When the 11 Under trail is completed later this year, Bella Vista is poised to be Northwest Arkansas’ premier mountain biking destination.
When the new trail opens this fall, Bella Vista will have almost 100 miles of trail, significantly more than any city in the region. Bella Vista already has two very popular trail systems – Back 40 with about 40 miles and Blowing Springs with about seven miles. 11 Under will contain approximately 50 miles of trail.
Construction of 11 Under got underway with a ground breaking in September of 2018. “We can build trails all year long but in the wintertime when you don’t have any leaves on the trees you can see the line better,” Erin Rushing, executive director of NWA Trailblazers, says.
NWA Trailblazers is a non-profit organization that develops multi-use trails for cycling, running, walking and discovering the beauty found all across Northwest Arkansas. It is community driven and for almost two decades has worked at its main goal to help people step outside.
11 Under is projected to open in October or November of 2019.
“We’ve got about half of it built,” Rushing explains. “We don’t know exact mileage until the last dirt is turned. That’s just the way it works with design build.” Basically, when taking on a trail design, NWA Trailblazers looks at what’s available on public land and POA property in Bella Vista. They also have a goal to get the trail within a mile of residences and people for easy access. After the general route is identified, they dial it down further and further, say to within 25 feet of the proposed trail. “Then we dial it down to whether the trail goes around this rock or around this tree.” Rushing explains, “We give corridors for [trail builders] to work in. We survey residential properties and say, ‘stay in this corridor.’ We tightly control it but give them creativity.”
11 Under is a different system than Back 40 and will contain some unique features, including 11 tunnels, hence its name. State highways 279 and 340 both traverse east and west across the section of Bella Vista where the trail is being built. Rushing says there are no flat straight spots to cross the state highways so permission was sought to tunnel underneath.
Basically, 10-foot pipes will serve as the tunnels. “So that’s one piece of it that’s special,” Rushing says. “The major road crossings are tunnels, although there are still some regular street crossings.” With these tunnels, there are not steep grades and stops. Riders can just keep riding without having to slow down. “It’s a safer crossing, easier to maintain, and it’s cool,” Rushing adds.
The tunnels aren’t the only cool factor.
“We find things out there as we’re cutting new trails. Caves, springs, waterfalls,” Rushing says. “It’s fun to explore these areas that have not been explored before. It’s really exciting to open these up to the public.”
“On the 11 under system we have some trails that go right along Sugar Creek,” explains Rushing. “Sugar Creek is amazing. It’s beautiful. Many people don’t know the beauty that’s in this corridor, so I think that sets it apart as well.”
11 Under is also different in that the trail is wider and the grades are more mellow. “It’s more flowy so it’s an easier ride. The Back 40 is more technical with rock armory. [11 Under] should appeal to more users, but it’s all about what people like,” Rushing adds.
Some riders like the hard climbs, technical maneuvering through boulders or fast down hills or some like wider easier trails and grades. It’s all about preference.
11 Under is also different in that the trail is wider and the grades are more mellow. “It’s more flowy so it’s an easier ride. The Back 40 is more technical with rock armory. [11 Under ] should appeal to more users…”
“11 under will have an outer loop that’s more on the beginner side then alternate connector trails in the middle,” Rushing says. “We try to get trails within a mile of everyone’s house. So it’s a big outer loop and connectors east to west and north to south.”
“They are set up to be mountain bike trails,” Rushing explains. “They’re signed using IMBA trail standards.” Those standards or degrees of trail difficulty are designated by markers. For example, green circles are easier and black diamonds are difficult. “But we still encourage runners, hikers, and walkers. We have a lot of trail runners on the Back 40. So they are mountain bike optimized but we try to keep some grades mellow enough that an elderly couple could go walk their dog.”
There is also plenty of signage marking each trail to keep people from getting lost. “We like to think we even overdo signage,” Rushing adds. “Five years ago we didn’t need to have that much signage. Everyone riding was local and knew where they were going. Now we have people from out of state, so we have to put on our tourist hat, if you will, and give them really good signage.”
“We are building almost two miles a week. That’s all in Northwest Arkansas. There are people that come and ride one summer and come back and think where did this trail come from? It’s a new product everyone wants to try. Where will it end? I don’t know,” Rushing says.
For 11 Under, the Walton Family Foundation gave a grant to the city for the infrastructure of tunnels and bridges and the NWA Trailblazers procured a grant for trail construction. Rushing adds that the trail building is also possible in Bella Vista because of the cooperation between entities such as Cooper Communities, the city of Bella Vista and the Bella Vista POA.
He expects there will be a ribbon cutting for the trail this fall. To keep up-to-date on the progress and opening, follow the NWA Trailblazers Facebook page.