Alma City Council members have agreed to move forward on a proposal to design a master plan for a 10-mile multiuse trail system at Lake Alma.
During a public study session Monday night, council members agreed to support a proposal by Ozark Off Road Cyclists, an area nonprofit that advocates for multiuse soft surface trails in Arkansas, to contract for a master plan for a trail system at Lake Alma.
Lap Bui, chair for the Fort Smith branch of OORC, spoke to council members about the proposal Monday night and explained why his group was interested in partnering with the city.
Bui told the council that Lake Alma has the acreage, topography and rock content necessary for a sustainable and minimal maintenance trail system. The system could be used for hiking, biking, trail running and dog walking, Bui said.
Additionally, the city’s location along Interstate 49 and Interstate 40 make it ideal as a recreation destination, Bui said.
“For us, Alma makes a lot of sense,” Bui said.
OORC has partnered with multiple cities across the region, and has projects under development in Siloam Springs, Fayetteville, Van Buren, Huntsville, Eureka Springs and Pea Ridge.
A master plan for the trail system is estimated to cost about $10,000, but Alma residents Jason Kimes, owner of Auto Plex Collision Repair, and Charlie Crook, owner of Heritage Homes, already have raised the money for the design, they said.
After hearing a representative from OORC speak at a public meeting last month, Crook and Alma City Planner Buddy Gray discussed the possibility of building a trail in Alma.
Gray and Crook met with Kimes and OORC members on Oct. 26 to discuss a partnership between OORC and the City of Alma, and the group determined that a master plan was needed.
Kimes is a trail runner and Crook an avid mountain biker, and the two are interested in seeing the trail developed for their own use as Alma residents, they said.
Kimes and Cook called local residents and business owners and raised the money for the master plan in about 24 hours, they said.
“It’s a big community push to get this trail system,” Kimes said. “Nobody said no, nobody backed down.”
Council member Jerry Martin asked Bui about the costs to the city to build and maintain the trail system. Cost to build the trail, which would be at least 10 miles, is estimated at $350,000, Bui said.
“This will be a first-class trail system,” Bui said.
Bui also pointed out that both the city and the OORC, as a nonprofit, could apply for grants for the trails.
“Nothing is guaranteed, but we have a good relationship with a lot of these foundations,” Bui said. “(And) typically all of the trails that are cut or made, are made to be low maintenance.”
While Bui noted that the trails could be used as a venue for large cycling events, Gray said it was important to make sure the trail system would be free for use by area residents in order to improve the quality of life in Alma.
Speaking on behalf of private residents who pledged money to pay for the trail system master plan, Kimes asked for and received a promise of support from the council.
“This is something we have discussed and is something we’ve wanted to see come to fruition,” Martin said. “The only reason I was asking questions about costs and maintenance is because we want to make sure it’s done right.”
If built, the trail would utilize the current hiking trail that was cleared in 2013 and is currently maintained through volunteerism, while keeping its natural qualities intact, Bui said.
One of the hiking trail’s prominent volunteers, Jim Warnock, was one of the first to contribute to the master plan proposal, Kimes said.
Volunteer hours put into clearing and maintaining the hiking trail also could help with financing the cost of building the trail, Kimes said.
“The cool thing about this trail is, all of the time that volunteers have put into clearing and building the current trail will go toward matching dollars for the grant,” Kimes said.
Crook pointed out that Arkansas was the third state to recognize mountain biking as a sport, and said a multiuse trail in Alma would be a draw for tourism.
The group’s goal is to have the trail completed and open by next fall - ahead of other area projects that currently are in the first stages of development, Crook said.
“Timing wise, that would put Alma as one of the premier locations in the state for mountain biking,” Crook said.