Thursday, February 14, 2013

Healthy Campuses

This is a little off topic from my usual posts, but it is something I've spent some time thinking about and wanted to write about here before reworking it for a letter to the editor or a guest-post somewhere.

I've been a student at three different universities now.  One on each coast and now at the University of Arkansas.  To some extent, all of these schools encourage their students to eat healthy and exercise in order to take care of their mental and physical well-being.  Of the three, the University of Arkansas, in my opinion, does the poorest job providing the facilities and infrastructure necessary to encourage students to be active.

Here are a few examples I've noticed of how UA lags behind UC Berkeley and Duke in terms promoting exercise and fitness.

1.  I will start with one that relates directly to this blog; trails.  UC Berkeley borders large greenspaces that have mile after mile of wide, dirt trails (firetrails).  Duke has a massive 7,000 acre forest with miles of hiking and biking trails.  The flagship university of the Natural State has neither, though the nearby, paved, Razorback Greenway is nice.  UCA and the University of the Ozarks have more walking and mountain biking trails than UA.

2.  UC Berkeley and Duke allowed students and the public to run on their tracks.  Heck, my dorm at Berkeley had a track with an incredible view of the bay, where you could run in the shade of towering eucalyptus while getting lost in the scenery.  Arkansas prohibits students from running on their outdoor track, though students can use a tiny, musty 200m indoor track with views of basketball courts below.

3.  UC Berkeley and Duke have outdoor pools.  UA doesn't.  Berkeley actually had 3 or 4 outdoor pools that students could use.  While you could argue the Bay Area's climate allows for more efficient use of outdoor pools, the weather at Duke is fairly similar to what we have in Arkansas.  I took a class at Indiana University and even they had an outdoor pool.  A public university, in INDIANA.  And they let the public use it, not just students.

4.  Berkeley is not a car-friendly campus and neither is the surrounding city.  When I lived there, it was faster and easier to bike anywhere within 4-miles than it was to drive.  Both Duke and Arkansas have enormous parking lots, garages, and roads throughout campus, which promote driving and detract from the campus experience (and aesthetics).  Arkansas has a long way to go before it can be considered a bike-friendly campus and current powers-that-be incorrectly assume bike infrastructure on campus is more than adequate.

I'm not sure what all contributes to this problem at UA, but one likely cause is the heightened level of deference given to the athletics teams.  What other reason could there be to not allow students to use the outdoor track, which is deserted most hours of most days of the year.  It is interesting to note that Duke and UC Berkeley are big sports schools too, but still allow students to use these facilities. It would be a shame if UA's efforts (and 100's of millions of dollars) to build a stronger sports program were negatively impacting the health of its student body.  Even if private money covered the construction costs of all the athletic facilities, I believe it is still state dollars and student tuition and fees that cover the utilities for these massive buildings that lie vacant much of the year. Why not let us use what we are helping pay for?

UA Outdoor Track

UC Berkeley Outdoor Track #2

Duke Forest Fun

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Buffalo River - Gilbert Railroad Trail

The Old Railroad Trail in Gilbert, is a great hike to do with kids.  At less than 4 miles in-and-out, this mostly flat trail has interesting rock walls, views of the Buffalo River, and large remnants of its not-too-distant railroad past.  I usually get my kicks by checking out the cacti and other amazing plants along this trail and skipping rocks at the river, but when I went with friends in Feb. 2013, we were directed by a friendly gentleman on horseback to a bobcat hiding in a tight crevice in one of the rock walls!

Crinoids!!! (right?)

Unhappy Bobcat

If anyone ever climbs to the top they will find the rocks we threw

View Railroad Trail - Gilbert, AR in a larger map

Buffalo River Trail - Hwy 14 to Maumee South

For my birthday, a group of friends and I went to Gilbert for the weekend and did a couple hikes.  After warming up on the Old Railroad Trail at Gilbert, we tackled the ~12 mile section of the Buffalo River Trail  between the Hwy. 14 bridge and Maumee.  We left one car at Maumee, at the difficult to spot trailhead and parking area located about 1.7 mi. past the end of the paved road and 1.8 mi. before you reach the put-in.  From there we drove to the Hwy. 14 bridge and walked southwest under the bridge and along the road before getting on the Buffalo River Trail (#1 on map).

For this blog entry, I've included more information on the map than usual.  Let me know in the comments if this is useful or if it makes the map too busy.   Shortly after leaving the road, the trail heads uphill for the toughest climb of the entire section, with an elevation gain of ~500 feet.  Once you are on top of the bluffs, take in the amazing views of the Buffalo River Valley (#2 and #3) before heading back downhill and crossing a (possibly dry) stream bed.  The trail follows an old dirt road between miles 4 and 5 and at a couple other locations along the trail.  Be sure to keep an eye out for where the trail splits off of again (#6).  Near the 8-mile mark there is another great view (#7) right before another downhill section followed by a steep climb.  Just after the 10 mile mark, there is a small man-made pond.  From there the trail follows a contour around a small valley and then heads uphill to the road and trailhead marked with a small pile of rocks.

Beginning of hike near Hwy. 14 Bridge

Halfway Point on Road to Spring Creek

Giant River Cane in the Bottoms

We had one cold wet crossing

Trailhead on road to Maumee