Bella Vista trails keep people coming back
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.”
Claire Baumgartner, of Minnesota, rides through a flowy section of Slaughter Pen.