March 15, 2012 by Jack Suntrup
WASHINGTON COUNTY – Progress is being made on the 36-mile long Razorback Greenway trail system, officials said.
The trail system is meant to act as a “spine” to existing trails, connecting Bentonville, Rogers, Lowell, Spring- dale, Johnson and Fayetteville, said John McLarty, Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Committee Chairman.
When all is said and done, various entities will have spent around $38 million on the project, with $15 million coming from federal stimulus funds. The Walton Family Foundation matched $3.75 million initially and will provide an additional $1.25 million for additional expenses, McLarty said.
The initial $20 million will cover a 16-mile stretch of the trail from Lake Fayetteville to the New Hope Road in Rogers. Tentatively, $10 million more will come from the Walton Foundation and municipal funds. Local officials plan to launch a fundraising operation to collect the final $8 million.
A 14-mile stretch near Crystal Bridges in Bentonville has already been
completed. The project was put into jeopardy last year when congressional Republicans tried to strip out funding. This year, congressional leaders may try again, but the funds are expected to come in in June. The bidding process will start this month, McLarty said.
Regardless, local business owners anticipate completion.
“When Fayetteville put in a bike trail it really doubled to tripled our business,” said Kelly Hill, owner of Springdale Bi- cycle. “I’m ecstatic.”
The Shiloh Square trailhead will be lo- cated only a half block away from Hill’s business in downtown Springdale. With empty storefronts and barren sidewalks surrounding Hill’s shop, the Springdale Chamber of Commerce expects this to jolt the local economy.
“Few things have caught on fire as rap- idly as this in our city,” said Bill Rogers, Vice President of Communications and Special Projects for the Chamber of Commerce. “Our downtown is like downtowns across America where industry moved somewhere else.”
Not only does the trail connect to six downtown areas, but in connecting to destinations like Crystal Bridges, the University of Arkansas, corporate headquarters and Lake Fayetteville, officials expect money to flow and for the region to be more interconnected.
“It’s really outstanding the development that can happen when a trail goes in,” McLarty said. “The tourism of bikers coming into the community, conventions that will be held here.”
The trail does go through residential areas. In the planning stages, some resi-
dents were concerned about encroachment onto private property and strangers in the neighborhood, McLarty said.
“We’ve had some property owners that have come to the meetings and they’re op- posed to it, they’re wondering how it’s im- pacting the property,” McLarty said.
In Springdale, residents interviewed were cautiously optimistic about the new trail.
“I would let my son walk [the trail],” Nayley Martinez said. “But you never know what could happen.”
The economic impact of the trails bringing tourism dollars and conventions to local communities will likely outweigh the costs, McLarty said.
The planning commission has been working on trail plans since 2002. A major accomplishment was building a system connecting historical routes like the Trail of Tears, Butterfield Stage Coach, and Civil War troop movements. Most of the system is on-road. The new system will be almost exclusively off-road, McLarty said.
“It’s a little bit more popular to be off- road and to be riding your bike among trees,” McLarty said. “People consider it more private.”
While excited about the new trail route, Kelly doubts the benefits will be as far- reaching as portrayed.
“You hear people talking about coming from here to there, but most won’t,” he said. “Some will initially. They’ll be a lot of people using it in the city, but not throughout the region.”
As for opening the trail south of Fayetteville, past the Mill District and near residents in that part of the county, McLarty said it’s unlikely to happen, but not for lack of trying.
“There’s plans, but no money,” he said. “We could spend $100 million easily.”