April 16, 2014

Hoof It for Heifer Trail Run

To my left was a babbling brook with a jagged rock face as a backdrop. Tiny purple violets stood out against the green moss, mayapples and wild grasses along the side of the trail. White dogwood blooms hung like cotton balls in the forest of maple, oak and hickory. My feet beat out a rhythm, keeping time with the slosh of my water bottle while my heavy breathing sang the backbeat. Running alone for most of the more than twelve miles of trail included in the Hoof it for Heifer 20K Trail Run gave me ample time to appreciate the beauty of Petit Jean State Park.

Arkansas State Parks are treasured by lovers of the great outdoors. The area around Cedar Falls at Petit Jean State Park was the first parcel of land set aside as an Arkansas State Park in 1923 and the beauty of the land continues to entice locals and visitors alike to explore the acres of trails, waterfalls, grottos, and rock formations.  While many visitors to the park are happy hiking the trails at a leisurely pace, some who answer the call of Petit Jean’s diverse trails are runners seeking challenging terrain.

Seven Hollows Trail 1

On April 12, 2014, the park hosted the third annual Hoof it for Heifer Trail Run benefitting Heifer International. When asked why Petit Jean State Park was chosen as the venue for the fundraising run, race director and Heifer International volunteer Wanda Eason said, “I was looking for a trail that would be easily accessible, but also one I thought runners would enjoy and appreciate.  Petit Jean is near I40 and has beautiful accommodations with the lodge, cabins, and camp sites.  It is very family friendly so I thought runners might bring their families and enjoy the park for the weekend.” As a testament to the lure of the trails, more than 100 runners from all over the state pre-registered for this year’s race.

One of the first features of the loop course is the Davies Bridge over Cedar Creek.  Because runners travel over the bridge before turning on to the single-track of the twelve mile Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail, the return trip offers the better view of beautiful stonework of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Davies Bridge

The first mile of the course encourages me to pick up my feet, not just to keep up with the runners in front of me but to get up and over the rocks and roots along the rugged path. Runners stack up as steep but short climbs slow down the herd, only to spread them out again as the craggy terrain gives way to smooth dirt once again. The Boy Scout Trail connects or follows portions of almost all the trails within the park giving runners who aren’t familiar with the trails a chance to witness the diversity of terrain and to appreciate the contribution spring showers give to the surging waterfalls, gentle streams, and blooming flowers. At the old CCC swimming area known as the blue hole, I remind myself that rushing across the rocks that connect one bank of Cedar Creek to the other could result in wet shoes and socks for the remainder of the run so I carefully skipped across.

Seven Hollows Trail - 2

Around the eight mile mark of the race, the course follows a portion of the Seven Hollows Trail. Running alone under the canopy of the hardwood forest, in and out of rock canyons, along streams and under bluffs; I am in awe of nature’s bounty. It almost makes the thought that I have four more miles to go tolerable. These trails are not new to me; I know that the spectacle only continues as the course journeys into the Bear Cave Area where huge sandstone boulders hug the trail. The Boy Scout Trail takes runners through the parking lot of Mather Lodge where on the far side, the pioneer cabin of the Walker family sits as a reminder of the intrepid settlers who once called the mountain top home. I try not to slow down as I run past the Cedar Falls Overlook. I can hear the water rushing but I know I’m getting close to the finish and so, I press on to a section of trail that for me is just as stunning as the falls. My feet pound the rocky path that drops downhill to return my weary legs to Cedar Creek once again where once I cross the long wooden bridge over the creek, I know the finish line is close. I hear my friend Misty behind me so I wait; finishing with good company is more fun than finishing alone. To pass those few minutes we have left out on the trail, I ask if she would like to hear some of the history of the park. She replies in the affirmative and I immediately launch into the tale of the beginnings of the Arkansas State Park system, originating from the dirt we’re now running on.  I share my deep love for the preservation of the CCC effort, Native American relics, and rugged natural beauty. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the Natural State than to run her trails and share her stories.

The Hoof it for Heifer is an annual race on the second Saturday of April. Other opportunities to run the trails in Arkansas coming up are:

Ouachita Trail 50K/50 Mile race April 26

Outback in the Ozarks 200 Mile Team Relay in Eureka Springs May 2-3

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For a shorter run or to test out your trail racing legs, Race the Base at Pinnacle Mountain State Park on November 8 is four miles, great for a first time trail racer.

Photos by Joe Jacobs

 

Lisa Mullis

Arkansas Women Blogger member Lisa Mullis loves to cook for and eat with her family and friends. She runs, lifts heavy stuff and bicycles to make room for more food. In addition to looking at tiny things under a microscope for her job as a microbiologist, she writes about her cooking, running, lifting and cycling and about her friends who do all those things too at Frenetic Fitness and Arkansas Outside.

View Lisa's website