It's 68 degrees in August in Arkansas. Today is a gift from above that comes with strings attached. If the weather if this nice, you have to ride your bike. I live in Springdale, Arkansas. I moved here last year because I fell in love with a house. But now, 11 months later, I have fallen in love with the town. My son, Crey, is a fourth-grade student at Westwood Elementary. It's a predominantly low-income school where many kids walk or ride their bikes–not because it's the cool thing to do, but because it's the only thing to do.
Bike infrastructure around my neighborhood is lacking. The Razorback Regional Greenway runs through downtown Springdale, but trails have not yet extended to my neighborhood. However, the streets are wide, and people are friendly and respectful of cyclists. My son and I weave through side streets for most of the half-mile journey to his school before crossing at a crosswalk onto campus.
Crey loves riding to school. He feels independent, cool. I love it because it gets his brain going early in the morning. Instead of arriving in a sleepy haze, he is energized and excited about the day. We lock up his bike, he heads into class and I'm off to work.
One of my favorite quotes is from Katharine Hepburn: "A city seen from a bicycle is an entirely different city." That fits Springdale perfectly. In a car, I would hop on busy Highway 71 or 412 and feel annoyed as I sat in traffic. By bike, however, I pedal along quiet streets, past the city library and alongside a park where the only honks I hear are from the geese.
Iím the regional trail coordinator for the Northwest Arkansas Council, which means I have the privilege of working on projects like the Razorback Regional Greenway and other local trails. Today, I'm looking in on a new office, The Spoke, that I'll be sharing on the Greenway with other organizations that are energizing our region. The Spoke will initially house the Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks, Velocity Group–which specializes in downtowns and placemaking–and the Northwest Arkansas Council's satellite office, all literally within steps of the Razorback Regional Greenway downtown.
Springdaleís downtown is in the middle of a cultural and infrastructure shift. Local businesses and investors are taking the initiative to revitalize Springdale while retaining the elements that make it cool. The street-side taqueria downtown with its curved plastic chairs and flash-bulb arrows looks like the best bad idea you could ever make. It's just across the street from the state's first cidery, newly opened, with a speakeasy feel. Just a few blocks away is The Steam, serving local food for lunch and dinner in a historic building. Culture, demographics and aesthetics jumble together in downtown Springdale in a beautiful collage thatís evident on even the shortest bike ride.
I stop off at one of the mainstays of downtown Springdale, Spring Street Grill, just across the street from The Spoke. The owner installed a bike rack just last month, but still has a sign out front inviting cyclists to bring bikes inside if they want. The food and service are great–a steaming bowl of oatmeal for me and a rich omelet for my traveling partner.
We aren't the only cyclists in the restaurant. Actually, as I look around, I realize the only patrons in the restaurant are cyclists. On our way out, we stop to talk to two men in full bike kits, the clips from their shoes making little clicks on the floor. They're from Rogers, making a regular trip down the Greenway. Downtown Springdale is the closest spot to a halfway point on the trail and a favorite stopping place to eat, hydrate and take a break.
I ride north to check out one of our newly installed Razorback Regional Greenway mile markers. The trail is 36 miles long, extending from south Fayetteville to north Bentonville. The downtown Springdale section northward is one of the most popular parts of the trail –winding along Spring Creek and through areas that have been open only to farm trucks and cows for the last hundred years. There's a peace here, just minutes from a bustling downtown, that is good for the soul on a sunny August morning. After a trip to Lake Springdale and back, I stop by The Steam for lunch and a tall glass of ice-cold water.
My afternoon involves high heels, so I ride back home to change and get my car. My office is very bike friendly and includes shower facilities to make it easier for cyclists. But todayís afternoon is jammed with meetings spread far apart. I spend the afternoon talking bikes and trails before heading back home to end the day like it started–a pedal to Westwood Elementary. My son bounces out of school, hops on his bike, full of stories about the day.
We ride home through the side streets and I am reminded of how important it is to provide experiences like this to children. Many of northwest Arkansas' schools have added bikes to their physical education curriculum, thanks to grants from the Walton Family Foundation. Trails are continuing to expand and criss-cross northwest Arkansas. Cities like Springdale are beginning to recognize the quality of life and economic benefits of trails and cycling. But at its base, it's the experience–being able to ride your bike safely–that I, and many others around the region, work toward everyday.