Ozarks Electric Cooperative has helped design and build a park that’s now a centerpiece for cycling sports and actively supports events attracting world-class competitors to the Arkansas site. The park is part of a larger effort by local officials and the Fayetteville-based distribution co-op to elevate the area’s role as an entertainment and event destination.
“Northwest Arkansas has seen just a huge growth in cycling investment and enthusiasm,” said Peter Neirengarten, the city of Fayetteville’s environmental director. “We were already on the map, but now we’re a lot brighter beacon when it comes to cycling, cycling investment and cycling destinations in the United States and worldwide.”
In 2018, with support from the Walton Family Foundation, the city acquired 228 acres of ranchland that includes Millsap Mountain with the goal of developing Centennial Park. Improvements included hiking and biking trails tied into more than 80 miles of paved and natural surface trails connected to city neighborhoods. With the help of co-op engineers and operations personnel, electric and fiber optic infrastructure serving the parkland was relocated and upgraded to minimize obstructions and preserve the park’s natural beauty.
“We took an existing three-phase line and converted several spans to underground and provided some new points of service within the park,” said Troy Scarbrough, Ozarks EC’s vice president of engineering and operations. “Our communications design was a bit more involved because there was a need for high-capacity public Wi-Fi and hard-wire connections to support television and other broadcast needs.”
The co-op has used rights of way along some of the city’s hiking and biking trails for conduit placement for its fiber optic network buildout, said Scarbrough.
“Fayetteville has a unique pathway through the territory, so having access to this pathway helps to solve a lot of operational issues and often reduces capital costs.”
Such mutual benefits prompted the co-op to negotiate cost-sharing agreements on the Centennial Park project, which now includes 13 miles of cycling trails inside of the park’s boundaries, said Scarbrough.
“Ozarks EC has some sponsoring rights tied to the park, and this was a real win-win opportunity that has allowed us to enhance our fiber assets and downline automation capabilities.”
Centennial Park drew major recognition last October when it hosted the Cyclo-Cross World Cup, an international competition of top racers from 25 nations that drew about 15,000 spectators. It will also host the Jan. 28-30 Cyclo-Cross World Championships, which is expected to attract 300 top racers from more than 30 countries. According to Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body for the sport, the championships are expected to draw a media audience of 50 million people in 75 nations.
“While we’ve invested in being able to host world-class cyclo-cross events, the facilities we’ve built are regularly accessible to families and beginning cyclists in our community and beyond. We’ve wanted to make these recreational facilities as accessible as possible, and they’ve become a real community resource,” said Neirengarten, noting that cycling sports, including cyclo-cross and mountain biking, are increasingly popular in the region.
“We are blessed to serve such a vibrant and dynamic community—hosting a world championship cycling event is just one example,” said Mitchell Johnson, president and CEO of Ozarks EC. “We were proud to be able to provide reliable power and world-class connectivity for this event, as we do for our members and customers every day of the year, and to show the world what a special place Northwest Arkansas truly is.”
Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.