Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lessons from Montreal

Dedicated Bicycle Lane in MontrealI'm in Montreal for the week due to a science conference, but I won't let that keep me from blogging about trails.  After being in the city for less than a day, I already had an idea for what to write about: things Arkansas' cities could copy from Montreal.

1) Montreal has dedicated bike lanes.  These are something I've written about the need for multiple times before, here and here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rock Creek Trail Erratum

The Rock Creek Trail in West Little Rock is a flat, shaded, scenic trail that makes for a good summertime stroll.  In both Trails of Little Rock and Trails of Central Arkansas I describe the trail as paved.  The western section of the trail is asphalt, but much of the eastern section is a packed crushed gravel trail.  I got some great feedback recently that made it sound like the gravel section was a little rougher for the wear than when I last visited a few years ago.

Hopefully one day this section of trail will expand much farther in both directions since there is no better use for a floodway/floodplain.  Other parts of Rock Creek's floodway are paved (Boyle Park) and much of the creek runs through city parks (Weedman, Kanis, Boyle).  This trail could one day connect to the Coleman Creek Greenway and to Fourche Bottoms trails allowing residents of West Little Rock to commute to Midtown and Downtown by bicycle through scenic wooded areas instead of along congested concrete highways.

If you find an update or error (no typos please) in Trails of Central Arkansas please let me know and I will post it!

The map below shows existing (blue) and potential (red) trails along Rock Creek.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bikes Vs. Cars and the need for Complete Streets

I mentioned earlier that Arkansas is the least bike-friendly state in the country and that this is partially due to the fact that we don't have good bike policies or infrastructure, like separate, dedicated bike lanes, in place throughout our cities and towns.  Reinforcing the call for better infrastructure and policies, this report by the Ontario Coroner, links numerous bike deaths to a few major causes including: 1) Lack of "complete streets" that include dedicated bike lanes and networks of bike paths 2) Lack of helmets  3) Mixing bikes and cars travelling at high speeds.  One piece of data that stuck out: most accidents involve cars hitting bikes and not bikes hitting cars.  This has certainly been the case for the most serious accidents my friends, family, and myself have been in.

In another piece, I mention an Economist article that makes similar conclusions about why biking in the United States is so dangerous.  It is now very clear that we should seek to separate bike traffic from car traffic and to slow car traffic on shared roads.  If we want safer roads and a healthier, happier population, Arkansas communities should refocus transportation efforts and dollars using a more balanced approach that places equal emphasis on driving, biking, walking, and mass transit.  Seeing how car-centered infrastructure has received the vast majority of transportation funds in the state for decades, an argument can be made that alternatives should receive more than equal emphasis until some type of parity in existing infrastructure has been reached.

If you are interested in improving bicycle policy and infrastructure in Arkansas and in your town, consider visiting and joining Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas, Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks, Arkansas Bicycle Club, the Northeast Arkansas Bicycle Coalition, or any of the other organizations listed here.

$15 Million Awarded to Connect Memphis and West Memphis

The City of Memphis just received a $15 million federal grant that will help fund a $30 million project to convert the historic Harahan Bridge that spans the Mississippi River into a bike and pedestrian bridge.  The plans include extending trails on both sides into the hearts of both cities.  The project will connect to the existing Riverwalk in Memphis.  Some people in Central Arkansas see this type of project as an ideal solution to the very similar issues facing the also historic Broadway Bridge between Little Rock and North Little Rock.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Arkansas Trail Resources - Find places to go and people to go with!

If you are familiar with this site and my books, hopefully you aren't having any trouble finding places to hike, bike, walk, or paddle nearby.  However, if you are new to the site, or looking for people to get outdoors with, or are bored with all the places mentioned here and in my books, then these resources might be of some help:

Finding Trails:
There are now quite a few Arkansas trail guides out there and I haven't read them all.  My favorites tend to be anything by Tim Ernst (in particular the waterfalls book and Arkansas Nature Lover's Guidebook) and my newest one, Trails of Central Arkansas.  Make sure you get books with good maps and great descriptions not only of the trails themselves, but also of how to find the trails in the first place.

Some cities do a good job posting maps and information on their trails online.  If you live in Fayetteville, you can visit this site for a list of trails and a map showing existing and planned trails.  Little Rock has also posted maps of some their major trails here and maps of trails in North Little Rock can be viewed here.

Finding People Who Like Getting Outdoors: has many groups in Arkansas that do outdoor activities and they make it easy to search for groups in your area. Some large and active groups you might want to checkout include: Little Rock Hiking Meetup Group and The NWA Hiking Group.

If floating is more your thing, visit the Arkansas Canoe Club website.  It has tons of floating information and an active message board where people plan trips all the time.

The Ozark Society and local chapters of Sierra Club and the Audubon Society also organize a number of fun  and educational outdoor excursions. 

