Trail Foundations

Arkansas mountain bikingís roots run deep

By Michael Roberts


From the first mountain biking trails at Devil’s Den State Park near West Fork to the International Mountain Bicycling Association Epic Trails in northwest and southwest Arkansas, mountain biking has become a vital and exciting part of Arkansas’ recreational landscape. The seeds for our current scene were planted by a few dedicated souls who planned, built and maintained trails in the state—and did so long before the sport became the juggernaut of popularity it currently is. We’ve gathered a group of “old timer” trail stewards to share their stories about the history of mountain biking in Arkansas.

Photo Courtesy of OORC

Photo Courtesy of OORC

Dave Renko

After a decade of recreational riding, a few friends and I formed the Ozark Off Road Cyclists (OORC) in 1997. My primary job was with a full-time regional touring band, but I filled all my spare time with Ozark riding adventures. Weekends became even more packed, squeezing racing and volunteer trail work between the cracks. Often I would wake up on the ground after traveling all night following a gig just so I could be where the trail action was. 

I filled my hat rack in the early 2000s, first as IMBA Arkansas state representative, then by founding the Arkansas State Mountain Bike Championship Series. My professional trail building career began in 2000 working for Eastin Oudoors, an Arkansas trail building company. After a two-year stint as trails coordinator for the city of Eureka Springs (2001-2003), I started my own trail building business, Sweet Trails (2004). By 2007 I had joined forces with Progressive Trail Design and continue working with them to date.

Most recent advocacy efforts include developing a branch program to expand the OORC’s influence to other communities in northwest Arkansas and the River Valley, working with the Eureka Springs Trails Committee to develop a master trail plan and starting work to establish an Arkansas Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

—Dave Renko

Photo By Todd Henne

Photo By Todd Henne

Todd Henne

I started riding in the Ouachita Mountains years ago when our daughter, Kristi, returned from a vacation declaring she was going to be a mountain biker. We quickly realized we were living near some of the most challenging and diverse trails and terrain between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Once we realized how few locals were riding and caring for our trail network we quickly adopted a take care of what we were using attitude. We continue to play Trail Fairies on the jewels we discovered years ago and are always thankful that Kristi got us all involved years ago.

—Todd Henne

Photo By Robert Cavanaugh

Photo By Robert Cavanaugh

Robert Cavanaugh

I’m a retired teacher from Louisiana who moved to Arkansas in 2008 to build a home on 44 acres along the Ouachita River near Pencil Bluff. I moved to Arkansas because I love the woods, the mountains, the water and the mountain bike trails in and around them. While in Louisiana, I worked with the United States Forestry Service on maintaining trails in the national forest. I have continued and expanded this effort in Arkansas. I helped build the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail and continue to work maintaining it, the Womble Trail and the Ouachita Trail. I mountain bike most days on one of these or other Arkansas trails. Living very close to three IMBA Epic Trails is about as good as it gets. 

—Robert Cavanaugh

Photo By Robert Cavanaugh

Photo By Robert Cavanaugh

Fred Phillips

My background is one that consists of a mixture of project engineering, business management and event production. I’m the CEO of DLT Events, COO of Tri Dallas Events and from an educational perspective hold a Master of Science in Engineering.    

This journey has taught me that it is essential to give back to the areas and activities that have meaning to you. With this as a central thought, there are several items that have become a major focus, like the building of the Iron Mountain Trail System at DeGray Lake in Arkadelphia, the stabilization of the Cross County Mountain Bike Racing Series in Arkansas,a the establishment of the Arkansas Mountain Bike Marathon Series and hosting the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Marathon National Championships for 2017-18 at the Iron Mountain Trail System.

Looking forward, I hope to complete two more major tasks: Bring an international level mountain bike race here to Arkansas and develop a multiple-day mountain bike endurance stage race, which would showcase the top level trails we have to offer within Arkansas.

—Fred Phillips

Photo Courtesy of OORC

Photo Courtesy of OORC

Phil Penny

Cycling has always been a driving force in my life. The first trail I ever built was in the woods behind my house in Ashdown when I was just a kid. Two days after building this trail, I crashed my BMX bike into a tree and had to have surgery on an exploded knuckle. This happened after watching an Evel Knievel jump in the 1970s.

In 1988, I bought my first mountain bike, a GT Timberline with no suspension. I would ride on ATV trails because that was all there was to ride. In the years that followed, I started building and working on trails like the Old Post Park, Moccasin Gap and Womble with some college friends. Following that, I worked for the state, creating a trail proposal for an RTP Grant for White Oak Lake State Park. We used the money to build the Fern Hollow Trail.

After moving to Fayetteville in 2005, I got very involved with the Ozark Off Road Cyclists. We worked on trails across the region, from Devil’s Den State Park and Lake Lincoln City Park to Lake Fayetteville Park. However, the work we accomplished with Mt. Kessler and the Upper Buffalo Headwaters Trail System seems to be the pinnacle of achievement thus far. Saving Mt. Kessler from urban development and ensuring its protection for people to enjoy was amazing, and receiving a Model Trail Award from the International Mountain Bicycling Association in 2014 for the Upper Buffalo Headwater Trail System was epic!

I am continuing my passion and love for bringing new trails to the Natural State as director of trails at Crossland Trails Division. Recently, as I put my young son on his first bicycle and watched him enjoying the freedom and joy of riding, it strengthened my desire to “Get some trail!” as I was known to exclaim as Ozark Off Road Cyclists president. I live, breathe and sweat bicycle grease.

—Phil Penny

Photo Courtesy of Traildogs

Photo Courtesy of Traildogs

Jerry Shields

I’m a 73-year-old retiree who settled on the southeastern shores of Lake Ouachita near Mount Ida. I became involved in community volunteer organizations seeking an avenue to provide support for the area’s economic and recreational pursuits.

I proposed the concept of developing a multi-use hiking and mountain biking trail along the southern shores of Lake Ouachita located in the Ouachita National Forest. I organized a coalition of 11 federal, state, local and private organizations as the driving force for the development of what is now known as the LOViT Trail (Lake Ouachita Vista Trail). 

Utilizing the strong support of the land managers, the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, I secured grants and donations sufficient to build the 45-mile trail over a period of 10 years.

I organized the Traildogs Volunteers, who worked with the Forest Service, the Corps of Engineers and trail contractors in the construction of what is now an IMBA EPIC trail. The Traildogs and I all agree the 10-year effort was a labor of love for the outdoors and a great opportunity to give back to the community. 

—Jerry Shields