A long journey starts with a first step. A first mountain bike ride begins with that first push of the pedals.
There may be no better trail for first-time off-road riders than the scenic loop at Lake Fayetteville Park.
Parts of the 6-mile, soft-surface trail meander through forest and close to the water. Some sections bisect meadows and visit wetlands. There’s a bit of uphill, but the single-track dirt path is level most of the way.
The path is smooth as a baby’s behind, thanks to efforts of the Ozark Off Road Cyclists, Progressive Trail design and the City of Fayetteville. The three worked together to transform a rough and tumble route that was in terrible shape into one of the finest soft-surface trails in the region, ideal for hiking, trail running and mountain biking.
Ozark Off Road Cyclists did most of the work and ride the loop often. That includes Brannon Pack, the group’s executive director.
“We see Lake Fayetteville as a place for beginners to come and fall in love with this type of recreation,” he said during a ride around the loop on Feb. 3. “It’s a great beginner trail, not just for mountain biking, but for hiking and trail running.”
Pack, 40, is a seasoned mountain biker who can handle the region’s toughest trails. Riding at Lake Fayetteville is ideal for all skill levels, he said, but it’s particularly important for beginners to have a good experience. That’ll keep them riding and taking part in a healthy lifetime activity. Lake Fayetteville is a primer for testing tires on the region’s new trails that have been built recently.
An effort to refurbish the trail started in 2010 and is complete for the most part. The City of Fayetteville is building a new boardwalk to carry riders over a wetland near the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks. To show some of the highlights of the Lake Fayetteville soft-surface trail, Pack hopped on his mountain bike at Veteran’s Park and took off counter clockwise around the loop.
The route immediately dipped into the woods, twisting and turning, but mostly level and smooth. The winter afternoon was pleasant, and Pack greeted walkers and trail runners with a cheery hello.
Progressive Trail Design donated thousands of dollars in labor and machinery use to build part of the loop.
Most of the toil was hand work with shovels, pick axes and rakes. Key to the project was rerouting the trail away from steep areas and other places where erosion had taken a toll. The idea was to create an easy to ride trail that won’t get washed away.
Chuck Maxwell, president of the Ozark Off Road Cyclists board, remembers the old trail.
“The history of it is in the 1980s people were riding motorcycles there, so a lot of it went straight up and down,” he said.
In 2010, the off road cyclists presented the city a full scale plan to rehab the entire trail system. They rolled up their sleeves and started at the pine forest area near the Lake Fayetteville environmental study center, Maxwell recalled.
“The first thing we did was hit the major eroded areas.”
Ozark Off Road Cyclists worked on the north shore of the lake first, then took their pick axes and shovels to the south side. Today, mountain bikers enjoy the benefits of thousands of volunteer man hours.
Boy Scouts chipped in. Five eagle scout projects were done on the trail, Maxwell said.
“Always our main focus was to create a better, sustainable trail system,” he added.
Ozark Off Road Cyclists was founded in 1997, and members have been doing volunteer trail work for 20 years.
Pack zipped along the south side of the lake, but paused to show the new Mulhollan waterfowl viewing blind that just opened on the lake shore. The trail goes right by it. Lake Fayetteville is home to all kinds of migrating and resident waterfowl, plus bald eagles during winter.
He stopped to check on the progress at the boardwalk under construction near the botanical garden. Pretty soon the trail joined the hard-surface trail around the lake to cross Clear Creek on a bridge. Then the dirt trail headed back into the woods.
Vegetation gets thick beyond the bridge. That creates some blind curves where collisions have happened because riders can go clockwise or counter clockwise around the loop. That will change this spring, Pack said.
Fayetteville has approved making the trail uni-directional, and the Ozark Off Road Cyclists are helping make it happen. The plan is, Pack said, to have riders circle the trail one way on even numbered days of the calendar, and the other way on odd numbered days. It won’t apply to pedestrians on the trail, he said.
Initially, large hard-to-miss signs will be installed at access points and elsewhere around the loop. The signs will be in English, Spanish and Marshallese, Pack said. After the uni-directional rule has been in place for awhile, less obtrusive signs will be erected.
Sunset was near when Pack reached a bicycle skills park east of the Lake Fayetteville office and boat docks. The skills park was added in 2015 and has some up and down boardwalk features and boulders to ride across. The boulders look like a good place to take a tumble, but Pack rolled over them with ease.
Maxwell said he’s satisfied with the remodeled trail, but he’s always on the lookout for ways to make it better.