Arkansas the next fat-tire mecca?

From Outside
By Andrew Tilin

The Walmart Heirs Putting Arkansas on the Fat-Tire Map

How a couple of heirs to an American retail dynasty are putting Bentonville, Arkansas, on the fat-tire map

Tom Walton parks his bike and surveys the surrounding terrain. Where I see modest hills sheathed in uninspiring winter brown, he sees cycling gold. “The return on investment that we’ve had,” says Walton, kicking at the Arkansas dirt with his mountain-biking shoe, “proves that building urban singletrack is a great model for rural America.”

In case you’re wondering: yes, Tom is one of those Waltons, grandson of Sam, founder of Walmart. And the modestly contoured Arkansas hills he’s hyping—maximum elevation maybe 1,500 feet—neighbor Bentonville, headquarters of the $500 billion company. The 34-year-old and his brother, Steuart, 36, are both cycling nuts, and they’re trying to do for mountain biking what the family business did for retailing: change everything. Today they’re giving me a cycling tour of their progress toward that goal—specifically, a portion of the 163 miles of Arkansas trails in and around their hometown that they’ve commissioned through the Walton Family Foundation. All told, they’ve helped pour some $74 million into cycling infrastructure for the region.

It’s an ambitious plan, and you have to admire what they’ve created. Back on our bikes, I attempt to follow as the brothers effortlessly whip through local favorites like All-American and Rocking Horse. Every trail we ride is clearly marked, categorized (“gateway,” “flow,” “technical” ), and, like ski runs, graded for difficulty. The classifications describe the riding profile of every path. Some have jump lines, others have rock gardens, still others feature one perfectly smoothed berm after another. “We talk about Bentonville as a ski town for bikes,” Tom told me before our ride.

“Steu, do we have time for Master Plan?” says Tom as we reach a fork in the trail.

“It’s Friday, T Dubs,” says Steuart. “Go.”

There’s little question about how the brothers got their passion for bikes and being outside. The Waltons are a cycling-centric family who put a premium on outdoor experiences. When Tom and Steuart were boys, their parents didn’t keep a TV in the house. Their uncle Rob, a former Walmart chairman, is a veteran roadie. Their dad, Jim, chairman of the board of family-owned Arvest Bank, loves the dirt. Steu and T Dubs go both ways, and they always figure out a way to mix riding and travel—even on a recent trip to Azerbaijan. True siblings, they try to crush one another on climbs.

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