Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Buffalo River Trail - Woolum to Margaret White

This past weekend I went on a short backpacking trip on the Buffalo River Trail between Woolum and Margaret White. The roughly 6 mile route had some real elevation change going from river level to the top of the bluff line twice. While we got some amazing views from Dave Manes Bluff, I suspect big views are more frequent (though less colorful) in the winter.

The river was bone dry for most of this section, something that isn't rare this time of year for this part. In fact, the water is there, it is just flowing underground through the karst and it resurfaces downstream in interesting springs. Oddly enough, we had to cross flowing water at Woolum, but then were able to cross the dry bed downstream of there to camp near Dave Mane's Bluff and Ben Branch.

We heard tons of coyotes at night and saw a lot of stars.
Here is a link to more photos of the dry river bed: http://trailsofarkansas.blogspot.com/2012/08/buffalo-river-low.html
There are some interesting trails near here up around Point Peter:

Monday, October 19, 2015

30 Crossing Recap

I've written quite a bit about about why it is worse than a waste of taxpayer money to widen I-630 and I-30 and provided some discussion of better ideas that would save money and have positive impacts on our community and state. Today I want to focus on the I-30 project, now also referred to as "30 Crossing".

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Birds of Marin County

I recently moved to Tiburon in the San Francisco Bay Area and have been amazed at the birding around my apartment. When I'm lucky enough to get a decent photo of a new species, I'll post it here. Please let me know in the comments if I incorrectly ID anything!

Belted Kingfisher
Great Blue Heron
Brown Pelicans Are Funny
black neck stilts bird
Black-necked Stilts

Brown Pelicans Looking Serious

Great Egret
Brown Pelican

Black Oystercatchers

Anna's Hummingbird

Eared Grebe

Foot-In-Beak Mallard

Golden-crowned Sparrow

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Little Rock Trail Network Expansions

I've written previously here and in my books about the need for Little Rock to work on trail connectivity and the potential of trails along Coleman Creek, Rose Creek, Rock Creek, and Fourche Creek. Tonight they are voting to add many of these ideas to the master plan! Please contact your director or attend the meeting to show your support for these projects.

These trails would greatly expand the walkability and bikeability of Little Rock. The Rose Creek Trail (it may have another name now) would connect the River Trail to Fourche Bottoms and would also make it easier for a lot more people to bike to work downtown by connecting major residential areas to the River Trail.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Fun with a Game Camera

My parents got a game camera awhile ago and I've been the main one checking the results and adjusting its location and settings. Here are some of the more interesting videos and photos its taken at their house in West Little Rock. You can see more great videos on my Youtube channel.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bike to Work Week Live-Blog

In honor of Bike to Work Week, I pledge to at least try to bike to work this week and report the results, experiences, and my thoughts here.

Day 1: 
Perfect weather, a little crisp in the morning. This is going to be awesome. I got to hear the rushing of water in our local creeks and saw a groundhog and a killdeer. Biking lets you take in sights, sounds, and smells that driving muffles or eliminates. The trail was wet in many places, but not muddy. Along with the water on my pants, my fears of showing up at the lab with bikers butt evaporate quickly.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Año Nuevo State Park, California

Año Nuevo State Park in California is a great place to explore the coast and see wildlife. The main attraction, if you are there at the right time of year, is the elephant seals. There are multiple places along the trail to see elephant seals and these are subject to closure and trail reroutings if seals get too close.

In addition to female and young "weener" male elephant seals, we saw sea lions, rabbits, large colorful snails, pelicans, seagulls, lots of "evidence" of coyotes, and more.

A typical stroll to see the seals will be 3-4 miles round trip on trails ranging from dirt to sand, and boardwalk. Educational signage and very informative rangers are located throughout the park.

Año Nuevo Island is visible from several spots along the trail and has an interesting history and some interesting abandoned buildings.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Fossil Flats Trail - Devil's Den State Park

The Fossil Flats Trail at Devil's Den State Park is primarily a mountain biking trail though hikers are welcome. It has three connected loops that allow users to choose from a range of distances and difficulties. The trailhead sign lists these distances as 3, 4, and 5 miles for the Outlaw, Sawmill, and Racers Hill loops respectively. I found these distances to be rough estimates at best, especially given that Racers Hill Loop adds closer to 2 miles to the total.

The trailhead is located near the parking for the walk-in campsite, not far from the bridge and trailhead for Yellow Rock.

The map below doesn't (yet) show all the loops, but it is only missing a short section of the Outlaw loop and some connections that cross the creek. From the trailhead, I went north on the trail which begins as a wide dirt path that may have once been an old road. The wide path continues straight for awhile and a thinner path (single-track) repeatedly forks off and crosses it. Eventually the smaller trail leaves the road for good and winds through some pretty woods with lots of cedar along the creek. There are lots of dry and wet stream crossings so be prepared to get a little wet.

