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May 5, 2021 Comments Off on Knobby tires, trail tradition: Mountain bike festival celebrates off-road riding Cycling, Featured, Latest

Knobby tires, trail tradition: Mountain bike festival celebrates off-road riding

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

No cyclist in his right mind would pedal a perfectly good mountain bike down a steep hill and into an icy creek just for grins.

Festival goers were allowed to ride April 3 2021 on some of the new trails in the park that are not officially open yet.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Whoops and hollers sounded from a grinning crowd on the shore of Lee Creek as eight bikers — maybe in their left minds — hit the water going as fast as they could during the Big Splash Contest at the 32nd annual Ozark Mountain Bike Festival.

Devil’s Den State Park was splash-down central April 3 for the crazy contest and other shenanigans at the annual weekend, which celebrates off-road cycling.


There was bike limbo, a bicycle poker run, even a bike toss to see who could throw an old beat up bicycle the farthest. Guided group mountain bike rides for riders of every ability took place throughout the day April 3.

Riders roll along the Fossil Flats Trail on April 3 2021 at the annual Ozark Mountain Bike Festival at Devil’s Den State Park.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

The festival moved to Lake Fort Smith State Park on April 4 for an intermediate-level group ride.

Most rides rolled along the 6-mile Fossil Flats Trail at Devil’s Den or bikers could pedal on their own. Some new trails are being carved out of the rocky Devil’s Den landscape. They’re not open yet, but people were allowed to bike or hike them during the festival.

Trails normally close at dark, but a night ride is a special event at the festival.

The whole event got started in 1989 after Tim Scott, the park’s mountain-biking assistant superintendent, and a co-worker traveled to Colorado to check out a mountain bike festival there. They came home and planned the first Ozark Mountain Bike Festival, borrowing ideas from the Colorado folks.

The event was a success from the beginning.

Bob Cable talks about the history of two homesteads at Devil’s Den State Park while leading the Saturday morning family ride on April 3 2021 along Fossil Flats Trail. Cable has attended all 32 Ozark Mountain Bike Festivals and volunteered at most of them.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Scott said April 3 during this year’s festival. “We got way more people than we thought we would, about 150. Mountain biking was just getting started, and people were wanting events. We had a lot of fun stuff back then like we do now.”

Scott, an expert rider himself, serves as organizer and master of ceremonies or, some may say, herder of cats, at each festival. Ozark Off-Road Cyclists group pitches in to lead rides and take care of other chores.

Some rides, like the Saturday morning family ride, are just for fun. Others are led by an instructor from the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists who can coach bikers on improving their technique.

Steve Schneider, one of the teachers, gathered his group for a quick talk before they hit the dusty trail. A dozen beginner and intermediate riders listened closely.

“Mountain biking is all about twisting, turning, rolling, so there’s a different skill set from road biking,” he said. “You can do a 5-mile mountain bike ride and it might feel like you rode 30 miles on a road bike.”

Koston Seay, 9, pedals Saturday April 3 2021 over a teeter-totter at a skills course for kids.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

A helmet, cycling gloves and sturdy shoes are vital for mountain biking safely, Schneider told the group. Knee pads are good, but they aren’t comfortable for some peddlers, he noted.

Riders at this year’s festival included life-long experts and people who’d never biked off road until the event.

The 32nd annual Ozark Mountain Bike Festival is in the books, but bikers who like their rides over dirt can look forward to next year’s edition. It’s normally held the first weekend in April.

A lot of festival goers reserve cabins or campsites for the weekend. Others arrive for all or part of a day. Most activities are on Saturday of the festival. A group ride starts the event on Friday afternoon. It concludes with another group ride on Sunday morning. Helmets are required of all riders.

All activities are free, even the Big Splash Contest. Grand prize for the winner is an Arkansas State Parks gift card and basking in applause from the creekside crowd.

Bike at Devil’s Den

How low can you go? Gus Franzen, 9, goes under the bar April 3 2021 during bike limbo at the Ozark Mountain Bike Festival.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Most mountain biking at Devil’s Den State Park, west of Winslow, takes place on the Fossil Flats Trail. It’s a 6-mile loop through the park, with options for shorter distances.

Much of the trail is beside Lee Creek, which makes for a scenic ride. Racer’s Hill is a challenging climb midway through the loop, or there’s a detour to bypass the ascent.

Riders can count on two wet crossings of Lee Creek to complete the loop. Trail surfaces range from smooth dirt to loose rock.

Information: Devil’s Den State Park, (479) 761-3325,,

Source: Staff report

Craig Franzen of Highfill rides his bike at break-neck speed into chilly Lee Creek on Saturday April 3 2021 during the Big Splash Contest at the 32nd annual Ozark Mountain Bike Festival at Devil’s Den State Park.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)