The Lake Leatherwood Gravity Park, only open since June 14, 2018, is changing the face of tourism in Eureka Springs.
“The amount of YouTube and other social media exposure we’ve gotten has been exponentially greater than before the downhill trails opened up,” Bill Featherstone, Chair of the Parks commission said. “It is amazing how much information the downhill bikers are putting out there, and it is all positive. A lot of these people are staying overnight or several days. And, to a great degree, these are people who have never been to Eureka before.”
Featherstone said the long-term effect is going to be tremendous. Northwest Arkansas in general and Eureka Springs in particular will be a destination for mountain bikers. Featherstone said mountain biking is not just something you can do while you’re here, it’s something that brings people here.
“Bikers love GoPro cameras that they put on their helmet or chest and take videos while they are riding,” Featherstone said. “With regards to trails in general in Northwest Arkansas and specifically the downhill trails in Eureka, it is hard not to use hyperbole and even harder to not be excited. It’s a game changer in so many ways.”
“Interestingly, thanks mostly to Dave Renko and the Ozark Off Road Cyclists, Eureka Springs got out in front of the current wave of mountain bike trails with the construction of 20+ miles of trails at Leatherwood starting back in the 1990s. Since that time, and especially the past ten years, trails in Northwest Arkansas have grown to over two hundred miles, with no end in sight. Ironically, Eureka now finds itself very challenged in trying to keep up with the current pace. The rate of construction in our area, and throughout the state, has become a real blur. The Walton Family Foundation gets the lion’s share of making all of this happen and for bringing such a sharp focus to trails.”
The Walton family purchased and donated about 35 acres of land adjacent to Leatherwood Park and agreed to fund most of the Gravity Park development. They are also temporarily helping to fund the salary of a trails manager responsible for trails development and maintenance, as well as providing $40,000 for trails building/maintenance equipment.
When the Waltons agreed to fund the vast majority of the project, it was their vision to do something that hadn’t been done yet as part of their larger plans to provide the most diverse mix of trails in our region and an experience that really can’t be had anywhere else, Featherstone said.
“Northwest Arkansas is not just going to be a premium destination for mountain bikers; it is going to be the destination for mountain bikers,” Featherstone said. “We’re seeing bikers from states coast-to-coast, as well as from other countries. We’ve never really witnessed that before. The word of mouth and the power of social media has given Eureka untold amounts of free publicity. The opening of the Passion Play trails has helped. Their trails provide something a little different than what we have in our parks system.”
Featherstone said it is not far-fetched to think that Eureka Springs will serve as a centralized hub of sorts for all of the trails in Northwest Arkansas.
“That is something that should be exciting for everyone in the tourism business in Eureka,” Featherstone said. “We have topography that is special. It’s what allowed us to do the downhill trails in such an aggressive way. Each of those seven trails is about a mile long. You can’t have gravity trails a mile in length just anywhere in Northwest Arkansas. This area was chosen for the project because of the topography. The hillsides we used out at Leatherwood were perfect.”
It appears that more trails are being planned with the purchase of the Marble Flats area that was recently purchased by the Bentonville Bella Vista Trailblazers Association, Inc. on behalf of the Walton Family. Featherstone said it is his belief that the intention for the property is to be developed for public hiking and biking that offers something new and different to the current trails experience.
“The positive economic impact of trails and biking to Eureka will be measurable,” Featherstone said.