In the past, most people probably thought of golf when considering outdoor activities in Bella Vista. Lake activities probably come in second. But on the rise for outdoor enthusiasts is the city’s trail system, popular with mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners.
Bella Vista is currently home to two mountain-biking trail systems, including Blowing Springs and the Back 40 — natural-surface trails designed and built for mountain biking and accessible to beginner, intermediate and advanced users. But they are not only loved by mountain bikers. Trail runners – who are more than welcome and encouraged to use the trails – enjoy them as well.
Abe Nutt does about 75 percent of his trail running in Bella Vista. “I live less than a half mile from the trailhead at Blowing Springs so I just lace up and head down the hill. Then, I have about 50 miles of trail at my disposal,” he says. “I have a few loops that are ‘go to’ routes that I run pretty regularly. Favorites would be Blowing Springs to include the trails just east of Lake Bella Vista. I also like to run Back 40 to the Ledges then back to Lake Ann. The southeast side of the Back 40 trails are great. There are so many options some days it’s hard to choose what to run!”
Cassie Brown, who started the Ozark Trail Running Club (formerly Dirtbag Runners) says the group often runs the Bella Vista trails in Northwest Arkansas. Like Abe, she likes the Blowing Springs trails because they flow really nicely.
“That’s one of my all-time favs in Northwest Arkansas,” she adds. “I like that one because it’s very runnable. It’s single track and you’ve got some technicality to it. You’ve got the two sides, the woodsy side where the school is and then you hop over to the side with the bluffs and the waterfall and it’s just so pretty over there.”
Blowing Springs trails are great for new trail runners because they are generally smooth, wider and easy to negotiate. But experienced trail runners enjoy them as well. Some sections are more technically challenging.
“I think an experienced trail runner would love everything that these trails have to offer,” Abe says. “There are smooth trails where you can run fast at Blowing Springs. The Ledges will test you technically. There are some tough climbing trails like Summit School and Rago which can get your heart pumping. Even some of the fast downhill trails like Flow Ride are fun. Flow Ride is a nice downhill mountain bike trail that you can run fast downhill and has a few pretty cool features.”
Trail running in general is about fitness and the sport, but also about being in the outdoors. Cassie says trail running offers lots of different experiences and levels of challenge. Runners can look for hilly trails if they’re training for a race, technical routes that have rocks and roots, or easy and mellow trails with lots of mileage and scenery. “It’s a good way for me to de-stress and it’s just very satisfying,” she adds.
“Somedays I will run them hard to see how fast I can complete a certain route. Other days you can just enjoy the day and get some easy miles and enjoy the surroundings,” Abe explains.
“There are smooth trails where you can run fast at Blowing Springs. The Ledges will test you technically.”
He adds that the quality of trails in Bella Vista is amazing and usable all year long.
“The trails here are unique in that they are so new, get lots of use by mountain bikers, runners, and hikers, and have a very active group of volunteers ready to help maintain the trails when needed,” Abe says. “These trails were built to hold up to the elements and the amount of use they get. The different teams that have built them have done an amazing job of using the natural characteristics of the terrain to design and shape the trails so they feel like a natural part of the environment.”
Cassie and Abe agree the accessibility of the trailheads are incredible as well.
“The trails are literally right in town and are so easy to get to,” Abe explains. “The great thing about the Bella Vista trails is that since they are woven into the community, it draws people to our area like nothing else I have ever seen. On just about any weekend you can walk through one of the trail head parking lots and see cars with license plates from many different states. People come here to experience these trails, spend their money, and leave thinking how great this place is and return time and time again. It’s great for the local economy and makes Bella Vista and Northwest Arkansas an even better place to call home.”
It’s only going to get better. Bella Vista just announced a new phase of 50 additional trail miles to be completed by late 2019. The new phase will be called “11 Under,” which is a double play on words. There will be eleven tunnels built underneath existing roadways so trail users won’t interfere with vehicle traffic. The new phase will be built on the west side of Arkansas Highway 71 in what is considered the central section of Bella Vista. The entire Back 40 is built on the east side.
Back 40 Run and Ride
Runners and mountain bikers will definitely be drawn to the area in December for the 3rd annual Back 40 Run and Ride. The event takes place Dec. 8-9 at Blowing Springs Park. Participants can run and/or ride a choice of three distances – 13, 20 or 40 miles.
Trail runners take to the course on Saturday and mountain bikers head out on Sunday. Mix and match distances or compete in the 20/20 or 40/40 option. This year, there will also be a friendly 5K. Participation is limited to 500 runners and 250 riders, so sign up early here.
By Jill Rohrbach