Welcome to the eighth installment of our “Trail Town” series. Every month we will feature an article about a trail running city that you should put on your bucket list of places to visit! This month we feature the city of Mountain Home, Arkansas. This article was written by Paul Gigliotti, Race Director at Pirate Perry Events.
Mountain Home, Arkansas is a serene community nestled in the rolling hills of the Ozark Mountains. Known as a vacation area for those looking to enjoy the Twin Lakes, consisting of Lake Norfork and Bull Shoals Lake, and popular rivers such as the Buffalo National River for fishing, kayaking and canoeing, there are underlying trail systems that hug the protected shorelines and bluffs of this tucked away gem that you probably have never heard of. With a population of only 12,000, Mountain Home is an ideal destination for enthusiasts who wish to enjoy a somewhat secluded little piece of outdoor heaven.
A bustling vacation area from the 1950’s through 70’s saw an influx of retirees relocating to Mtn. Home from northern cities such as Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis. The tides are changing in Mountain Home and the surrounding communities however; the population is getting younger as more and more jobs, shopping and entertainment make their way to the area. The running community is growing in numbers that are above the curve. Trail running in particular is catching on as new races are bringing attention to the trails for what locals may refer to as a non-traditional use.
Nestled within the Ozark Mountains, Mountain Home’s premier trail system David’s Trail, honors and remembers the contributions David Floyd made to his community. “Be active, be outside and be on the trail.” Additionally, David’s Trail aims to promote the economic benefits & health benefits of outdoor recreation!
Presently, David’s Trail covers roughly 25 miles of single and double track that winds around the bluffs and shore lines of Lake Norfork. Ultimately, it will be a 50+ mile network of multiple-purpose trails located on 100% public lands surrounding Lake Norfork and designed to encourage an active lifestyle for all ages and abilities.
The Pigeon Creek National Recreation Trail lies just to the north of Mountain Home. Pigeon Creek is known as a haven for both trail runners and mountain bikers. Officially, Pigeon Creek covers 12 miles of rugged single track. Anyone who’s been out on the trail knows that the twists and turns of the intersecting segments can turn a short run into something much more of an ambitious undertaking than initially intended.
Local Knowledge, Parking and Transit:
Parking at the various trailheads that service the trails is generally free to the public. The Arkansas State Parks that operate some of the trailheads have agreed to allow users who may not be State Park Pass holders to use a David’s Trail placard placed on the rear-view mirror to allow worry free parking and trail access. Placards and other local maps may be obtained at the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce building during standard business hours.
Mountain Home’s trail running community is wide spread encompassing runners from the complete spectrum of age and ability levels. A core group of 4-8 “old guys” are regular trail users and compete in several ultra distance races throughout the year. In direct contrast, one of the goals for David’s Trail is to encourage K-12 (school aged children) activities on the trail, introducing and exemplifying respect for nature while being active in nature.
Mountain Home’s trail running community is settling into their own. Local nutritionist and Honey Stinger sponsored trail runner Jake Anderson leads groups of outdoor enthusiasts through mini-camps which take novices from hikers to trail runners. Jake puts together 6 week programs that focus on strength and endurance build up to complete the Big Bluff Challenge (BBC). The BBC takes runners on the 5K or 10K trails that surround nearby Bull Shoals State Park. This race offers up to 700 feet of elevation gain (10K) and breathtaking views of the White River valley from the aptly named, Big Bluff Trail.
Mountain Home’s residents and tourists alike make great exploits of their resources and clearly take on the warm weather recreational favorites of fishing and water sports. The pristine lakes and rivers are a haven for kayakers, canoe enthusiasts and recent up and comer, paddle boarders. Once the weather cools and the foliage begins to turn, the trails see an influx of foot and bike traffic!
Before your run, stop by Brewed Awakening, Angler’s Cafe or the Nature’s Way Café for your dose of wake-up juice. Brewed Awakening specializes in all the delicious concoctions Americans have grown to love and Nature’s Way serves up the best organic and naturally flavored blends you can find in the Ozarks. Of course, if you’re at Nature’s Way, you’ll need to order up local favorite Mountain Home Coffee. If you prefer to live on the on the main-stream side of life, you can always visit Starbucks located within the employee owned Harps grocery store.
