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Razorback Greenway already proving a benefit for local businesses

story by Jamie Smith
jsmith@thecitywire.com

As the dream of a regional trail system is rapidly becoming a reality, Northwest Arkansas businesses are reaping the benefits from the Razorback Regional Greenway.

The Greenway should be “substantially complete” by the end of 2014, said John McLarty, transportation study director at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. That means the ribbons of concrete will be connected with only minor improvements and landscaping remaining to complete, weather permitting.

Full build-out of the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway is expected to cost approximately $38 million with majority of necessary funds already pledged from two different grant sources: a federal transportation grant and a matching grant and gift from the Walton Family Foundation, according to the NWA Trails website.

The trail is already complete from Walker Park in Fayetteville to Lake Fayetteville and from the northern end of Lake Bella Vista to Garrett Avenue in Rogers. Work began recently in Lowell and Springdale, which will complete the trail system.

“We are seeing tremendous use, lots of traffic and lots of good comments,” McLarty said. “It’s really filling a need in the community.”

And local businesses are thrilled to help the community fill that need.

Several local bike and outdoor stores are reporting a noticeable increase in sales due to people wanting to get active on the Greenway. Phat Tire Bike Shop, which has locations in Bentonville and Fayetteville, is seeing a “definite increase in bike sales, both in cruisers and hybrids,” said manager Haley McCurry from the Bentonville location.

Hybrids alone have seen a 10% increase since the Greenway opened, McCurry said.

“In the bike industry, that’s a lot,” she added.

The Greenway opening has changed how they do business, McCurry said.

“We are seeing more first-time riders and families,” she said. “They just want to get out there and start riding as a family. We think that’s awesome more people want to get exercise and get involved.”

Another change is that people are purchasing more bike accessories that lend themselves to commuting such as racks and baskets for people to carry groceries and other items to their destination.

Rob Potts, co-owner of Lewis & Clark Outfitters, which has locations in Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville, said his company is also seeing a rise in business. Potts declined to give a specific growth percentage, but “it has been great for business and we have seen a huge increase in the number of people that are interested in getting into cycling.”

The company offers bike sales and repair, as well as other outdoor enthusiast gear. The increase in demand required them to increase their maintenance staff to increase their ability to do timely bicycle repairs.

“People who had never thought about riding before the trails were built are now seeing the benefits in cycling and having an overall healthier lifestyle and are coming into the stores,” Potts said. “We are seeing a combination of people riding for recreation and for commuting, though the majority are recreational riders.

“(The Greenway) is definitely the most impactful thing that has happened to cycling here in NWA.”

Potts added that when all the cities are connected, he expects to see a considerable increase in the number of people interested in using the trails for commuting and pleasure. He also sees the Greenway as a popular tourist attraction.

“A lot of people are going to be traveling here to ride that trail,” he said.

While the Greenway is promoting more bicycling and running in Northwest Arkansas, it’s also a national trend. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, commuting to work by bicycle has increase by 60% over the last decade. According to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, which is an online trade publication, the sales of new people-powered two-wheelers were more than $3.66 billion in the United States in 2012 (most recent available figures).

Not all of the businesses seeing better sales because of the Greenway are related to outdoor sports. Apple Blossom Brewing Company in Fayetteville normally sees traffic from bikes, but it’s increased with the opening of the trail and the better weather, co-owner Ching Mong said.

“They end up here a lot as a destination spot,” he said. “It’s noticeably different from winter. Foot traffic and bike traffic probably account for up to 25% to 30% of our business.”

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Bike Bentonville is a nonprofit organization dedicated to growing community involvement in healthy outdoor activities. Kyla Templeton coordinates the Safe Routes to School Program and the women’s cycling program. She said the new trails are especially good for the Safe Routes program and that volunteer parent-led bike chains travel from Bella Vista to arrive at R.E. Baker Elementary School and Old High Middle School.

She also leads women cycling groups. While most prefer to use the roads, the trail system allows for a multi-generational experience, Templeton said.

“It’s a way of getting out and enjoying the outdoors and each other without being scared of being on the road,” she said.

Once the Greenway is complete, Templeton anticipates hosting an annual ride to Fayetteville and back.

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