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Mena is for real

Updated: Jan 31

Once a month, I write the cover story for the Sunday Perspective section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


This past Sunday, my story was on Mena and the possibility that it will be the next big thing in Arkansas tourism.


Since that story ran, people have been asking: "Is this for real?"


The obvious answer to their question is that I would not have written the story if it were not for real. If you're late to the party (shame on you for not reading your Sunday paper), here's the bottom line: A group of Arkansas business and government leaders has been working quietly on a plan that will make Rich Mountain the nation's go-to spot for what's known as downhill gravity mountain biking.


Downhill gravity biking is an increasingly popular form of cycling in which riders begin at a high elevation and use gravity to propel themselves downhill. Gravity mountain biking provides a high-speed experience and is considered to be among the most extreme versions of the sport.


Brothers Steuart and Tom Walton from Bentonville, who set out a few years ago to transform our state into America's mountain biking mecca, have made multiple trips to the area.

Private interests -- foundations, companies and individuals -- appear prepared to spend up to $40 million to build a series of four lifts up the mountain. These will resemble the lifts at a ski resort. Rather than skiers, the lifts will carry cyclists and bikes.


What's known as the Trails at Mena project eventually will include more than 100 miles of destination-quality trails, including about 30 gravity trails on Rich Mountain. There also will be 15 to 20 backcountry trail loops that will include more than 5,000 feet of climbing.


The difference between Mena and gravity cycling destinations in Western states and Canada is the weather. Unlike those places, Arkansas can offer 12 months a year of cycling.

One person involved in the effort told me: "This will be for cyclists what Vail, Breckenridge and Aspen are for skiers."


Investors are purchasing buildings along Mena Street, the main business street one drives down when coming off Rich Mountain. Downtown already boasts places such as American Artisans (a combination gift gallery and bistro) and The Ouachitas (a craft brewery known for its coffee drinks and pizzas as much as its beer.


It's easy to visualize a neighborhood filled with restaurants, brew pubs and retailers designed to serve cyclists from across the country.


Keep your eyes on Polk County the next few years. It's going to happen.

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