I found the end of the Sawmill Trail, where it overlaps with some others, to be a little confusing or tricky to follow, but just keep the creek on your right until you cross it at the campsite near your car.

This trail is scenic, but not as awesome as nearby Yellow Rock or Devil's Den trails. If you are looking to hike, I recommend doing those first, though on nice weekends, Fossil Flats can be a lot less busy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Razorback Greenway Vs. The River Trail

As we approach the Grand Opening of the Razorback Greenway (most of which has been done for some time) I thought I'd write-up a comparison of Arkansas' two premier paved trails. I want to confess upfront that one reason for writing this is that I hope it helps spur some friendly competition between the two most populated metropolitan areas of the state to keep improving their trail and active transportation systems. Cities often boast about their trail systems when trying to lure companies and which of these trail systems is the best might be a deciding factor in where some companies decide to locate in the future.

My analysis below looks at length, connectivity, and how much of the trail is actually physically separated from roads (you know, like a trail rather than a bike lane or bike route). I've included interactive maps of both at the end so you can perform your own research.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

North Twin - Lake Wedington National Recreation Area

Updated 4/10/15. Info here based on two trips.

Today I made an all too familiar mistake by biting off more than I could chew on a hike. I thought I'd be doing 7-10 miles on a cool, cloudy, spring day and ended up doing 11 miles on a super sunny 80 degree day. Hopefully this sunburned neck, battered feet, and sore hips will make me wiser next time. 

The Lake Wedington Recreation Area is located 13 miles west of Fayetteville on Hwy 16. The lake offers swimming and fishing and the fee area has cabins, picnic sites, restrooms, and campsites. There are two short sections of trail along the lakeshore that are mostly flat. The much more strenuous North Twin Trail is 8.5 miles one-way and located outside the fee area.

I'll have a much more detailed description in my next book, but this is a great trail. It has great views, interesting rock features, and a spring. You can break it into more manageable pieces since it crosses forest roads several times. The northernmost 3 miles can be turned into a loop using the road, saving you some miles and time, and prevents having to backtrack.

Eagle Watch Nature Area - Gentry

Update 3/14/2017: This article details some new features at the Nature Area.

The Eagle Watch Nature Area is located on the property of SWEPCO’s Flint Creek power plant about 1.2 mi. west of Gentry off Hwy 12. The parking area is a little tricky to spot so be on the lookout for the Eagle Watch Nature Trail sign and the gravel parking lot near a bridge.

The nature area features a butterfly garden, educational signage, and a short flat nature trail that was built by volunteers. The area is also an Audubon IBA and is definitely good for bird watching. The main draw are the Bald Eagles in winter, but I saw double-crested cormorants, herons, blue birds, several kinds of woodpeckers, red-winged black birds, and more.

From the parking area, the wide, mulch trail heads southwest along Little Flint Creek. Numerous species of preexisting and planted native trees have been labeled here, which is something I personally love.

After about 250 yards, the trail turns to the left near some benches and large red oaks, hackberry, and black walnut trees.

A little after the turn, you’ll come to a gate. A small branch of the trail forks off to the left before and another right after the gate. All options lead to the pavilion but sticking to the right on the main trail will get you there the fastest with the best view of the lake.

Once at the pavilion, sign the register and look out at the lake. When you are done there, take one of the smaller trails through the woods to see more tree species. When I went in late March the Mayapples and Trillium were about to bloom.

More information on the nature area can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SWEPCOEagleWatch

Monday, March 30, 2015

Short Trails at Hobbs State Park - Conservation Area

I am working on a Trails of Northwest Arkansas book with a focus on trails in and near the major population centers in the area. Hobbs State Park is a major recreational resource for the area and the state as a whole so it will be included. I'm still trying to figure out how to tackle the 24 mile Hidden Diversity Trail and hiking the 8.4 mile Pigeon Roost Trail will take a little planning. In the meantime, I decided to go knock out some of the shorter trails the park has to offer.

Shaddox Hollow -
This 1.5 mile trail goes through some interesting terrain and has some real elevation change. The trailhead (located off 303 near Rocky Branch) has a primitive bathroom. The most interesting features of this trail are two small caves/bluffs with springs that are around half a mile down the trail if hiking it clockwise. Blue blazes lead off down a short spur trail to the lake.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Benefits of Density

Little Rock has a low population density compared to most cities in the United States (and elsewhere). This is true for the majority of cities in Arkansas. How does this relate to trails you might ask? Read on.

