Walton study reports trail use increasing in Northwest Arkansas

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,704 views 

Northwest Arkansas’ trail system is experiencing a steady rise in bike and foot traffic, according to a new report commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation.

Since 2015, cycling use has increased by 36% and pedestrian activity is up 13%, with the heaviest volume along the Razorback Regional Greenway, in densely populated areas and near destinations like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

“Northwest Arkansas residents are continuing to take advantage of new trail options,” Karen Minkel, Walton Family Foundation Home Region Program director, said in a statement. “Yet, there’s still work to do to ensure the trail system serves the region’s mobility needs and is seamlessly connected to safe streets.”

Benton and Washington counties currently have 484 total miles of trails, including 322 miles of natural-surface trails and 162 miles of multi-use paved paths, according to the study. In the past two years alone the number of miles has increased by nearly 32%.

To measure the impact of these outdoor amenities on quality of life, the foundation commissioned studies in 2015, 2017 and 2019 analyzing trail use across the region.

Since the last study, the region saw a 10% increase in cycling use and 2% increase in pedestrian activity on the region’s multi-use paved paths and natural-surface trails.

As in previous reports, cyclist activity was highest on weekends. In a shift from 2017, pedestrian activity was greater earlier in the week. In 2019, the network reported an average annual volume of 92,167 cyclists and 66,329 pedestrians—a significant jump from 2015.

Overall activity continued to be higher on multi-use paved paths than natural-surface trails, and the rapid rate of natural-surface trail development, including 93 miles added from 2017 to 2019, likely caused more dispersed use.

In line with national trends, Northwest Arkansas has seen a sharp uptick in trail use during COVID-19. In June, natural surface trails in Blowing Springs and the Back 40 Trails in Bella Vista reported a 105% increase in average monthly traffic from last year. That same month, some Bentonville multi-use trails reported a 76% increase in daily use and the Razorback Regional Greenway at North Street in Fayetteville had its highest monthly user count at more than 41,000 cyclists and pedestrians since opening in 2008.

Recently, Bike NWA expanded its Slow Streets NWA initiative in Bentonville and Fayetteville to accommodate the growing number of residents walking, biking and exploring the region without a vehicle and to help ensure safe physical distancing.