Bentonville stakeholders say city is mountain biking capital of the world

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 4,083 views 

(Photo credit Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism).

If you think something is real, say it out loud.

That is the approach taken Wednesday (July 1) from Bentonville city leaders, tourism officials and other backers, who are staking a claim that Bentonville — already with an emerging reputation as a destination for cycling and mountain biking — is the mountain biking capital of the world.

Wednesday’s announcement said Bentonville’s mountain biking experience did not come through happenstance. It took a concerted effort by the community and its leaders, along with a clear vision and a foundation for what was possible.

“This incredible distinction has come after years of intentional work from Bentonville’s city leaders, trail builders, maintenance teams, new and experienced riders and countless others in our great community,” said Tom Walton, an avid mountain biker and co-founder of Runway Group in Bentonville. “From the outset of our shared vision to transform our city as a mountain biking paradise unique from other destinations, the city government and community leaders provided the support and balanced leadership we needed to help make the dream become a reality.”

Runway Group is a private but growing business team based in Bentonville led by Walton and his older brother, Steuart Walton. They are grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton and the sons of Jim Walton, chairman and CEO of Arvest Bank Group Inc.

Runway Group makes strategic investments in several areas including real estate, hospitality, cycling and aviation.

A quick Google search reveals several locales around the world that stake a similar claim as the “capital” destination for mountain biking. In the United States, Moab, Utah, which has hundreds of miles of accessible trails, is at the top of most tourism lists.

Bentonville’s profile in that arena has been on the rise in recent years, with numerous national publications taking notice. Eben Weiss, a New York City–based bike columnist, visited Bentonville this past fall and reported his experience for Outside magazine, an American magazine focused on the outdoors.

“I’d read stories of how the Walton family (heirs to Walmart founder Sam Walton) was turning the region into a mountain-bike paradise, so I eagerly accepted, but beyond that, I really didn’t know what to expect out of the town,” Weiss wrote in an article entitled, “Bentonville, Arkansas Is Disneyland for Mountain Bikers.”

“What I got was not only a highly satisfying weekend bicycle escape but also a surprise infusion of art and culture I hadn’t realized I needed and quite possibly a preview of my next family vacation.”

The Wall Street Journal also took a deep dive last year into the Walton-backed effort to support the city’s mountain biking profile.

“Over the past decade, our community has built a reputation among mountain biking enthusiasts and athletes as the premier global destination for the sport,” Mayor Stephanie Orman said. “We’re the heart of the trailhead in the Ozarks, and headquarters to the most innovative mountain bike trail designs built anywhere.”

Bentonville has approximately 130 miles of singletrack connected to downtown Bentonville, with access to more than 250 miles of regional trails in a network that sits at the heart of the state’s OZ Trails system.

OZ Trails launched in 2016 to showcase the development of multi-purpose trails in Northwest Arkansas.

“Bentonville is the birthplace of a modern mountain biking landscape, much like a ski town is out West, only we’ll be riding all four seasons,” Visit Bentonville executive director Kalene Griffith in Wednesday’s news release. “Just one day of visiting here and you’ll quickly learn why there’s no other place quite like Bentonville that continues to bring you back over and over again.”

Wednesday’s announcement also touted the city’s trail system proximity to lodging, restaurants, drinks or art museums. Graham Cobb, Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, said the local economy has embraced Bentonville’s role as a leader in mountain biking tourism and has developed and attracted a number of quality bike shops, rental and retail vendors, bike guides and manufacturers, along with professional riders and outdoor enthusiasts.

“Scientists have proven a direct correlation between human exposure to outdoor spaces and well-being,” Cobb said. “The mountain bike trails of Bentonville organically weave the outdoors into our everyday lives. Top economic talent flocks here, so they can ride world-class, purpose built single-track from their front porch to their office door. We’ve redefined rush-hour.”

A Runway Group spokeswoman said a national ad campaign is scheduled to follow Wednesday’s announcement.