Words by Zuzanna Sitek
The Mt. Fitzgerald experience is what can happen when you give an expert trail builder, who left his mark on some of the lines at Red Bull Rampage, 130 acres on the east side of Springdale and ask him to create a trail system that most levels of riders can get into. Jeremy Witek and the rest of his Rock Solid Trail Contracting crew took what Northwest Arkansas’ geology has to offer and turned it into armored trails, variously-sized jumps, and even bridges, so all the features are built with stone sourced from the property. I’m not sure if any of them know how to knit sweaters, but these builders sure know how to knit together dirt, rocks, and boulders into some of the most technical and interesting single track in the region.
To ride Mt. Fitzgerald, you can park at one of two lots. There’s Bayyari Park on Deer Valley Street, which can fill up fast if the conditions are just right, and the other is along Dodd Avenue behind a 19th-century homestead called Fitzgerald Station. The home and barn that are still there had once been a stop on the Butterfield Trail stagecoach mail route. It’s how the mountain and some of the trails on it got their name. I like to start my ride at Bayyari Park, which looks unassuming from the parking lot but is emblematic of the spectrum of riders who can have fun on this trail system.
I take the green Stage Coach trail, which passes by a strider course for kids who are just learning to bike and go counterclockwise to get a look at the features on the miniature flow lines that are easily session-able before or after a proper trail ride. The features on the double-black line are anything but miniature though. Bridge Is Out! gets its name from the initial 10-foot drop with an 18-foot gap that will set you up for a rock take off and 30-foot gap landing that follows. The trail then rips into another kicker that sends riders into a 270-degree berm and between the stacked rocks that created the jump. The blue-black line called Barking Iron will take you over a rock bridge into a set of tabletop jumps, while Gully Washer provides a flowy, beginner-friendly jaunt down the hillside. Even if you don’t ride them, the stonemasonry on these trails alone is worth a look, which can be said about many parts of this system.
From Stage Coach, I’ll jump across Dodd Avenue onto a blue trail called Butterfield. It’s the more meandering of the two climbs to the top of the mountain, but the trail builders sprinkled in a few fun alternate lines for more advanced riders. My favorite feature is a boulder they turned into a lily pad where on one side there’s a stone take off onto the rock slab and on the other, there’s a drop. It’s just one of the examples of the ways Rock Solid wove Mother Nature’s existing work into their own.
If I’m interested in a steeper and more technical climb, I’ll take Coyote Cave to the top instead, although this black trail makes for an incredibly satisfying descent back to the parking lot. The single track does actually pass a cave, but as far as I’ve been able to gather, the existence of a coyote is only hearsay. The other must-see is what can only be described as a wave of stacked stone that swoops in and out from between massive boulders and makes me feel like I’m surfing on rocks. As with all their other trails, the builders made sure to include features for riders looking for air time.
Once I’m at the top of Mt. Fitzgerald, I like to head straight for the affectionately-named Best Trail Ever loop and recommend riding it counterclockwise. Just like every trail in this system, it can be ridden in either direction. The descents are punctuated by optional kickers and sneaky rock gardens. Highlights include a wall ride made out of stone at the bottom of the first downhill portion and a rock chute that kicks off the second one. The climbs are made up of lengthy rock-armored sections of trail and skirt some of the many bluffs that decorate the mountain.
The blue-rated Fitzgerald loop is a quick spin around the top of the mountain with a lookout point at downtown Springdale below. This is also how I get to a trail called 1857, a double-black diamond spur that drops below the bluff line. It’s only 0.1 miles, but it’s 0.1. miles of jagged and off-camber rock garden. To get back down to Bayyari Park, I’ll usually take Coyote Cave, but Butterfield is a great option as well. As a local rider who learns something new every time I ride here, my advice is to not let the technical portions of the trail dissuade you from checking it out. Walk if you have to and take in the trail design. And if you’re a more advanced rider, don’t let the 10-mile trail system fool you, it’ll feel like 20 when you’re done.