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Arkansas State Parks are treasured by lovers of the great outdoors. The area around Cedar Falls at Petit Jean State Park was the first parcel of land set aside as an Arkansas State Park in 1923 and the beauty of the land continues to entice locals and visitors alike to explore the acres of trails, waterfalls, grottos, and rock formations. While many visitors to the park are happy hiking the trails at a leisurely pace, some who answer the call of Petit Jean’s diverse trails are runners seeking challenging terrain.
On April 12, 2014, the park hosted the third annual Hoof it for Heifer Trail Run benefitting Heifer International. When asked why Petit Jean State Park was chosen as the venue for the fundraising run, race director and Heifer International volunteer Wanda Eason said, “I was looking for a trail that would be easily accessible, but also one I thought runners would enjoy and appreciate. Petit Jean is near I40 and has beautiful accommodations with the lodge, cabins, and camp sites. It is very family friendly so I thought runners might bring their families and enjoy the park for the weekend.” As a testament to the lure of the trails, more than 100 runners from all over the state pre-registered for this year’s race.
One of the first features of the loop course is the Davies Bridge over Cedar Creek. Because runners travel over the bridge before turning on to the single-track of the twelve mile Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail, the return trip offers the better view of beautiful stonework of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The first mile of the course encourages me to pick up my feet, not just to keep up with the runners in front of me but to get up and over the rocks and roots along the rugged path. Runners stack up as steep but short climbs slow down the herd, only to spread them out again as the craggy terrain gives way to smooth dirt once again. The Boy Scout Trail connects or follows portions of almost all the trails within the park giving runners who aren’t familiar with the trails a chance to witness the diversity of terrain and to appreciate the contribution spring showers give to the surging waterfalls, gentle streams, and blooming flowers. At the old CCC swimming area known as the blue hole, I remind myself that rushing across the rocks that connect one bank of Cedar Creek to the other could result in wet shoes and socks for the remainder of the run so I carefully skipped across.
Around the eight mile mark of the race, the course follows a portion of the Seven Hollows Trail. Running alone under the canopy of the hardwood forest, in and out of rock canyons, along streams and under bluffs; I am in awe of nature’s bounty. It almost makes the thought that I have four more miles to go tolerable. These trails are not new to me; I know that the spectacle only continues as the course journeys into the Bear Cave Area where huge sandstone boulders hug the trail. The Boy Scout Trail takes runners through the parking lot of Mather Lodge where on the far side, the pioneer cabin of the Walker family sits as a reminder of the intrepid settlers who once called the mountain top home. I try not to slow down as I run past the Cedar Falls Overlook. I can hear the water rushing but I know I’m getting close to the finish and so, I press on to a section of trail that for me is just as stunning as the falls. My feet pound the rocky path that drops downhill to return my weary legs to Cedar Creek once again where once I cross the long wooden bridge over the creek, I know the finish line is close. I hear my friend Misty behind me so I wait; finishing with good company is more fun than finishing alone. To pass those few minutes we have left out on the trail, I ask if she would like to hear some of the history of the park. She replies in the affirmative and I immediately launch into the tale of the beginnings of the Arkansas State Park system, originating from the dirt we’re now running on. I share my deep love for the preservation of the CCC effort, Native American relics, and rugged natural beauty. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the Natural State than to run her trails and share her stories.
The Hoof it for Heifer is an annual race on the second Saturday of April. Other opportunities to run the trails in Arkansas coming up are:
Ouachita Trail 50K/50 Mile race April 26
Outback in the Ozarks 200 Mile Team Relay in Eureka Springs May 2-3
Mount Magazine Trail Run (18M) at Mt. Magazine State Park May 17
War Eagle Tail Twister 25K/50K at Hobbs State Park June 7
Full mOOn 25K/50K at Camp Ouachita near Lake Sylvia overnight July 12-13
Mt Nebo Trail Run (14M) at Mt. Nebo State Park August 24th
Arkansas Traveller 100 Miler October 4
Cossatot River Half Marathon at Cossatot River State Park October 20
For a shorter run or to test out your trail racing legs, Race the Base at Pinnacle Mountain State Park on November 8 is four miles, great for a first time trail racer.
Photos by Joe Jacobs
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