Bella Vista trails keep peo­ple com­ing back

The Weekly Vista - - Community - KEITH BRYANT kbryant@nwadg.com

Arkansas’ cold wasn’t quite enough to keep Min­nesotan vis­i­tors from camp­ing at Blow­ing Springs dur­ing Thanks­giv­ing week.

John An­dringa, of Bemidji, Minn., said the camp­ing was a bit colder than when he and a few friends came down to ride Northwest Arkansas trails in May of this year. He came back with a dif­fer­ent group of friends in Novem­ber, he said, to fit in one more moun­tain bik­ing trip for 2017. The hol­i­day, he said, let him stretch va­ca­tion days into a full week.

“Camp­ing’s a bit colder,” he said.

By con­trast, he said, it proved a lot warmer than ex­pected dur­ing the spring. Rid­ing in the cooler weather, he said, was a lot eas­ier — and dryer — and un­like his home state, the weather ac­tu­ally let peo­ple get out and ride. The fallen leaves, he said, did make rid­ing a bit more chal­leng­ing.

It was in­ter­est­ing, he said, to show up in the news­pa­per and meet the city’s mayor last time around. This time was even more sur­pris­ing, he said, af­ter he emailed con­tacts he made dur­ing the trip in search of a com­mu­nity Thanks­giv­ing din­ner.

The next day, he said, Mayor Peter Christie had in­vited him and his fel­low rid­ers and Bemidji res­i­dents, Claire Baum­gart­ner and Sara Bor­chardt over for the hol­i­day meal. This din­ner was ex­cel­lent and ev­ery­one had a good time, he said, but it also added the chal­lenge of pack­ing nice clothes for the trip.

Be­yond the rider-friendly weather, he said, the Northwest Arkansas area of­fered a slightly shorter trip than some other des­ti­na­tions, like Moab, Utah, but the area also has a wealth of trails to cover.

“We don’t have time … there are enough trails that, ev­ery time you come down, it’s a dif­fer­ent trip,” An­dringa said. “We were in Northwest Arkansas for a week and we still didn’t get to hit all the stuff we wanted to.”

Other ar­eas, he said, typ­i­cally

have enough trails to last a week­end.

Bella Vista spokesper­son Cassi Lapp said it’s in­ter­est­ing to see peo­ple com­ing from out of the area. It’s a strong in­di­ca­tor, she said, that the trail builders and work­ers main­tain­ing the trails are do­ing a good job.

“We’re def­i­nitely see­ing an in­flux of peo­ple com­ing in for the trails,” she said, “but we’re still faced with the same dif­fi­culty.”

Peo­ple of­ten come to Bella Vista to ride, she said, but the city isn’t ben­e­fit­ing be­cause they go else­where to eat and sleep more of­ten than not.

Eco­nomic devel­op­ment man­ager Travis Stephens said that the city’s re­cently-formed ad­ver­tis­ing and pro­mo­tion com­mis­sion, Dis­cover Bella Vista, can help ad­dress that.

Cur­rently, he said, peo­ple look­ing for food and lodg­ing on­line are go­ing to grav­i­tate to Ben­tonville and Rogers, which have a stronger ad­ver­tis­ing pres­ence.

The com­mis­sion, he said, can work to im­prove ad­ver­tis­ing for the city’s restau­rants as well as its lodg­ing ser­vices, like AirBNB sites and Va­ca­tion Rentals.

The city, he said, can­not use tax dollars to pro­mote the lo­cal busi­nesses, but the com­mis­sion can.

“We have the op­por­tu­nity to high­light what we have,” he said. “That’s re­ally the crux of why we have the A and P com­mis­sion.”

The goal, he said, is to draw more peo­ple in and then get them to stick around and make use of Bella Vista’s ser­vices.

Lapp said the ben­e­fits ex­tend be­yond more ser­vice for moun­tain bik­ers and more money in busi­ness own­ers’ pock­ets.

The tax rev­enue, she said, builds bet­ter roads and im­proves the city’s ser­vices.

“It’s not that we’re just cater­ing to moun­tain bik­ers,” she said.

Du­luth, Minn., res­i­dent Lexi Hen­dricks joined the visit­ing group later in the week and rode with them for the week­end.

She also came to Arkansas in the spring, she said, and had an even bet­ter time with the cooler rid­ing weather and a bit of fa­mil­iar­ity with the area.

“It was even bet­ter to be down there a sec­ond time, we kind of knew what trails we wanted to hit this time,” she said. “I re­ally liked the Tay­lor Home­stead trail. Looked just fan­tas­tic, su­per fun to ride … every­thing in the Back 40 is al­ways such a fun ride.”

Hen­dricks said she’s been rid­ing for three years, af­ter friends got her in­ter­ested in the sport, and she’s en­joyed it ever since.

Part of the ap­peal, she said, is that it’s never the same — there’s a lot of va­ri­ety in trails. Ev­ery area is dif­fer­ent, she said, and even rid­ing around Northwest Arkansas, she saw dif­fer­ent kinds of trails the whole way.

“We’ve even talked about maybe mak­ing a trip down in the win­ter­time,” Hen­dricks said. “So just a week later we’re al­ready plan­ning a trip back.”

The whole crew seemed in­ter­ested in com­ing back to ride more of Arkansas’ trails.

Sara Bor­chardt said she got into far bet­ter rid­ing than ex­pected while, for­tu­nately, avoid­ing in­jury. Dur­ing the trip, she said, they made friends with peo­ple from all over the coun­try.

She was ex­cited, she said, to see what else trail builders in Northwest Arkansas might cook up.

“As long as the trails keep build­ing, we’re go­ing to keep visit­ing,” she said.

Claire Baum­gart­ner said this area is good proof that it’s al­ways moun­tain bik­ing sea­son some­where — even if ideal camp­ing and rid­ing weather are two dif­fer­ent things.

John An­dringa said he fully ex­pected to visit Northwest Arkansas again.

“We’ve got friends go­ing to Mex­ico for spring break,” he said. “We’re go­ing to Arkansas.”

Keith Bryant/The Weekly Vista

Claire Baum­gart­ner, of Min­nesota, rides through a flowy sec­tion of Slaugh­ter Pen.

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