story and photo by Rhonda Crone, special to The City Wire
If any place is to be called the “motherland” of mountain biking in Northwest Arkansas, it’s Devil’s Den State Park.
That’s the testimony of Dave Renko, an avid biker and major muscle behind the state’s longest-running ongoing mountain bike event, the Ozark Mountain Bike Festival, slated for this weekend (April 7-8) at Devil’s Den.
Started in the late 80s by assistant park superintendent Tim Scott, the festival is free and open to all skill levels, making it a major draw for families. Besides some of the best mountain bike trails in this quadrant of the state, Devil’s Den offers additional family fun, such as camping, swimming holes and hiking. Veterans advise setting up camp Friday evening for those planning to stay the weekend.
Events officially begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The day’s activities entail guided trail rides, workshops, a kids’ fun course, a hamburger cookout and bicycle poker run with prizes from area bike shops. A night ride is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. On Sunday, both beginner’s and intermediate guided trail rides beginning at 10 a.m.
Scott, a familiar and friendly face at Devil’s Den since he went to work there in 1984, said he started the Ozark Mountain Bike Festival to bring attention to the park. Back then, mountain biking and hiking weren’t as popular was they are now.
“The state parks were looking for events to create revenue and stay visible,” Scott says.
He looked to places like Crested Butte, Colo., with its own designated single track mountain bike trail and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, for ideas.
Renko, whose nighttime “day job” was as saxophone player for the Cate Brothers band, began helping Scott in 1995.
“It’s nice to see [the festival] grow and take on new meaning, offer new opportunities – now it’s not just for hard-core cyclists but for family and kids too,” said Renko, now a father of two.
The abundance of trail opportunities at Devil’s Den inspired a Northwest Arkansas company, Progressive Trail Design, where Renko works as trail foreman/event director.
“There may be places considered to be better [mountain biking] destinations now, but Devil’s Den cultivated our interests, skills and learning curves in mountain biking,” he said.
Devil’s Den is also the site of the Northwest Arkansas Mountain Bike Championships on Sept. 15.