What is it that people wish for us when they sing, “Happy trails to you”? It's a hike we can enjoy with our dog or our family and that doesn't require that we pack in water purifiers or flares. That's the premise that Michael Storey, columnist for Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, adopts in a newly released compilation of his “Happy Trails” features from the newspaper. Storey's is a sometimes quirky guide — which is what you might expect from the creator of Otus the Head Cat — that includes 52 hikes broken down by regions of the state. Not surprisingly, more than half the destinations (22 in Central Arkansas and 14 in Northwest) are in the hilly parts of the state. For each hike, Storey gives information about getting to the trailhead, the length, attractions, hazards, amenities, whether it's “dog, bike, tyke” friendly, and a tempting picture accompanies the text. His hazard descriptions are the quirky part — his warning on Flatside Pinnacle, for example, reads “It's about a 75-foot fall off the bluff. You should avoid that.” For Bona Dea Trails and Sanctuary, he lists the hazards as “None, unless you fall into the nasty sump pump holding area along the dike.” Storey's not being cavalier, we're sure; it's just his way of saying the trails are safe unless you're singularly careless.
Only seven of Storey's trail descriptions come with a map of the trail itself. He relies on words to get you to the trailhead, and after that you're on your own. These are happy trails, however, so you probably won't get lost. And for folks looking for something that's not, say, a walk in the park, Storey includes tougher terrain, like the War Eagle Trail at Withrow Springs State Park or the Mossy Bluff trail at Greers Ferry. (Hazard: “If you slip, you'll roll 200 feet into the river.”) The paperback is $15.95 and published by the Democrat-Gazette and is available in area bookstores.
Johnnie Chamberlin's “Trails of Little Rock” zeroes in on local trails and streams and goes where Storey doesn't with a few exceptions, like Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Chamberlin's book is a paradox of highs and lows. High points: Even a long-time native will find new places to roam — who knew about the River Mountain trail behind Walton Heights? — and his maps of trails in Gillam Park, being developed by Chamberlin's employer, Audubon Arkansas, are welcome. Low points: A portion of his Boyle Park west trail is on private property, as is his trail along Brodie Creek north of Col. Glenn Road. Chamberlin warns his readers that he's not sure all his routes are on public land in the preface; this is something his editors should have insisted he check, given how folks around here feel about trespassers. Too, the book directs the reader to page 50 to read about a place called the Garden of Trees in Two Rivers Park, but alas, page 50 is devoted to the Kingfisher Trail in Pinnacle (great place to see waterthrushes during migration, by the way). The Garden of Trees is shown — but not labeled — on page 60. It's the bunch of red lines in the lower left portion of the map. There is also the unfortunate misspelling of Allsopp Park.
But Chamberlin writes with enthusiasm and paddlers will appreciate the fact that he's included local floats. He also includes a page that divides the trails into most scenic, best for children and best for solitude (though I wouldn't recommend much solitary venturing into parts of Boyle Park).
Here's what I mean about enthusiasm: Chamberlin, who's worked on water issues there, touts the scenery along Fourche Creek, the bottomland stream that wraps around the southern part of Little Rock. Yes, you'll float under an active railroad bridge; a few minutes later you'll come to an elevated gas line that you might have to portage around; you have to watch for the concrete at one bend. “Shortly after you pass the concrete banks, you will come upon an elevated sewer line,” he writes but notes that there are also cypress, silver maples and box elders lining the bank. Yes, he sighs, “unsightly trash tends to pile up in large mats” at places, but … . The thing is, Fourche Creek is beautiful. You just have to see how things could be, which is how Chamberlin sees things, and that's what it takes to make our nasty world better. The paperback is $12, published by Parkhurst Brothers Inc. and is available at River Market Books and Gifts in the Cox Center, Wordsworth Books and from the publisher.
Have a happy hike this summer.