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Mountain bike fest gets wet, wild at Devil’s Den

Off-road cycling fanatics can testify that the 29th annual Ozark Mountain Bike Festival made quite a splash, maybe more than the 28 festivals before it.

The annual get-together at Devil’s Den State Park offers guided mountain bike rides, seminars to improve technique, bicycle games for kids and even a poker run for peddlers. Riders gathered this year April 7-9 for the festival.

Ride, hike Devil’s Den

Devil’s Den State Park west of Winslow is a 2,500-acre destination for hikers and mountain bike riders from near and far.

Mountain bike riding is on the 6.5-mile Fossil Flats Trail. The loop trail runs beside Lee Creek much of the way and winds through cedar and hardwood forest. The trail crosses Lee Creek twice. There are cuts for shorter rides.

Fossil Flats Trail is also open for hiking. Other park trails are for feet only.

Information: www.arkansas.com, 479-761-3325.

— Staff report

The 6-mile Fossil Flats Trail and its two crossings of Lee Creek is the centerpiece of the festival. This year, organizers decided to take advantage of Lee Creek, a mountain stream that bisects the heart of the park. The first ever Lee Creek Cannonball Splash Contest was born.

Instead of jumping off a ledge and curling up in a ball, contestants on bikes started at the top of a hill, pedaled their bikes crazy fast downhill and hit the waist-high water of Lee Creek as fast as they could. Whoever made the biggest splash was the winner.

The cannonball contest drew a big crowd at noon on Saturday of the festival.

“This is like people at a NASCAR race waiting to see a car crash,” said Tim Scott, the mountain-bike riding assistant superintendent at Devil’s Den.

Scott credits Brannan Pack, executive director of the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists, for coming up with the idea. Pack stood up to his knees in the creek, bull horn in hand, welcoming the 14 contestants and an audience of 50 cheering festival-goers.

Brannan cajoled three from the audience to be judges and gave them placards to hold up their scores, like at the Olympics.

“The audience can definitely influence our judges, so we invite you to whoop and holler and be obnoxious as possible,” Pack announced.

With that, 14 riders one by one barreled down the hill and into the water, sending up walls of water that’d dwarf a conventional cannonball splash.

The winner and champion of the cannonball contest was Jeremiah “Scratch” Stone of Rogers. Stone didn’t make the biggest splash, but got major style points for riding into the creek standing up on the seat. Stone walked out of the water with a nice prize package of cycling items awarded by emcee Pack.

A cannonball contest at a mountain bike event is a big clue the festival is a ride, not a race. That’s what rider Ray Vega likes about it.

“For me it’s the fellowship of mountain bikers, the group rides and the camping,” said Vega, of Rogers and one of the cannonball judges.

“Plus this is the most beautiful park. You go for a ride, cook out, then go off on another ride,” Vega said. “And there’s no competition. Oh, there’s friendly competition like the cannonball contest, but nothing serious.”

No telling what’s in store to make an even bigger splash when the 30th annual festival rolls around next year, always the first part of April.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip

Sports on 05/02/2017