Blue Crane gets green light for 160-acre cycling haven in Bentonville

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 28,296 views 

A private development group is closer to bringing another cycling amenity to Benton County.

On Dec. 5, Bentonville city planners granted a conditional use permit to Bentonville developer Blue Crane for its “Bentonville Cycling Center” project. Blue Crane is the real estate acquisition and development arm of Runway Group, a diversified holding company based in Bentonville and led by Steuart Walton and his younger brother, Tom Walton. They are the grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton and the sons of Arvest Bank Group Inc. chairman and CEO Jim Walton.

The outdoor recreation facility is proposed for approximately 160 acres. The land is north of Interstate 49, west of Slaughter Pen Road and south of Ford Springs Road.

The property is privately owned and known in cycling/mountain biking circles as Ironhead. Since 2019, a Walton real estate entity has assembled the property in numerous transactions worth more than $3 million. The site is currently vacant, previously used for mining and collecting demolished materials, although Ironhead has become a gathering place for recreational cyclists and mountain bikers in recent years.

“Preserving and allowing the public to experience the natural environment of north Bentonville is a key goal for this project,” said Ben Craig, Blue Crane’s development director. “This is a beautiful part of town, and our design will complement the natural surroundings, much like Slaughter Pen and Sugar Creek Valley have done.”

According to documents on file with the city, the cycling center is designed to promote road cycling in the community.

“The development will include 2+ miles of cycling veloway (asphalt riding course) to allow opportunity for beginner to professional cyclists with the opportunity to exercise, train and fellowship on a closed, cycling-specific circuit,” planning documents show. “It will also include a headquarters area to help support the ‘all day, everyday’ riding experience. The [headquarters] will include public gathering areas for pre- and post-ride enjoyment. It will also include a retail area, quick service food area, food truck court and bike maintenance areas.”

The development will also have areas for administration staff, restroom facilities and a maintenance storage building to help support the cycling center’s daily operations. A covered pavilion area will be approximately 13,039 square feet. The mix of buildings will total about 9,500 square feet.

The site is being designed to accommodate the occasional race event. According to planning documents, they will be several times a year and vary from the “townie” series races up to the UCI-sanctioned criterium races.”

The primary access point is shown to be off of Slaughter Pen Road on the southeastern edge of the property.

“Ironhead is planned to be a world-class road-cycling venue with a thoughtfully designed paved circuit and an additional 10-plus miles of soft surface trail as part of the OZ Trails network,” said Blue Crane CEO Jared Faciszewski. “Our goal is to create a destination for cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts that honors the natural beauty and terrain of the site. Ironhead is not only designed for everyday use by locals and visitors but is also intended to be a venue for cycling events and an asset for our community.”

The facility will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Blue Crane expects between 50 and 100 visitors per day, with a potential for more on event days and a staff of 5 to 10 administrative and maintenance employees.

A Blue Crane spokesman said the outdoor recreation facility is in the design phase and did not specify when construction will begin or the investment cost.

Zach Hoyt, a program manager with Bentonville engineering firm CEI, is working with Blue Crane to develop the property.