By Don Lowe
Ozark Off Road Cyclists (OORC), a chapter member of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), has been heavily involved in helping promote this rapidly growing recreational activity across Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley for more than 25 years.
HB Fink, who serves as OORC Club secretary, says this specific organization “began in the late 1990s and was formally established in 1997 as a chapter of the IMBA and eventually became a 501(c)(3). It was very grassroots with a loose-knit group of mountain bikers who had ties with local bike shops.”
As Fink considers what has led to the mountain biking boom and phenomenon throughout this area he suggests, “That can be attributed to a lot of things, especially the support of the Walton Family Foundation and the non-stop building of new trails.
“Besides having a core group of local riders and enthusiasts who have been doing it for many years, you can tell when you’re out on the trail that it has attracted a whole new audience to the Ozarks’ magnificence.”
Fink also says, “People are discovering how great the outdoors and trails are in this region. I will add that it’s helped with promoting the area when Bentonville announced a few years ago that they are the ‘mountain biking capital of the world.’ That title is debatable, but we have fun with it.”
Not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of options for biking enthusiasts. Fink says, “I’m biased since most of the trails we (OORC) build, ride or maintain are in the Fayetteville area (Washington County).
“Some of the most popular trails include Kessler Mountain, Devils Den State Park, Centennial Park, Coler & Slaughter Pen (Bentonville), Hobbs State Park (Karst Trail), Buffalo Headwaters, Blowing Springs, Back 40 and Little Sugar (Bella Vista), Lake Leatherwood and Passion Play (Eureka Springs), Lake Wedington, Lincoln Lake and City Lake (Siloam Springs).”
In thinking about key aspects vital to creating all these venues and upkeep of them, Fink maintains, “First and foremost, I believe it’s been the passion of a series of people with similar interests and visions for how this sport could grow and develop here. And you can’t overlook the financial support that has made this possible.
“After the trails are built, there are dedicated volunteers who do most of the heavy lifting and help maintain them. OORC is a perfect example of that. In 2022, there were just over 10,000 volunteer hours among all our branches at a value of $299,500.”
While mountain biking has its demands, there is an excitement for pedaling along a course. Fink says, “The biggest challenge is that the terrain or surface can change over time. You might be familiar with a trail but there’s something new as the seasons change.
“There’s also the challenge of trying to clear a technical spot you’ve never cleared before and the satisfaction of overcoming that obstacle.
“What can make it invigorating is the scenery and satisfaction of being outdoors. Also, the camaraderie of riding with a group of friends. That’s a big part of why we plan so many group rides.”
Fink believes mountain biking is for everyone and he says, “Personally, I’d say it’s an activity/sport you can do from a young age to when you’re old. I’ve coached kids as young as five years old and have friends in their 50s, 60s and even 70s who are still riding, some even competitively.
“There are programs like National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) that give kids from sixth to 12th grades an opportunity to ride or race. Their mantra is #morekidsonbikes. OORC has partnered with some of these teams to encourage and demonstrate stewardship.”
Fink is ecstatic to be part of OORC, and he says, “It has become like a second family to some of us, especially considering all the time we spend riding bikes, working on trails or running events.”
The OORC family will host its 19th annual Buffalo Headwaters Challenge Feb. 2-4, which is one of the largest group mountain bike rides in Arkansas with more than 300 participants.
Ozark Off Road Cycling Mountain Biking Fast Facts
About OORC: Committed to developing sustainable trails to support multiple user groups, including hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners, while identifying appropriate opportunities for mountain bike progression.
Officers: Rob Reno/President; David Godwin/Vice President; HB Fink/Secretary; Jonathan Shaver/Treasurer; Crystal Cox/Events Coordinator; Michelle Roth/Rides Coordinator
OORC Branches: CC Riders, Borderline, Frontier, River Valley
Phone Number: Rob Reno, 479.236.2589