History of trail discussion
Since 2007, Bella Vista residents have had many opportunities to talk about trails in the community.
An amenities survey taken in 2007 listed trails as the most desired amenity in Bella Vista, according to a story published in the Weekly Vista in February 2008. By then the city planning commission was already working with the POA’s Joint Advisory Committee on Recreation to look at adding more trails, what commission member Don Robinson called, “an elaborate walking trail system” in the area.
In 2009, volunteers built a half mile of soft surface trail in Blowing Springs Park. Among the volunteers were members of Friends of Slaughter Pen Trails, associated with the brand new mountain bike trail in Bentonville.
In 2010, the POA’s Recreation Committee formed a subcommittee with members of city administration to begin work on a master trail plan. In March of that year when the POA approved $5,000 to help design a master plan, members of the board agreed the trails would be open to the public. According to a Weekly Vista story published on March 24, 2010, opening the trails for public use would limit liability for the POA because of a state statute on recreation. At least one board member commented that keeping the public off the trails would also be very difficult.
In 2011, there were two public meetings to give members a chance to talk about the
master trail plan. Only about 60 people attended, but there were no negative comments. Later in 2011, Progressive Trail Design was contracted to build 6.25 miles of trails in Blowing Springs. The project was funded by a grant from the Trail Blazers.
Meanwhile, POA employees built a 2,200 foot trail at Tiree Park. Since the Tiree Park trail was built with POA funds and didn’t go outside POA property, it remained private. The Tiree trail has a surface make of wood chips which was not appropriate for bikes, Park Superintendent Vern Olsen said.
In August 2011, another public meeting was held to display a master trail plan that had been developed by the trails subcommittee. About 40 members were present and all seemed to support the plan. The POA board accepted the
Master plan in October but in December voted not to fund it.
A story printed on January 25, 2012, said that a representative from the trail design firm, Alta Planning and Design, was in the area to talk about the economic growth brought by trails. He said many perspective homeowners are attracted by the proximity of a trail system and trails also bring in tourists.
Clem Morgan, then POA Recreation Director, said that trail users are more likely to report crimes than to cause them.
Chris Suneson, then city planning director, also spoke positively about trails increasing property values.
In February 2013, POA members learned the result of a professional amenities study funded by the POA board.
“Everywhere we went we heard about trails,” Peter O’Toole of GreenPlay, LLC. told a group of about 100 POA members who gathered at Riordan Hall to hear his final report. Continuing
to implement the master trail plan is a priority, he said.
In 2014, the Bella Vista Foundation got into the trail business by funding a professional master plan. The money came from the Walton Family Foundation, but was administered by the local group. Alta was contracted to develop the plan. There were two meeting in November, 2014 to give local residents a chance to add input.
In April, 2015, the master plan was completed and presented to the residents in another public meeting as the city began the process of hiring a trails coordinator. In September of that year, 40 POA members attended a board meeting to support the concept of trails when the board accepted the master plan.
In was at the September 2015 board meeting when POA attorney Doug McCash and Bob Brooks who was then the board chairman told the board about the licensing agreement that was an integral part of comprehensive
trail system. The licensing agreement allowed the POA to retain ownership of the common property used by the trail system. The Walton Family Foundation and the city were reviewing the documentation. The city of Bella Vista and Cooper Communities also formally agreed to allow the trails and trail users on their property.
When the city approved the plan in October 2015, work began on the Back 40 with goal to finish by the following summer. In August 2016, the first section of the Back 40 opened.