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Blue Mountain Natural Area Opens, Connecting Central Arkansas Trails

2023

Excitement is in the air for hikers and mountain bikers in Central Arkansas as The Nature Conservancy announces the opening of the highly anticipated Blue Mountain Natural Area. This expansive 459-acre playground joins the ranks of the Maumelle Pinnacles chain, alongside crowd favorites like Pinnacle Mountain and Rattlesnake Ridge, all lovingly managed by The Nature Conservancy. With the addition of Blue Mountain, adventure enthusiasts now have another eight miles of thrilling trails to conquer near Little Rock.

But the excitement doesn't end there! The opening of Blue Mountain marks the final piece in an ambitious plan to connect various natural areas, resulting in an astounding total of 21,000 acres of outdoor wonderland. Officials are already hard at work developing connector trails, with future plans to extend the network all the way to River Mountain and Two Rivers parks. Central Arkansas is undoubtedly catching up to the trail-loving trend that started with the esteemed Arkansas River Trail, which set the gold standard for pedestrian pathways throughout the state.

While their counterparts in Northwest Arkansas have long boasted extensive trail systems, hope is on the horizon for Little Rock. The highly anticipated Southwest Trail, a 60-mile pathway linking the Little Rock Central High School Historic Site with Hot Springs National Park, is making impressive strides. Additionally, the Tri-Creek Greenway, a six-mile-plus connection of several parks, including War Memorial, Kanis, Boyle, Western Hills, and Hindman, is in the works.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Maumelle Pinnacles as Central Arkansas Water secures a $200,000 grant for the development of connector trails. Construction is set to begin this summer, with plans to create approximately 10 miles of new trails. These trails will link Blue Mountain to the north side of Rattlesnake Ridge and seamlessly connect with the beloved Bufflehead Bay Trail, a picturesque 2.3-mile loop near Lake Maumelle.

Raven Lawson, the watershed manager for Central Arkansas Water, shared an exciting vision for the future. A map unveiled the planned trails around Lake Maumelle, linking Pinnacle Mountain, Ouachita National Recreational Trail, Rattlesnake Ridge, Blue Mountain, and existing trails managed by Central Arkansas Water. Although the water utility won't be directly funding the trail development, Lawson expressed confidence in securing grant money through collaborative efforts with state and private partners.

Trail advocate and Walmart heir Tom Walton also recognizes the immense potential for outdoor recreation around Lake Maumelle. Speaking at a recent gathering of the Rotary Club of Little Rock, Walton emphasized the untapped opportunities available in Central Arkansas. Lawson welcomed the mention but also wanted to highlight the existing attractions in the watershed, such as the popular Bufflehead Bay Trail, completed in 2021. This trail has become a haven for birdwatchers and anglers, thanks to its thriving native plants fostered through diligent forest management practices that promote a healthy ecosystem and safeguard drinking water.

Let's not overlook other noteworthy spots in the area, like the charming Loon Point Park and the Farkleberry Trail, a delightful 0.7-mile pathway that offers a serene setting for anglers and bird enthusiasts. For those seeking a leisurely water adventure, the Sleepy Hollow Water Trail beckons with its gentle five-mile float along the Maumelle River and Bringle Creek.

To access Blue Mountain, simply head east and locate the conveniently situated parking area off Highway 10. Unlike Rattlesnake Ridge, where the peak steals the spotlight, Blue Mountain's peak boasts the rare Wright's cliffbrake, a desert fern worth protecting. However, be wary of the abundance of poison ivy in the area and exercise caution. The Blue Mountain Natural Area boasts three trails suitable for hikers and mountain bikers alike. The green Luna Moth singletrack loop stretches across three miles, while the Dhu Drop, an exhilarating 0.8-mile downhill trail, is tailor-made for bikers seeking an adrenaline rush. For a more challenging experience, the multidirectional Tarantula Hawk Trail spans 3.5 miles and connects to the south side of Rattlesnake Ridge, offering a rockier and more technically demanding journey. Samantha Bates, a recreation technician with The Nature Conservancy, anticipated the completion of the Tarantula Hawk Trail by June.

Visitors should note that a remote-controlled gate near the Blue Mountain parking lot may close during inclement weather or when the ground is too wet to prevent erosion. The gate opens and closes around dawn and dusk, so plan your visit accordingly. Remember to honor the designated parking areas and trail access rules, just as you would at the beloved Rattlesnake Ridge.

According to Jeff Fore, the director of conservation at The Nature Conservancy of Arkansas, the Blue Mountain Natural Area promises a unique experience for nature enthusiasts. Situated a mere 30 minutes outside of Little Rock, it strikes a harmonious balance between a meticulously managed city park and the untamed wilderness found in national forests such as the Flatside Wilderness Area. Visitors can immerse themselves in the tranquility and seclusion of nature while enjoying the conveniences of urban life.

With the unveiling of Blue Mountain and ongoing efforts to develop more trails, Central Arkansas is poised to become a formidable contender to Northwest Arkansas in terms of trail infrastructure. Outdoor enthusiasts can eagerly anticipate embarking on exciting adventures and exploring the breathtaking landscapes and diverse trails that the region has to offer.

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