With the final 700 feet or so of Section 8 of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT) completed, we mark today as the day on which the original plan for the Trail has been fulfilled!
Twelve years ago, Jerry Shields and Al Gathright began an effort to create a hiking and biking trail along the southern shore of Lake Ouachita with the intent not only to provide a terrific experience for those who enjoy this beautiful part of the country in which we live, but also to provide an additional tourist attraction to the area that would help bring “shoulder season” traffic to the resorts, restaurants, crystal shops, and other businesses in our area. Their goal has been realized with today’s completion of the LOViT as the Traildogs groomed the final stretch that emerged at the Trail’s easternmost trailhead near the Avery recreation area below Blakely Mountain Dam.
A great group of old and new Traildogs was joined by supporters from the U. S. Forest Service, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to celebrate the event. Following the smiles, back slapping, and picture taking at the trailhead, the team adjourned to the Stephens Park Pavilion across the Ouachita River from the Avery site for an old-fashioned cookout with hot dogs, sausages, plenty of chips and cookies, and a special cake provided by Brenda Meeks of the Corps of Engineers.
After all were done eating, Jerry led the traditional “Hatting Ceremony” wherein new Traildogs Jay Marsh and John Nichols were presented with their Traildog ball caps and mugs. It was perhaps the first time any of us have witnessed either of these gentlemen at a loss for words!
This tremendous accomplishment was carried out by many people and through strong coalitions with and support from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Arkansas Game and Fish. Additionally, the project received significant grants from the Arkansas Highway Department, the National Recreational Trails program, Montgomery County and the Mount Ida Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Ouachita Resort Owners, the Montgomery County Health Advisory Committee, and from many private donations. On top of all the support were the over 12,000 hours of volunteer labor put into the project. This has indeed been a monumental effort.
While we celebrate this day with great joy, we also realize that the job to maintain and perhaps extend the trail is far from over. The Traildogs and those who benefit from the Trail look forward to the continued support of these special agencies and to ongoing support from the Trail’s users and donors. And, of course, we always appreciate maintenance help from new Traildogs and other individuals and organizations. We sincerely thank you all.
A letter from Jerry Shields
Traildogs and Friends of the LOViT,
After twelve years of planning and ten years of construction, we have completed forty-five miles of trail and spurs, creating what is becoming one of Arkansas’ premier multi-use hiking and mountain biking trails. We could not have completed this project without the support of our coalition members who have supported us through thick and thin.
The Traildog Volunteers have exceeded 12,000 hours of volunteer work on the Trail, and we have raised over two million dollars in grants, donations, in-kind work and land transfers, all necessary to create the LOViT.
We had a large group of volunteers on Friday, April 11th, who completed the last 2/10’s of a mile of hand finish work on the newly constructed link that takes the Trail down to the Corps of Engineers Avery Recreation Area just below the base of the Blakely Mountain Dam. In celebration of the completion, we had a noon cookout for all of that day’s volunteers, several visitors from the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, Arkansas Wildlife Federation as well as several reporters. The Corps of Engineers provided a beautiful cake with the hiking sign symbol decorating the top. After enjoying some fire roasted hot dogs and brats, the volunteers fell on the cake like … well, a pack of starving dogs.
The final construction of Section Eight of the Trail has been completed, extending the LOViT from Brady Mountain Road 6.8 miles up and over both Brady Mountain and Blakely Mountain. This includes a new vista just above the Blakely Mountain Dam, with views of the dam and the lake as well as a stunning view of the Ouachita River Valley south of the dam. The Trail then utilizes several switchbacks to traverse down the mountain to the Avery Recreation Area.
Avery will become the eastern terminus point of the LOViT and the ADA Trail the western Terminus; both will provide a large Day Use area with ample parking and restrooms. The Avery Recreation Area also offers a large group pavilion. These recreation areas will be excellent trailheads for any planned Trail events, including foot races and bike races.
We have begun installing trail directional signs and trail use signs on the new section to assist new users in staying on the trail and will be installing new trailhead maps along the trail at each official trailhead to assist users in planning their hikes or rides.
While the basic trail has now been completed, we still have a number of tasks to complete to make the LOViT the premier trail in Arkansas. We will be installing additional benches along the new section as well as building and installing trailhead signs at Avery and for the Spillway Recreation Area. We are also developing several trail interpretive signs along the length of the trail to provide information on the history of the Ouachita Forest, the geology of the area, as well as the flora and fauna found along the Trail.
A special word of thanks to all the dedicated Traildogs who have so faithfully supported this ten-year construction through all kinds of difficult terrain, weather conditions and a host of other issues that challenged our effort to complete the trail. We look forward to finding Traildog volunteers who adopt a section for the trail and assist in the ongoing maintenance and enhancements planned in the coming months.
We are planning an official opening of the entire LOViT system for early October, with the intent of having all the signage and benches installed for that special day. So, mark your calendars.