My Trail, My Town

TheBella Vista back forty just got amazing

By Michael Roberts And Nathan WoodruffPhotos By Novo Studio


If you mountain bike in Arkansas, you know about the wealth of trails around Bentonville and Fayetteville, and you probably know about the growth of the sport in cities like Rogers and Springdale. The success of trails like Bentonville’s Slaughter Pen has made the Ozarks a nationally recognized hotbed for great mountain biking. A town folks don’t so often think of when looking for a place to ride is Bella Vista—but Nathan “Woody” Woodruff of Progressive Trail Design (PTD) says that’s all about to change.

We caught up with Woody on a section of the soon-to-be-open Back Forty trail system outside the Ozark community, and the long-time trail designer was eager to show off a particularly advanced section of the trail called the Ledges. The three-and-a-half-mile section of PTD-designed trail breaks off the main Back Forty trail, taking riders down an IMBA Black Diamond-rated section that holds true to its name—there are places where the ledges being ridden are just a foot or two wide.

“We’ve integrated the trail into the contour of the mountain,” says Woody, who assured us that there was no shame in getting off our bikes to walk. “This whole system came about through the efforts of [local IMBA chapter] F.A.S.T.” he continues, regaling us with stories of the 35-mile Bentonvile to Bella Vista Epic Rides the group has held for years. “And of course, with all the support we’ve gotten from Tom Walton and the Walton Family Foundation, those efforts have paid off with some of the world’s best trails.”

“The budding adrenaline junky never got over wanting to push the limits...”

As we head down what Woody conservatively refers to as “a tight piece of singletrack,” he warns us of the notorious flat-causing rocks that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Such hazards are worth it, though, as the trail winds through lush stands of trees that seem to form a living tunnel over the trail. It’s a warm day, and the good pace required by this trail serves us well by keeping the air moving.

Woody’s love of this trail is indicative of his long-time passion for bike trails. Crossing the streams and gullies of the Ledges, he tells how he got involved in mountain biking as a senior in high school back in the mid-1990s. “My first experience was on the Butterfield Trail at Devil’s Den,” he says. “I got involved with the Free Ride Movement, and we were all doing some extreme downhill rides.” The budding adrenaline junky never got over wanting to push the limits of his riding—something that becomes clear along our ride.

For Woody, though, the biggest excitement about the Bella Vista Back Forty is the trail system’s official debut at the 2016 IMBA World Summit. For a local boy, having people see what Arkansas has become is as big a thrill as heading down a great piece of singletrack. “It’s beyond gratifying to have people come to ride. This is our big debut,” he says. “I can’t wait to see the smiles.”