The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay travels to Bentonville to bike around with brothers Tom and Steuart Walton, the Walmart heirs who are pouring money into bike trails and cultural initiatives in Northwest Arkansas.
Gary Vernon, a former BMXer who works with the Waltons on the trail network, recalls coming across a young Tom Walton working on what would become Bentonville’s inaugural run, known as “Slaughter Pen.”
“He had this vision, as a 23-year-old guy, of turning Bentonville into a bike town, with the culture of a Colorado town, or even Austin, Texas,” Vernon says.
“I always use the term, ‘Ski town for bikes,’ and building an economy around bikes,” Tom says. “Having an urban trail system is a good example for a lot of small and mid-sized cities across the middle of the country that are [asking] ‘How do I retain workforce?’ ‘How do I become a destination?’ ‘How do I differentiate.’ ”
Today there are 400 miles of well-maintained trails in Northwest Arkansas—250 or so for mountain biking; another 150 in paved paths—with 2 miles of trails added every week. The goal is something for everyone, from thrill-seeking hard-core riders, to newcomers just getting started.
“We can blow your mind,” says Tom. He even has a metric for it: “Memorable moments per mile.”
Not mentioned in the piece: The brothers are behind The Momentary, the much anticipated multidisciplinary art space modeled on Mass Moca and scheduled to open 2/20/20 in the 63,000-square-foot former Kraft Foods cheese factory at 507 SE E St. in Bentonville. They’re their drivers behind funding the new Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation to build mountain bike trails in state parks throughout the state. And they’re investors in Allied Cycle Works, the buzzy, Arkansas-based manufacturer of high-end carbon-frame bicycles. Also not included: Steuart just married “Baywatch” actress Kelly Rohrbach, who’s also an alum of Georgetown (Steuart got his law degree there).