After the run, slide on over to the Back Forty for suds and grub! The Back Forty is an institution in Mountain Home serving up one of the best burgers you’ll find, the Barn Buster! Thirsty? While still working on the extras such as a website and commercial facility, Mountain Home’s very own Rapps Barren Brewing is poised to open to the public in 2017. Named after Mountain Home’s founder, Henry Rapp, and the first official name of the settlement, Rapp’s Baren; Rapps Baren Brewing is the result of born-and-raised locals who want to share the art of craft brewing with the local and visiting populations.
If you feel like taking a drive for some tasty craft beers, head south to Big Flat, Arkansas and belly up at Gravity Brew Works. Gravity is a nanobrewery offering small batches of hand-crafted beer. Gravity is completely locally owned and operated, and open Thursday through Saturday. Enjoy the tasting room and maybe they’ll give you a tour, but be sure to take home a growler of your favorite brew.
Head north to West Plains, Missouri to Wages Brewing Company for another local flavor. They’ve been brewing for years but have recently opened their brew house to the public. At the brewery, they provide a fun atmosphere where you can feel comfortable (no loud TVs, no smoky bar, just good clean craft beer loving fun). House and fan favorites include Whatknot, Good Mornin’ Stout, Landlocked, Midnight Saison, and Mississipecan.
When people think of the South, they think of home cookin! North Central Arkansas’ location and cultural background mean that catfish, BBQ and biscuits are a must for those visiting. If runners should find themselves coming out of the trail anywhere on the north east side of town, the absolute must is Fred’s Fish House. If you’ve built up an appetite on the trail, you can skip the measly 3 piece dinner and go for The Old Granddaddy, an eight piece behemoth mound of regular or Cajun catfish severed with southern favorites coleslaw and green tomatoes. Of course being settled between Kansas City, St. Louis, Texas and North Carolina, you’ll have to check out Mountain Home’s headlining BBQ joint, Holy Smokes.
Trail Sharing and Competition:
While hundreds and probably thousands of outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the trails throughout the Ozarks, the Arkansas Master Naturalists are the back bone of trail maintenance. The local chapter, the North Central Arkansas Master Naturalists, takes a great deal of pride in the maintenance of the local trails and in conjunction with local groups maintain David’s Trail, the Ozark Highlands Trail and many, many others in the area.
To keep the Naturalists busy, David’s Trail has embarked on a trail expansion project. As illustrated below, David’s Trail is in the midst of trial expansion north across the state line and south to tie into the Sylamore section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. The Highlands Trail spans from the Buffalo National River westward, crossing most of Arkansas. The Master Naturalists have added value via education, events, tree tags, wood duck homes and other training and advice initiatives.
The red route covers roughly 15 miles and the newly completed green route (Spring of 2016) tacks on another 15. The blue leg will extend north and cross into the State of Missouri and incorporate some “bonus trails” through the Seward Point Public Use Area. After the northbound trail is completed the drafted yellow leg will tie into the Sylamore section of the Ozark Highlands Trail to the south.
The local trail systems are an important part of the lives of the local community. David’s Trail in particular has been a true community project. The trail has been built and maintained by community volunteers, local companies and in close corporation with the US Army Corps of Engineer trail experts.
There are two races which have put the area on the map. One with a Mountain Home address and another roughly 45 minutes south, closer to the town of Mountain View, Arkansas.
Mountain Home, along with host Rocking Chair Resort, is home to the David’s Trail Endurance Run (DTER) which aims for a 3rd weekend of January time line. DTER’s 7K, 25K and 50K distances offer a little something for every type of trail runner! The course includes some extremely technical terrain, single track, double track, over 5,000 feet of elevation gain for the 50K as well as spectacular views of Lake Norfork. DTER attracts runners from the sounding cites of St. Louis, Memphis, Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Kansas City who are looking for a destination race. Rocking Chair Resort is the race’s start and finish line and offers cabins that are only yards away. Runners can roll out of bed, knock out the race, return and clean up to enjoy awards, food and drink and local musicians. Check out what Arkansas Outside said about the 2016 DTER.
A month later and about 45 minutes away to the south, Alison, Arkansas hosts the Sylamore Creek 25K & 50K. This race has been ran since 2005 and is extremely difficult to gain entry into. A late February race, registration opens on the first Saturday in November and sells out its 400 slots in minutes. If you’ve missed your Sylamore opportunity, you can always try your luck at the Three Days of Syllamo 50K, 50 Miler and 20K.
Of course with the above, hyperlinks to the various restaurants, trails, etc. Sometimes it is also good to get some quotes from the local CVB or Chamber of Commerce.