History of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (“LOViT”)
The Lake Ouachita Citizen Focus Committee (LOCFC) and its partners are the master architects for the development and construction of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, a system of hiking/biking trails, along with a Wildlife Watchable Trail that will be handicap accessible. The LOCFC is a volunteer group established in June of 2001 by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) under provisions of the National Recreational Lakes Act to provide citizens’ input and support to the USACE at Lake Ouachita.
The first concept proposal to the Vicksburg District USACE in August of 2002 was for an information center on the south side of the Lake Ouachita. The concept was referred to as the “Denby Bay Development Plan”, which was based on a proposal originated by Jerry Shields, then president of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce and a charter member of the LOCFC. The LOCFC was motivated by a common desire to improve the tourism revenue stream for local businesses in the two “shoulder seasons” of spring and fall and the off season of winter by enhancing and broadening the recreational opportunities around the Lake Ouachita area. In order to do this, a plan was developed to link six resorts, six USACE Recreation Areas, and two US Forest Service campsites with a 44-mile long hiking/biking trail along the southern shore of Lake Ouachita.
The LOCFC formed a Trails Development Committee, with Shields as chairman, focused on developing an “Everyone Wins” promotional package to gain the support of local, state and federal organizations. Over the next year, the Trails Development
Committee worked to form a trails support coalition of the following nine organizations: US Forrest Service (USFS), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE), the Arkansas Department of Highways and Transportation (AHTD), the Arkansas State Game & Fish Commission (AGFC), Lake Ouachita Resort Owners Association, the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce, the Montgomery County Judge, the Montgomery County Health Education Advisory Board, and the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.
The LOCFC Trails Development Committee lead trail construction supported by construction teams from the USFS, USACE, and trail volunteers from the “LOViT Traildogs”, a volunteer group formed to support trail construction and maintenance, and the hiking organizations of FOOT (Friends of the Ouachita Trail) and the Ouachita Mt. Hikers. Utilizing funds from two USFS grants, the USFS contracted to have teams from the Student Conservation Association (SCA) assist in trail construction.
Construction of the first 4.7-mile segment of the hiking/biking trail, with two quarter-mile vista spurs, was completed in March 2006. Construction on the second leg of the trail began in September of 2005. This scenic 5.3-mile trail segment, with one ¾-mile vista spur, was completed and opened to the public in March of 2007.
In the spring of 2005, at a full coalition meeting, a general understanding was reached with the USACE, USFS, LOCFC, Montgomery County Judge, and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission to construct a connecting handicap-accessible “Watchable Wildlife” trail, as well as a Visitor Information Kiosk with parking, restrooms, and a picnic area.
Friends of Lake Ouachita, Inc. (FOLO) was incorporated as an Arkansas non-profit Corporation on August 18, 2005. On June 14, 2007, it obtained recognition as a 501(c)(3) organization with an effective date of August 18, 2005.
An agreement was made among the LOCFC Trails Committee, the USFS, and USACE to allow the installation of benches along the LOViT; the benches are sponsored by Trail Supporters as a means of contributing to the continued construction and maintenance of the Trail.
Also, the LOCFC Trails Committee was instrumental in securing approval for the installation of trailhead and directional signage, as well as road crossing safety signs and marked crosswalks. It also secured the support of two coalition members, the USACE and the USFS, and developed five trailhead parking areas along the first two sections of the trail.
In October 2007, the third trail segment of the LOViT was started. Traildog volunteers supported by construction teams from the USFS and USACE utilized two pieces of excavating equipment leased through donations from trail patrons to the FOLO. This 4.0 mile segment, by far the most difficult to construct due to the rapid rise in elevation, was completed in record time in late February, 2008, due in large part to the increased number of volunteers and the support of the USACE and USFS.
The LOViT was then 16 miles of hiking and biking trails completely blazed with trailhead and directional signs. The LOCFC worked with its partners to construct 12 foot-path bridges, install 22 benches, arrange for trailhead parking lots, and reconfigure the LOViT to include several spectacular remote vistas.
In April, 2009, the 3.2 miles segment from the top of Hickory Nut Mountain to the FS47A Trailhead was officially opened, making the total trail length 19.8 miles.
As of May, 2012, eleven more miles have been completed, extending the trail from FS47A, through the Pipe Spring and Crystal Spring trailheads, and then 7 miles on the Crystal Springs Trail segment heading for the Blakely Mountain Dam. Four more construction miles are planned to complete the Crystal Springs to Brady Mountain Road segment.
The Trails Committee, working with the USACE and the USFS, have developed trail maps and trail guides, as well as this website, utilized by area resorts and businesses to provide trail information to all visitors to the area. The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail is an excellent example of what partnerships can do in creating an exponential multiplier effect through coordination and the managed use of funds. The entire trail has been funded with grants, donations, and in-kind services.
The LOCFC’s foresight and tenacity in constructing the LOViT has greatly impacted both the recreational experiences at Lake Ouachita and the economic opportunities of the surrounding area.