If getting more exercise, or just getting outside, is a perennial part of the New Year's resolution list, get started locally by exploring the trails north of the Arkansas River.
These diverse trails and the people he's met on them have helped Jack Mayberry, 84, of Sheridan.
“My wife of over 45 years died in 2005 and left a void in my life. That's when I discovered the Little Rock Marathon training group, led by Tom and Hobbit Singleton. I am beginning my thirteenth year with the group, which has become like a family to me. I expect to continue with them as long as I am physically able to do so because I love being around people who have so much in common with me, regardless of age,” he said.
While most municipalities in central Arkansas have a number paved walking and running tracks at schools, city parks, and community centers, the trail system provides a variety of paths and scenery for individuals and families to experience.
For example, many of the trails in North Little Rock are five miles or less, but several intersect with the north parts of the Arkansas River Trail System, which is on both sides of the river and connects over several bridges. While most of the trails around North Little Rock and Maumelle are paved, there are several natural or unpaved trails.
Some trails are a mix of both, such as Emerald Park Trail.
The 2.7 mile-long trail has some asphalt, but much of it is rocky, with steep hills on each end and slight hills in the middle. It connects with the Highland Trail, which is 2.1 miles. It too has hills, but is asphalt. Both trails are along bluffs on the north side of the Arkansas River and have spectacular views.
Mayberry said he favors the part of the Arkansas River Trail System that begins at Cook's Landing on the North Little Rock and Maumelle side of the Big Dam Bridge. His feet often carry him eastward to Burns Park, northward through the soccer fields, onto Arlene Laman Drive and around the softball, baseball, and tennis complexes.
Mayberry said he enjoys the diversity in landscape and the scenic beauty of these trails.
“Prettiest sight I can remember is of the open fields not far from Cook's Landing at sunrise, with fog from the river hovering over them,” he said.
Running these trails have helped Kelley Rollins, 51, too.
“I started running later in life. I always wanted to run but didn't have the confidence to try. However, when my daughter graduated high school and left for college in Florida, I decided it was time to try new things. I didn't want to sit home and mope over her leaving. Running happened to be one of those new things. I registered for the Women Can Run Clinic and have been running ever since,” she said.
There's a popular runner's quote many find relatable. A runner dealing with grief after losing a son said “I do not run from the pain, I run through the pain.”
“There have been many times where I ran through the pain of the situation and for those 30 to 40 minutes, I was free. The magic of running is you lose yourself and find yourself in the same moment,” Rollins said.
Social media has been helping runners like Rollins connect with other runners, discover new trails, and keep in the know about upcoming races.
“Social media has definitely helped me with my running journey. It helps to be connected with other runners and to know that we share the same goals and struggles. It has also helped me understand proper nutrition and ways to advance my training with speed workouts and hill repeats,” she said.
While not everyone on the trails is training for a marathon or 5K, Rollins said training for races helps her stay consistent in her running.
“I also have running buddies that I know are counting on me to be there for a run. So having that accountability is definitely a motivation,” she said.
Competitive spirit helped Jack Mayberry get moving years ago.
“I had pretty much abandoned all athletic activity for so many years until my youngest son, Andy, wanted me to run with him as he trained for his first Timberfest 5K in Sheridan. He was 12 years old and I was 49 by that time. That got me started on short distances; three and six miles, and then much later in life at age 72, I began training for my first Little Rock Marathon which I completed. The first of ten consecutive. I finished the tenth a little over a month before my eighty-second birthday.”
While there is plenty of gadgets and athletic wear out there for those who want to travel the trails, both Rollins and Mayberry agreed a good pair of shoes is the first place to start.
According to a 2015 Healthy Active Arkansas report prepared by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, nearly 760,000 Arkansans are obese, which causes or worsens diseases and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, cancers, high blood pressure, as well as arthritis, asthma, sleep disorders, and depression.
While there are plenty of enthusiastic cyclists and runners hitting the trails on a regular basis these paths also provide a great way for individuals and families to work off a big meal, ward off cabin fever brought on by inclement weather, getting children to take a break from “screen-time,” or just stepping away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
According to arkansasrivertrail.org, the metropolitan parts of the trail connect to six museums and 38 parks on both sides of the Arkansas River, but there's still plenty of natural scenery to enjoy. The National Park Service describes the Arkansas River Trail System as three interconnecting loops: The Downtown Loop (1.9 miles), the Big Dam Loop (15.7 miles) and the Grand Loop, which stretches to Conway (88.5 miles).
The north part of the Arkansas River Trail System is about 7.5 miles between the Clinton Presidential Bridge and the Big Dam Bridge. The Clinton Presidential Bridge is the former Rock Island railroad bridge that connects downtown parts North Little Rock and Little Rock. The Big Dam Bridge goes over the Arkansas River at Murray Lock and Dam.
During a 2015 pedestrian count taken on Saturday, Sept. 12 and Tuesday, Sep. 15, volunteers with the National Bicycle Pedestrian Documentation Project counted 420 pedestrians and more than 500 cyclists using the Big Dam Bridge. Downtown 146 pedestrians and 279 cyclists used the Clinton Presidential Bridge on those days.