Aug 25, 2023 - News

Posh Arkansas Graveler tour to cross state in 2024

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from left, first gentleman Bryan Sanders and Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan listen to event organizer Scotti Lechuga announce the Arkansas Graveler. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

"Arkansas Traveler" lyric: "Hey farmer! Where does this road go?"

  • The updated answer: "Don't know, but I'm fixin' to find out on this here bicycle."

What's happening: A group of cyclists, event organizers, politicians and Arkansas tourism staff announced the route of the inaugural Arkansas Graveler off-road cycling tour Thursday.

Why it matters: The 336-mile, fully supported event will be the first of its kind in the U.S. Catering to a crowd who want to grind all day but enjoy craft beer and chef-curated meals in camp, it has the potential to draw new visitors to the state.

  • And growing the economy through tourism is a priority for Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who appointed first gentleman Bryan Sanders to head the Natural State Advisory Council earlier this year.
  • Bryan Sanders wants to double the economic impact of the state's tourism within 10 years. Ways to measure the impact vary, but visitors spent $8 billion in Arkansas during 2021, according to the state tourism agency.

The big picture: Gravel cycling is among the fastest-growing trends in the sport. U.S. sales of cyclo-cross and gravel bikes grew 109% between 2019 and 2021.

  • And riding a bike across a state is a thing. RAGBRAI, the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year with thousands of participants, and similar events — Bike Across Kansas and Oklahoma FreeWheel — have been moderately successful.

Details: The inaugural Arkansas Graveler will start at the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville next June 23 and end at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro on June 29.

  • Daily rides are 40-70 miles with camp spots in Oark, Jasper, Marshall, Mountain View and Cave City.
  • Terrain flattens out as riders travel east, but there's roughly a 24,000-foot elevation change throughout.
  • Riders' bags will be carried forward to each site by the event; a shuttle back to Fayetteville will be available in Jonesboro.
  • Medical and mechanical support will be available.
  • The event is touted as a gravel ride, but it'll be about a 50/50 split of paved surfaces on mostly rural roads, event director Scotti Lechuga told Axios.

The cool stuff: Breakfast and coffee will be served each morning, as well as dinner each evening using locally sourced fare. A shower station and live music also are on tap.

  • Details are still forthcoming, but planned rest stops have built-in chances to enjoy fishing or try your hand at archery.

The event is produced by the Ozark Foundation, a nonprofit focused on outdoor recreation in the state.

The bottom line: The six-day tour will cost $950; a one-day "mini graveler" is $245.

What's next: Registration opens Jan. 1.

  • Lechuga thinks the 400 available spots will go fast.

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