NWA EDITORIAL | Northwest Arkansas could get a new bike path, created more than 160 years ago

It wasn’t too long ago that most people considered heading out on a “trail” in northwest Arkansas to lace up the hiking boots, check the map, and, for those wisely not to lose, a sort of navigational aid.

These are the Ozarks, an often rugged landscape that challenged hunters from the Osage and other tribes as well as European settlers who came later. Traveling on foot, on horseback or on the back of a mule, it was probably inconceivable for them that traversing the plateau of the Ozarks and its valleys would one day be perceived as a leisure activity and not a survival one.

“Outdoor Recreation” would probably strike them as a bit comical or confusing. It’s what today’s residents and visitors can afford to call it, which should promote appreciation for the “richness” we have in Northwest Arkansas.

It was along some of these ancient Native American trails and rugged paths dug through fields and forests by early settlers that John Butterfield fashioned a line of stagecoaches in the late 1850s under contract to the U.S. government to haul mail. twice a week. His Butterfield Overland Stage, with more than 100 trainers, traveled about 2,500 miles between St. Louis and San Francisco, crossing northwest Arkansas to Fort Smith before heading west.

For decades, this historic overland route has been promoted as a path for automobile tourists, much like traveling the old Route 66 which bypassed, but did not enter Arkansas. But, going back to that concept of outdoor recreation, the hot market in the Ozarks today is people on two wheels.

Last week, reporter Ron Wood explained how next month planners in northwest Arkansas will consider recommending a bicycle touring trail through Washington and Benton counties that will largely follow the stagecoach trail . Missouri has already promoted part of the Jefferson City to Springfield route for cyclists for some time, with work continuing further south. Connecting Springfield and Fort Smith will add another 250 miles.

Fort Smith planners will soon consider designating the route through Crawford and Sebastian counties.

Brent Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that doubling the length of the designated route would pay dividends in Arkansas and Missouri.

“The thing with these bike paths, the longer it is, the farther people will travel to visit it, and the longer they’ll stay, so that’s a double bonus.”

Cycling is all the rage in Northwest Arkansas these days, whether it’s mountain biking or cruising along urban trails. A designated path associated with the Butterfield Overland leg will emphasize runners looking for an experience that goes beyond simply getting from point A to point B. An abundance of American history is connected by the path , creating opportunities for cyclists to become engaged in historic tourism.

This multi-year effort is not easy. An official said approvals from nearly 20 organizations were needed to designate a path for the most recent part, but its creation should pay dividends. Studies in the United States and Europe have found that “adventure tourism” and the growing interest in ever-changing cycling technology can translate into millions of dollars in tourism benefits.

Biking on a route that includes inspiring scenery, preserved historic buildings and remnants of structures along the Stagecoach Line, Pea Ridge National Military Park, Fort Smith National Historic Site and much more can be a great attraction for the active tourist.

Planners are considering even more: National Historic Trail status, which could provide federal funding, and potentially extend the designated trail west into Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona and even as far as San Francisco.

There is an outstanding and massive historical story to be told along the Butterfield Overland Stage route and it deserves to be told. A marked route for cyclists with signs that detail the important history along its path will be an inviting and intriguing driver of tourism for northwest Arkansas and southern Missouri.

It will take years to fully develop, but the effort will undoubtedly be worth it.

About Justin Howze

Check Also

Remote Patient Monitoring Market Volume, Analysis, Future Forecast, Industry Overview and Forecast 2029 | GE Healthcare, Omron Corporation, Abbott Laboratories

Remote patient monitoring is technology that allows patients to be monitored outside of traditional clinical …