I've created maps of Little Rock showing how much smaller the city limits would be if the city had the same population density as other well-known cities. Bear in mind that density and population statistics vary widely depending on methodology (e.g. use of city or MSA boundaries, or population data from the 2010 Census or more recent estimates). For the maps below, I used proper city limits and 2010 census data.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Murphy Park - Springdale

Located in the heart of Springdale near the library, high school, and historic downtown, Murphy Park is a great place for families to gather. When I went, there were ducks and geese everywhere, children fishing, biking, and playing on the playground, and families picnicking.

The park has a network of paths totaling about a mile in length.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Emerald Park / Big Rock Quarry / Burns Park News

Updated 1/27/15: Added map provided by NLR Parks.

Yesterday, I read some interesting news about a land deal that was recently approved by the National Park Service. With the few details in that document, I was a bit worried about the idea of converting 73 acres of Burns Park into commercial property in exchange for adding ~50 acres of Big Rock Quarry to the park system, but I called North Little Rock Parks and got some details about the deal.

First, if it seems odd that the National Park Service was involved in approving this deal, that is the result of Burns Park having received federal funding in the past.

Second, the land Burns Park is losing, is shown on the map below as the yellow bed. Located on the south side of Charles Boyer Dr. and the east side of the interstate, the land isn't well connected to the rest of the park and is currently unused. Plans call for part of the land to be used for a lodge.

Finally, it is great news that Big Rock Quarry is becoming park land officially. People have enjoyed this scenic area for a long time and it was recently threatened with private development.

I've got photos and other information on the Emerald Park, Big Rock Quarry area at the links below and in the book Trails of Central Arkansas:

More information:


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Need for Complete Streets and Greater Active Transportation Funding in Arkansas

Updated 4/22/2015: Little Rock passed a Complete Streets Ordinance 

I found out today that the Little Rock City Board of Directors voted last night to defer voting on a complete streets ordinance. North Little Rock and Conway (updated from comments) are the only Arkansas cities I know of with complete street policies or ordinances (let me know if there are more) so I wanted to share some thoughts on why communities in Arkansas need them and why developers shouldn't be scared of them.

First, what are Complete Streets?
"Complete Streets ... are designed to encourage safe street access for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders."
Worded differently, they place pedestrians, bicyclists, bus users, baby strollers, and wheelchair users at the same priority level as automobiles.

So why does Arkansas need them?

1. Too many bicyclists and pedestrians are being killed by collisions with cars and many of these deaths could be prevented with better street/trail design.

2. Whether city directors or developers like it or not, people, in particular younger educated people, millennials, and the "creative class" that all states and cities fight to attract, want to live in walkable communities. Arkansas cities currently rank very low in terms of walkability and this needs to improve if we want to continue to attract young professionals and keep our best and brightest from fleeing to the coasts.

3. This article by Drew Linder, a Fort Smith banker, highlights many of the economic and social benefits of active transportation infrastructure and gives great reasons for why funding for such infrastructure needs to be increased in Forth Smith (and Arkansas as a whole).
Some key takeaways:
"A nationwide study by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst found that $1 million invested in bicycle infrastructure resulted in 11.4 new jobs. That’s more than the 7.8 jobs for $1 million invested in road-only projects."
"The September 26, 2014 Wall Street Journal had an article about how trails and bike lanes are spurring real estate development in a number of cities. They appeal to both '20 and 30-somethings who want to live closer to work and to older baby boomers looking for a more walkable, bike-able lifestyle.'"
"On a more local level, the Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission noted the importance of quality of life amenities as a recruiting and retention tool. The two specific examples he gave were craft breweries and trails systems. He said they provide a “cool factor” that cities need in order to be competitive. "

4. Complete Streets, protected bike lanes, and bike trails spur economic growth and development. It is ironic then that much of the opposition to complete streets ordinances seems to come from developers. Putting these policies in place will improve public safety and boost our local economies. Over 700 jurisdictions have enacted complete streets policies, with over 70 communities doing so in 2014. This is not some newfangled untested concept that heaps unbearable expenses on developers, as some would have us believe.

If you believe Arkansas needs complete streets and better funding for active transportation infrastructure, please let your local elected officials know and pass this information along to anyone you think might benefit from reading it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Trails of Disney World

While engaging in the Great American Pilgrimage (aka Family Trip to Disney World) for the second time in my life, I decided to see what this bastion of American culture, capitalism, and consumerism had in the way of trails and nature.

While they could do a lot more in terms of hiking and biking infrastructure (call me if you need ideas) we did manage to get in a nice float, nature walk/hike, and a jog.

The Float

We rented kayaks at the Bike Barn in the middle of the Fort Wilderness Campground. The smallest loop there is about a mile long, but we threw in a little extra and paddled about two miles. While it didn't feel entirely wild or natural, this float was unique. We saw lots of interesting birds, a few turtles, and no alligators while paddling through campsites and along channels that generally had one bank mowed (presumably for safety or accessibility).