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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Beth Reed SCENIC RIDE: From left, Jake Meredith, Caleb High and Finn Parker ride along a trail overlooking Lake Bethel in the Northwoods Urban Forest Park on Saturday. Groups of mountain bikers and hikers were taken on an invitation-only tour of the progress that has been made on Phase One of the project with guides from the International Mountain Biking Association.

A group of hikers and mountain bikers got a taste Saturday of what Phase One of the Northwoods Urban Forest Park will be like later this year.

The park is still in its first phase of construction and is not open to the public at this time.

"This is all just five minutes from downtown Hot Springs, that's what's so crazy," Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, said. "It feels like somewhere you have to drive a few hours to get to, but it's right in town."

The Sentinel-Record/Beth Reed TRYING IT OUT: From left, Ed Costello, Bruce Hubbard and Mike Pettey ride along a trail in the Northwoods Urban Forest Park on Saturday.

Hikers and mountain bikers were taken on two separate tours, with many of their paths intersecting on some of the multiuse trails. Hikers made their way through some steep and strenuous paths where trails will soon be built.

"Because of all the rain and flooding, this is our first week of really having something we can go out and look at," said Joey Klein, trails specialist with International Mountain Biking Association Trail Solutions. "We have two to three miles of several different kinds of trails from super beginner to expert pro-level, and some hiking trails, too. So we have a little bit of a taste of everything that's to come."

The Sentinel-Record/Beth Reed TAKING A BREAK: From left, trail specialist Joey Klein, Julie Nix, a city Parks and Trails Advisory Committee member, Bud Kenny, Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison, Gin Hartlett and Hot Springs Parks and Trails Department Director Jean Wallace take a break while hiking a trail in the Northwoods Urban Forest Park Saturday. Klein explained that IMBA trail builders were calling this particular spot on the trail "Coyote Cove" for the wildlife, including coyotes, that have been spotted in the area.

The hikers, under the guidance of Klein, explored much of the park's water views and shoreline, "a natural experience that's out here that most people have never even thought of being a mile from town," he said.

"We've been here on and off since December of 2017," Klein said. "The design happened a year ago in December of 2016, and now we're really fine-tuning everything and we've got three different teams going on three different trails so it's all coming together.

"With Visit Hot Springs, we have this collaboration of a lot of different people coming together to make this happen."

The group of mountain bikers were able to see work being done on the Black Diamond, a trail for experienced riders Klein said is being designed by Randy Spangler, trails specialist for IMBA.

"We've kind of got to be pretty careful about riding that," Klein said. "It's sort of the Ferrari you've got in the garage, but you might not be able to drive it just yet. We have a really special artist here coming back in a few weeks to finish it."

Hot Springs Parks and Trails Department Director Jean Wallace said individuals she spoke with after the hike were excited to see the progress.

"I clocked (the distance) on Google Maps and it's like a mile from Whittington to (Northwoods)," Wallace said. "It will be a unique experience that will complement the rest of our recreation offerings to the community and to our visitors. It was designed and is being built as a state-of-the-art trail facility. Hot Springs is almost, in my mind, an experimental site of taking best practices and best construction techniques and placing them on the ground."

There's going to be something available for everyone, she said.

"I have traveled around that area in the past seeing it without trails and seeing it with a few trails, but this past weekend I got to experience areas that I had never been to before," Wallace said. "It was good that our guide Joey Klein had already flagged the trail that we took, that was not a trail yet, because it was very steep. But as we were walking we knew that eventually there would be a trail there. Joey is very good at capturing views and making a trail route go where people want to go, and to the best scenery. The lakes were amazing and the views from the trails to the lake -- for the hiking trails mainly -- were extraordinary.

"We did see the cyclists coming toward us on several occasions and everybody that cycled past us had a smile on their face. Everybody that I spoke with afterward was very excited and very glad to have seen what they did get to see. It's my understanding that there will be several more invitation-only tours to showcase the additional trails that are going to be built. If anyone is interested in volunteering to help build trails, or become a steward of the property then they can get in touch with me."

The first phase of the Northwoods project was approved by the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission in October 2017. IMBA Trail Solutions is continuing construction of this phase of the trail system north of downtown Hot Springs.

In February, the National Park Service held a meeting seeking public input on a proposed trail connection on park land north of Pullman Avenue. The public comments were taken as part of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process necessary to complete an Environmental Assessment.

The total cost of the first phase of the mountain bike trail project is $1,299,975, with half the cost -- $648,421 -- funded through a matching grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

Local on 03/13/2018

Print Headline: IMBA specialists take groups on first tour of Northwoods

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