Fundraising campaign seeks to expand Kessler Mountain trails
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — The nonprofit group building and repairing most of the soft-surface trails in the city wants to put more miles of trail at Kessler Mountain, possibly on land designated for conservation.
Ozark Off-Road Cyclists, whose volunteers have dedicated thousands of hours to maintain trails throughout Northwest Arkansas, is in the middle of a fundraising campaign to expand the trail system.
Kessler is the 620-acre natural area and park south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and west of Interstate 49. Its green space features trails for hiking and mountain biking, with soccer and baseball fields at the park side.
The group bought 40 acres southwest of the city-owned land in 2017 for $280,000, according to Washington County property records. A grant from the Walton Family Foundation made the purchase possible, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
The group wants to build 3 miles of soft trail on the land it owns, and possibly another 3 just north on the city land. The city placed its portion of the mountain in a conservation easement in 2016 to protect it from urban development.
A trail plan for Kessler adopted in 2016 identified part of the land north of the cyclists’ property as significant riparian habitat. The plan also says trails could be possible if an ecological study were done first.
Brannon Pack, executive director of Ozark Off-Road Cyclists, said the group wants to be a good steward of the land first and foremost. Conservationists have been out to look at the cyclists’ property.
“If there’s a place that the trail doesn’t need to be, that’s great,” Pack said. “We’re open to working with our partners to identify what those are, and we have.”
The group owning the 40 acres protects it from development, Pack said. About a mile of trail runs through the plot, which could have been lost if the land were sold to someone else, he said.
“That’s a community mountain. The trail system is very natural, very back-country,” he said. “You get this experience within about a mile of being on the trail — you might just as well be in the middle of nowhere, but you’re still a couple minutes away from a burger and beer in downtown Fayetteville.”
The campaign to raise $125,000 for new trails should cover about one-fourth of the estimated cost for the entire project, Pack said. The effort has been going on for about four months and has reached about 10% of the goal, he said. The money will be used as seed money to apply for grants to support the rest of the trail development.
About 11 miles of soft trail weave throughout the mountain today, said Ken Eastin, park planner with the city. There are plans to add about 2 miles, which would create a loop on the park side to the east, he said.
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust administers the conservation easement, while the city owns the land. Ozark Off-Road Cyclists can build whatever it wants within the boundary of its land, but anything outside would be subject to public comment, said Terri Lane, the land trust’s executive director.
Once Ozark Off-Road Cyclists has a proposal worked out, the city’s park staff will work with the group on it, said Connie Edmonston, parks director. Park staff and the Land Trust also would go over the proposal with the group, and the plan would make its way to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. From there, it may or may not go to the City Council, depending on the scope of the project, she said.
The goal is to get a consensus among the cyclists, conservationists, city officials and public.
Conservation and recreation can co-exist, Lane said. A balance needs to be struck when looking at the entirety of the mountain, she said.
The Land Trust sees the public as the true owner of the mountain, Lane said.
“That’s why there’s a public process involved and different voices,” she said.
Pack said the cyclist organization’s vision is purely conceptual at this stage. A map on the group’s website is meant to serve as a visual aid of what may be possible, he said.
Ultimately, the plan is to come up with trails everyone involved can agree on. Once the trails are built, Ozark Off-Road Cyclists will donate their land to the city and place it under the conservation easement.
“We need to do that in the right way,” he said. “We need to go about developing the trail in the right way, and we understand that as an organization.”
Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com