Written by Hicham Raache - Arkansas Democraft Gazette
SILOAM SPRINGS — A Monday groundbreaking finally will turn the dream of creating a vast bike and nature park into reality.
The 10:30 a.m. event will kick off a two-phase development involving extensive improvements to City Lake, transforming the 165-acres a mile and a half north of the city into an outdoor activity area to be used for cycling, walking, hiking, running, paddling and wildlife education, said Holland Hayden, communication officer for the city.
“We are really going to get together and celebrate the fact that we have some amazing improvements coming and that we’re partnering with Ozark Off Road Cyclists,” Hayden said.
Ozark Off Road Cyclists is a soft-surface trail user group building trails all over the state, said David Van-Sandt, who serves on the Parks Planning Board and is the chairman of cyclists’ borderline branch in Siloam Springs.
Brannon Pack, executive director of Ozark Off Road Cyclists, said a trail system and other amenities being added to City Lake comes after many years of effort from many people.
“There’s been some strong advocates for two decades advocating for recreation amenities at City Lake,” Pack said. “Passionate people have been advocating for City Lake long before we got involved, and we’re just happy to be a piece of the project.”
VanSandt wrote a letter to the city 14 years ago as a resident asking City Lake area be used as a soft-surface trail. What the Siloam Springs residents will get is a whole lot more, he said.
“This isn’t just a mountain bike trail,” VanSandt said. “It’s a complete park.”
Park amenities are designed to attract outdoor enthusiasts who love nature, as well as bike riders who enjoy riding on natural terrain, Pack said.
“We have a skills course and a pump track that will really help people develop the skill sets necessary to then explore the miles of soft-surface trails,” Pack said. “Within the trails themselves we’ve included beginner and intermediate trails. On that one piece of property, people have the amenities to get better on their bikes right there (on the trails).”
The bike trails of varying skill levels will be about 5 miles, Hayden said.
The improvement will be made with sensitivity to creatures in the area by collaborating with Joe Woolbright, who works for Ozark Ecological Restoration, Van-Sandt said.
“He got involved as a citizen in trying to keep the water quality high in the watershed and protect the native species of plants and wildlife,” VanSandt said. “He has helped us protect milkweed for the monarch butterfly.”
Woolbright also helped to pinpoint an area of the lake frequented by trumpeter swans, and measures will taken to protect them.
“The mouth where Flint Creek comes into the lake, that’s an area that needs to be protected four months out of the year, and during that time it will be buoyed off,” VanSandt said.
The first phase will be completed this year, and the second phase either this year or in 2018, Holland said.
The cost will be $965,000, Pack said. Money for the work comes from three sources: Siloam Springs, an Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Transportation Alternative Program grant and private donations. For Phase 1, the city will provide $264,500 and the Highway Department grant is for $67,705, Hayden said. City money and private donations raised so far come to a combined $543,000, Pack said.
“We’ve already generated half of the revenue necessary,” he said.
Good timing brought Ozark Off Road Cyclists into the City Lake project last year, Hayden said.
“The city had been working on some improvements for years without much success,” she said. “Our parks and recreation manager (at the time) was attending a local meeting for OORC and they all started talking about the desired improvements. It was right place, right time, right project.”
Ozark Off Road Cyclists, a nonprofit organization started in 1997, has developed trail systems across the state, including overseeing improvement to the Lake Fayetteville trail system, the Mount Kessler trail system, Lincoln Lake in Lincoln and Lake Leatherwood Park in Eureka Springs, among others.
“As an organization we’re growing as the trail system grows,” Pack said. “For 20 years we have been preserving green space by creating recreation amenities and multi-use trail systems for everyone.”
The group will work with Crossland Trails on the overall design and plan and Rogue Trails for implementing the improvement, Pack said.
There are already two trail systems in the city: Sager Creek Mountain Bike Trail, which is 5 miles, at John Brown University, and a 13-mile paved trail throughout the city. The City Lake trail will not initially be connected to the other trail systems, Hayden said.
“Right now it’s just (going to be) a trail by itself,” she said. “Eventually we would like to have connectivity to the other trails in town.”
Community involvement and feedback was a key ingredient to developing the City Lake trail.
“From hikers, bikers, walkers, fishermen, birders, all of those user groups coming together and making this a reality, it’s really humbling,” VanSandt said. “It comes back to us being good stewards of our natural resources. Everybody’s in it for the same reason. It’s about everybody trying to do the right thing.”
The park will have a proper name, but the name hasn’t been decided, VanSandt said.
Hayden said there’s no talk of development around the park.
“There’s not a lot of room for additional development out there because of private land owners, but you never know,” she said. “If an opportunity comes, you never know what will happen.”
There is excitement all around for the park, said Don Clark, the city’s community development director.
“It’s an opportunity to enhance our quality of life in Siloam Springs,” Clark said.
City Lake history
The 165-acre lake property was acquired by Siloam Springs in 1944 and remained in its natural state until 2009, when a pump house was installed. Money for the planned improvement comes from city money approved in 2016 and 2017, a Transportation Alternative Program grant from the Arkansas Highway Transportation Department and private sources.
Source: Staff report
City Lake improvements include:
• About 5 miles of dirt trails of varying skill levels
• A wooden truss bridge to cross Flint Creek on the east side of the lake
• About one mile of soft-surface, multi-use trail on the southeast side of the lake
• A birder blind
• Bike park and skills course
• Multiple grave parking lots
• A fishing dock
• Disc golf course
Source: Staff report