Feb. 23—Northeastern Oklahoma is home to rolling hills that locals might soon be able to roll down, as the Tahlequah Trails Association is making progress toward bringing a hiking and biking trail to the area.
Oklahoma's neighboring state has become known for its vast trail system, as Arkansas has produced hundreds of miles of dirt, paved, and gravel trails, making it a popular place for nature lovers as the system attracts people from all over. TTA members have envisioned a similar system for Tahlequah, with the goal of having a trail system suited to all skill levels.
"Driving to Arkansas to ride, that's definitely been one of my dreams and it's finally coming to fruition," said Mike Bingham, TTA board member, who recently retired. "It's a nice fit to be able to put some time and energy into something that all age groups and abilities can ride or hike, and just get outside and enjoy seeing the outdoors and the wildlife."
The group of local volunteers has so far managed to lay down around 800 feet of a 2.5-mile beginner trail, with plans for an additional 1.5 miles of intermediate trail.
"There is a series of ridges and ravines that the property covers. So about two-and-a-half miles of that will be on top of that hilltop. It will be close enough to the edge that you'll really get some impressive views off in the ravines," said Bingham.
The group hopes to finish the beginner trail sometime between spring and fall. The intermediate path will come later and will take a little more skill to traverse. There is also hope to have a skills park near the parking lot of the system for people to practice on.
"Also in this property, we'd like to incorporate maybe some gravity trails, which are more like a downhill run with some small, little jumps," said Bingham. "It would be primarily a downhill, family-fun gravity area."
Much of the work done so far has been through voluntary initiatives. The board members have worked to get funding through various grants and have received donations from local advocates. Part of it came the Tahlequah Community Foundation, which donated $30,000 in 2020, and one acre was donated by Alan Chapman for a parking lot and entry way. TTA has also received dollars from the Arvest Foundation, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Tahlequah, and Zenith Construction Co.
"We've had several local advocates for trails give significant donations," said Dana Boren-Boer, TTA board member. "Really, most of everything has come from writing grants, but since every grant requires a match, those matches have been given to us by local donors."
The TTA recently received the International Mountain Bike Association Trail Accelerator Grant through Trail Solutions, allowing IMBA Trail Solutions manager Steve Kasacek to visit the area for about a week and help with the initial groundwork.
Bingham said Kasacek, who is also helping develop a longterm plan for the property's usage, helped the group flag about four miles of trail to be constructed later, and educated them on how to build a sustainable system without any drainage issues.
"There are flags approximately 100 feet apart, then you go back and do a more exact location of where the trail will go," he said. "Then, you basically blow the leaves, clear and grub the underbrush, take as much of the organic material off of the surface — the top few inches — and then work the trail beds. Sometimes if it's hillsides, you may have to actually cut back in the hillside and try to somewhat level it out."
The level of interest among locals has been high. The group has an ever-expanding list of potential volunteers to help build the trail system. The group is planning to have a few more work days in the future, for which people can sign up to help. Boren-Boer said there will be something for just about anyone to help work on.
"You'll be with a team trail building captain," she said. "So there may be groups of five or six, and there would be a leader of that group to teach those sustainable practices of trail building. And then we'd have those smaller duties, like the carrying of gravel, rock, or anything we might need as we're building out low spots or potentially muddy areas."
People interested in helping build trails can stay up-to-date on the group's progress by visiting its Facebook page, Tahlequah Trails. Those who would like to volunteer can send a message to the group to get on the volunteer list.
The trail is not open to the public currently. The board is working with local property owners to make sure the project does not cross on to anyone's land, and does not want people visiting the trail system until it is finished.