shape of a clover, from the trailhead. Once all phases have been complete, Phillips said the county will have a product sellable on the national level — an attraction not only for daily recreation use from area residents, but for national-caliber racing events.



Besides, there’s not a trail system of the sort close to the interstate. Phillips said the trail could quite possibly stop the target audience (men and women in their mid-20s or mid-30s, along with health/outdoor enthusiasts and cyclists) on their way to other trail systems or races in Louisiana or Texas. Those who stop in Clark County will most likely stay in its hotels and eat at its restaurants, Phillips said, calling the trail system a “cost-effective” way to yield tax revenue.



It can also be a sales tool for Henderson State and Ouachita Baptist universities, as well as area businesses capitalizing on the area’s quality of life. The colleges, he said, can use the trail for recreational or educational programs.



In a period of about five years after the trail is finished and is being used, Phillips predicts the annual economic impact on Clark County will be about $1 million.



The nearest trail systems are Cedar Glades Park in Hot Springs, the Womble Trail near Mt. Ida, and the 192-mile Ouachita Trail accessible from the Womble, stretching from western Arkansas to eastern Oklahoma.



A portion of Phase II should link the paved Spillway area to the natural Spillway channel across the road. That portion is expected to be wheelchair accessible, complying with standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Along the mile-long trail (one-half mile in, one-half mile back out to the trailhead) would be interpretive signposts of the channel’s geology.



The first three phases of the trail are expected to have natural terrain. Phase IV should link Arkadelphia to DeGray Lake via the Feaster Trail system. Depending on how it is routed, the last phase should be completely paved, Phillips said. The trail, he added, should connect city residents to the lake while the trail’s users avoid as much traffic as possible. The trail would also be a major component of health and fitness for the community, he said.



Constructing a trail that links Arkadelphia to DeGray is Goal No. 3 under Economic Development-Tourism, action step b) xi: “ … the walking boulevard will convert into a high quality hiking and biking trail and be extended to DeGray Lake.”