Let me know if I left something out!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Frisco Trail Extension

Three designs for the MLK crossing of the Frisco Trail in Fayetteville have been proposed.  The city is taking public comments until June 22nd.  The Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks' website has more details and a map showing the proposed crossings and how the extension will link up to other trails including Tsa La Gi and Walker Park.  Let your voice be heard by reviewing the trail options and sending in your comments to Matt Mihalevich at

I personally favor the "Above Grade" option since MLK is a large busy road and the tunnels on this trail system can get pretty damp and a little spooky at certain times of the day.  Cars stuck in traffic on MLK will be reminded of other forms of transportation if they can see bikes whizzing by overhead.

UPDATE: They went with the tunnel.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park - Battlefield Trail

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park was the site of the Battle of Prairie Grove which took place in 1862 and resulted in over 2,700 casualties.

The park's scenic and educational 1-mile Battlefield Trail is paved and ADA compliant.  The gently sloping trail loops through both open and shaded areas and passes by numerous interesting historic buildings and under large oaks and hickories.  There are multiple informative signs along the path that provide background on the battle as well as details on the buildings and their inhabitants at the time.  Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail.

The park also has a 5 mi. driving tour, an apple orchard open to the public, and battle reenactments.  For directions and other information on the park visit:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Longest Trails In Arkansas

As a child, I was fascinated by skyscrapers and remember regularly checking lists of the tallest buildings in the world.  Cities and nations place lots of value on having the tallest buildings and see them, and skylines packed with them, as symbols of power and wealth.  In fact, the publicity and pride that accompany constructing the world's new tallest building, has lead to a long-running competition for the title, first between US cities and now the countries of the world.

It is my hope that posting a list of the longest trails in Arkansas and updating it every year or so might help spur a little friendly competition here in our state.  One thing I remember was that there were lots of ways to measure building height; antennae included or excluded, spires or no spires, do towers count, etc.  This is an issue with trails as well, given that some trails are paved, others are dirt, some are well-maintained, while others aren't, and some trails simply follow an existing road for some sections.

Below is my list of longest trails in Arkansas, let me know if I missed any or if you disagree with the rankings:
Ozark Highlands Trail - 240 mi. (Includes 20 mi. Buffalo River Trail and ~10 road mi.)
Ouachita Trail - 214 mi. Almost entirely unpaved dirt trail.
River Trail  - 88 mi. - Main loop is 14 paved, 2 on roads.  Larger plan is primarily on roads, sometimes without bike lanes.
Razorback Greenway (Proposed, Partially Completed) - 36 mi. Paved.  Roughly half-completed, mostly as Scull Creek, Mud Creek, and Frisco Trails in Fayetteville.
Burns Park Complex - ~15 mi. of interconnected and mostly unpaved hiking and mountain biking trails that connect to the River Trail.
Mississippi River Trail - ~290 mi.  I believe this bike trail is entirely along roads for the Arkansas section. Let me know if that's wrong!

So which is the longest?  I personally give little credit to just calling a stretch of road a trail, so I lean towards calling the OHT the longest followed very closely by the Ouachita Trail.  For the same reason, the Razorback Greenway will be longer than the River Trail in my book unless Central Arkansas puts in some serious bike lanes, or better yet, a separate paved trail along the designated roadways.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Blanchard Springs Caverns - Trails Underground!

This weekend, some good friends came in from out of town and I wanted to show them what Arkansas had to offer.  Since they live in NYC and Philly, I decided not to try to out-city them and instead took them on a tour of northern Arkansas after showing off our rooftop garden, hitting the Fayetteville Farmers' Market, and raiding the apartment's community garden for supplies.

My goal was to take them on a float from Tyler Bend to Gilbert and also visit Blanchard Springs Caverns.  While the weather didn't cooperate for the float (tons of lightening and 1.5 inches of rain), we did make it the caves which are a great place to go to get away from storms or intense summer heat.
Blanchard Springs has 3 incredible trails underground and some scenic, if less unique, surface hiking trails.

We did the short 0.4 mi. Dripstone Trail located 200+ feet below the surface.  The trail is paved with a non-slip surface and lined with a handrail.  It is even wheelchair accessible, but has some very steep slopes that might require some extra assistance.  The Dripstone Trail is the shortest and easiest of the three trails in the cave system and being the highest in elevation, it has the most detailed and spectacular formations; making it, in my opinion, the best trail for first-time visitors, individuals with physical limitations, or people who aren't fond of tight, dark spaces inhabited by bats.

The photos below are from our recent visit.  As GPS units don't work well underground, I grabbed a copy of a map of the cave trails, but have since misplaced it.  I will upload a scan of it if I ever find it, but it is hard to get lost down there since there are two humorous and informative guides herding you along the whole time.