Massive potential 280-mile Ozark Trail Mountain Bike System in Missouri mapped; Your comments in support needed by Monday

The Ozark Trail is an amazing 350-mile trail through scenic southern Missouri. All of it is open to hiking--but only a portion to mountain biking.

Potential 280-mile Ozark Trail Mountain System in southern Missouri.
Potential 280-mile Ozark Trail Mountain System in southern Missouri. Green segments indicate the connections needed within ONSR to make this entire 280-mile system a reality. Purple & Light Blue = Open to mountain biking; Red = closed to mountain biking; Green = needed connections within ONSR to complete the system

MoBikeFed has had the goal of creating a world-class mountain bike route along the Ozark Trail, using alternative routes where trails are closed to mountain biking.

The update to Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR) Road and Trail Plan, underway through next Monday, has created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring this idea to reality.

Imagine a 280-mile, seamless mountain bike trail through some of the most beautiful scenery Missouri has to offer.

That is what is possible--in just the next few years--with your help.

To make it possible, though, we need the key mountain bike trail connections through ONSR.  And they are not (yet!) a part of the trail alternatives ONSR has proposed.

Please take 5 minutes to leave a comment of support of the 280-mile Ozark Trail Mountain Bike System and expanded mountain bike opportunities in ONSR before Monday, January 15th at midnight.

Potential 280-mile Ozark Trail Mountain Bike System in southern Missouri mapped

Working to bring together supporters of mountain biking in south-central Missouri, and create a clear vision of what we would like to accomplish with mountain bike access in ONSR and along the Ozark Trail, we have mapped existing and potential mountain bike trails and routes in the region.

Northern ONSR Mountain Bike connection (green)
Northern ONSR Mountain Bike connection (green). The green section together with the blue segments (gravel roads) bridge a lengthy section of the Ozark Trail where mountain biking is not allowed (red).

With that mapping in place, it is clear that only two small segments of mountain bike trail connection are needed in the ONSR trails plan.  But those segments, shown in green on the map, are absolutely vital to make the trail as a whole a reality.

And they are not currently included in the ONSR trail proposals.  So we need to push hard for their inclusion.

The other thing that is clear in studying the map is that this trail is going to be absolutely breathtaking and amazing. The trail goes through some of the most pristine, beautiful, and remote areas of Missouri--yet it is just a short drive from several major populations centers in Missouri, Arkansas, and surrounding states.

What makes this 280-mile trail system possible is the fact that major segments of the Ozark Trail, shown in purple on the map, are already open to mountain biking. In fact, the northernmost section of this proposed 280-mile trail is already one of the most popular mountain biking trail systems in Missouri.  This area encompasses the Berryman Trail, the Clinton Lakes Trail, and other trail segments connected by the northern reaches of the Ozark Trail that are already accessible to mountain biking.

The other element that makes the 280-mile mountain bike trail system possible is an existing network of gravel county roads throughout the area.  Using these gravel roads, marked in light blue on the map, it is possible to bridge the majority of the distance between the two major mountain bikeable segments of the Ozark Trail.

Southern ONSR Mountain Bike connection (green)
Southern ONSR Mountain Bike connection (green). This short connecting trail would bridge the gap between one of the most popular ONSR camping/recreation areas and an existing 58-mile section of the Ozark Trail open to mountain biking (purple)

The key piece remaining is the two short trail segments that pass through ONSR (green on the map).

Mountain bike access on these two segments is our highest priority ask of ONSR as it updates its Road and Trails Plan.

The proposed connections will extend what is already one of the most popular mountain bike trails in Missouri by over 100 miles

Will people use these new trail connections if they are made?

The record is pretty clear: The northern section of the Ozark Trail is already one of the most popular mountain biking areas in Missouri (see a snapshot of the Strava Cycling Heatmap of the area below).

The proposed connections will simply add to this already successful story, bringing in an additional 100+ miles of top-quality gravel and single track trails into one unified system--and connecting it all to Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri's only National Park.

Points you can make in your public comment in support of this amazing potential mountain bike network

The Data: Mountain biking is allowed on 72% of Missouri trail mileage, but only 11% of the most generous ONSR proposal

The current Missouri Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan is the most comprehensive analysis of allowed uses of Missouri trails to date.  The analysis (p. 84) found that

  • All of the trails (except for two water trails) are designed for hiking and walking (947 trails, 1,302 trailheads, 3,082 miles);

  • About half allow biking (457 trails, 2,228 miles); . . .

  • 134 equestrian trails provide 1,439 miles of trails for horse lovers;

Putting those numbers together, mountain biking is allowed on 2228 of 3082 trail miles across Missouri. That is 72% of trail mileage.

By contrast Ozark National Scenic Riverways Roads & Trails Plan Alternative C--which is the alternative that allows for the most mountain biking trail mileage--allows mountain biking on just 11.2% of all trails within ONSR

Discussion: Why more mountain biking trails in ONSR are needed and justified

Statewide in Missouri, 2228 of 3082 trail miles (72%)  allow mountain bike access.  Allowing mountain bike access on 72% of ONSR trail mileage is a reasonable proportion based on this empirical data, and a goal percentage that is strongly supported by the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation. Significant deviations from this norm established by other land use management agencies across Missouri will require explanation based on very specific and unusual circumstances for each trail excluded from mountain biking use.

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways includes parts of the Current and Jack's Fork Rivers, in south-central Missouri near Eminence. The area has the potential to host an excellent mountain biking trail system.

Note that ONSR Alternative C allows mountain biking on just 11.2% of all trails within ONSR--far below the 72% norm.

By contrast, ONSR Alternative C allows equestrian use on 36% of trail miles--which reasonably close to the statewide norm of 47% of trail mileage allowing equestrian use.

In short, the ONSR trails plan meets the needs of people who hike and ride horses.  But it is far short of meeting the needs of the large population in Missouri and the Midwest who mountain bike.

The very, very low percentage of trail where mountain bike use is allowed is a very significant outlier in comparison with the statewide norm.

The fact that, even in ONSR Alternative C, the proportion of trails open to mountain biking is so low in comparison to the amounts open for hiking and equestrian use indicates that ONSR is not properly gauging the interest in mountain biking in Missouri and that even Alternative C will vastly underserve the population’s needs.

Additionally, the large proportion of statewide trail mileage open to mountain biking indicates that, in the judgement of land managers across the state, a very large proportion of the state’s singletrack trails are suitable for mountain biking and that concerns that might restrict mountain bike users from all but a tiny percentage of area trails are unwarranted.

What you can do to help

Thank you!  Your comment will really make a difference on this issue--and help create an AMAZING 280-mile mountain bike trail in Missouri.

 

Creating a world-class bicycle, pedestrian, and trails system in Missouri is one of the four major goals in MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. As part of that Vision, we work to support all types of bicycling, walking, running, hiking, and trail use. Working on improved trails access in places that have never allowed bicycle access before, like ONSR, and working for the creating of major trail systems like the proposed Ozark Trail Mountain Bike System is one way we work to achieve that goal.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support help turn our goal into reality!

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