Connecting with Nature, Literally

by Josh Williams

photography by Amanda Shelley
Ledbetter & Jeremy Rodgers


One of the great things about the Ouachita region is the community of Hot Springs Village (HSV) and its over-abundance of natural attractions. Whether its barbecuing, fishing, golfing, kayaking, or one of the numerous other activities available, one will always have something to do, especially if that something is out of doors. But one activity, in particular, is moving to the front of the list—“trailing”— or traversing the trails. With this in mind, HSV COO David Twiggs is implementing an idea of taking the existing trails in HSV and building a network using other trails throughout the western region of the state. Not only will hiking and biking trails be used, but streaming waterways designed for kayaking will be included too. This network of trails will be known as the Ouachita Trail Chain (OTC). HSV’s contributions to the OTC are ready and willing for the fluid swishing of oars, the soothing hum of bike tires and the sweet thuds of active feet.

There are over 30 miles of revived and revamped natural trails contained inside the perimeter of HSV, and the renovations are continuing on a daily basis. With more than a dozen on hand, the variety with which one can go “trailing” is significant. The average length of most trails is less than two miles, so one needn’t worry about not being able to conquer one. With the beauty that surrounds these passageways, two miles goes by in the blink of an eye anyway. However, if looking for something that will last a while, the Hernando Trail provides a 17.2 mile challenge with relatively smooth terrain for multi-purpose usage. HSV implores though, take care of the trails whilst enjoying them. Make sure to keep bike speeds under 15 mph on multi-purpose trails and keep dogs on leashes. Also, clean up after them. No one likes navigating through a mine field of doggie dung.

This renaissance of the OTC trail network has been made possible by many outdoor lovers and organizations throughout the country, and there are exciting plans to enhance HSV’s trail repitoire. Planning has begun with the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) to escalate the OTC utilizizing the natural untapped assets within. IMBA is a non-profit, 501©3 educational association whose mission is to create, enhance and preserve trail opportunities for mountain bikers worldwide. They’ve been bringing out the best in mountain biking and its participants since 1988. IMBA’s worldwide network has more than 100,000 supporters, 35,000 members and 180 chapters in 32 different countries. Every state in the US has at least one IMBA chapter as well. Bruce Alt, president of the Central Arkansas Trail Alliance (Little Rock’s IMBA chapter), has been a key factor in the development of several trails throughout the state. He has even helped bring the “epic trail” status to a few sites in Arkansas. To obtain “epic trail” status, a trail must be nominated, receive support from the community and receive IMBA’s blessing after a test run. Arkansas has five different “epic trails” that span over 100 miles, with three of those trails being nearby the HSV area; the Ouachita Trail, the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail and Womble Trail.

Local nature enthusiast and trail lover Robert Cavanaugh has been at the forefront of Ouachita trail development almost since the beginning. “I love doing what I do,” Robert said, “mainly because the trails that will be included in the OTC have basically been built by volunteers. Maybe what I’m most proud of is the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. It runs fortyfive miles from Shangri-La Rd. all the way to Blakely Dam. It took volunteers eight years to build. That’s pretty impressive.”

Evolution is a slow process. “Back in the ‘90’s,” Robert said, “the United States Forest Service built rest stations along the east end of the Vista Trail, but the west end didn’t get the attention it needed. A fantastic group—Friends of the Ouachita Trail—have been huge supporters of the expansion, and have gotten heavily involved. They’ve written several proposals, obtained grants from the Highway Department and other private donors to get the rest of the stations built on the west side of the trail, and its happening quickly. I’m so proud.”

Today, the trails and waterways of the developing OTC are in the best condition they have ever been. But it’s not just the trail system that has received an overhaul. Everything in HSV is transforming for the better. The overall revitalization effort and placemaking initiative implemented by HSV COO David Twiggs is a much needed shot in the arm for the economy of the community. The OTC is just a good place to start—it’s easy enough for anyone 8 to 80 to enjoy. Its one of the many outdoor activity services that the HSV community offers to the great people of this great region, and its time to let the trails keep you grounded.