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By now, eight years after Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened its doors, you’ve likely read something about its outstanding permanent collection, the temporary exhibits it hosts, and possibly even the well-attended special events and educational offerings it produces each year. But how much do you know about its trails?
I found myself sorely lacking in this department, even though I visit the art inside the building several times a year. I don’t enjoy being the last to know about amazing things happening in my community, but this time my ignorance provided the perfect opportunity for me to learn and share.
I visited on a Sunday morning when the skies threatened rain, and, judging by the number of folks on the trails, I wasn’t the only one to think a windy, overcast morning was a perfect time to take a walk. The 120 acres of native Ozark forest surrounding Crystal Bridges Museum are home to plentiful native plants and animals and include a number of features such as limestone bluffs, unique rock formations and natural springs enhanced by outdoor art spaces placed here and there for visitors to enjoy.
Visitors can take their pick of eight trails making up over 4 miles of paved and dirt paths on the property, but I didn’t plan a route ahead of time. I’m spontaneous like that. I grabbed my water bottle and set off along the Art Trail, chosen because it was closest to my parking spot.
Trail lengths range from a quarter-mile to just over one mile, and each trail is listed on the trails page on the Crystal Bridges Museum website. A dropdown note beneath each trail summary describes special features such as plant life you’ll see and the kind of man-made structures you will encounter. Three of the trails have a rock surface intended for hiking and would be more challenging to access for folks with mobility challenges, but the other five are hard surface.
Paper trail maps are available in the museum lobby, or you can download a .pdf file of the trail map before you go. You will also see large maps on signs at designation spots along the way. But if you don’t leave the house without your favorite digital device, you could also load the CB Outdoors app. On the app you’ll find trail maps and information about flora and fauna, and you can create a personalized experience based on the features in which you’re most interested.
One of my favorite parts of my trek through the woods was finding labels on specimen trees and plants. I’m a hobby gardener who believes it’s important to use native plants in my landscape, so the information about the plants growing in the landscape at Crystal Bridges Museum helped me visualize what a particular plant will look like in my yard in a way that a tiny photo on a gardening website can’t.
There is also a plant guide available on the website, organized by trail and by month, with information about the plants you’ll find in the landscape, and images of them showing off in their habitat. You’ll find many of these plants on lists of native plants to use in your own garden as a replacement for species that are considered invasive, and the Crystal Bridges Museum horticulturists share tips on the page for how to use them best.
In addition to walking trails, the grounds around Crystal Bridges feature some terrific mountain biking trails. In fact, the hard-surface Crystal Bridges Trail is a small section of the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Greenway that spans some 37 miles from Bella Vista to Fayetteville. Alongside the paved trail, there are also dirt tracks that provide areas for cyclists to challenge their skills.
As you would expect on the grounds of a museum, there is plenty of sculpture to see on the trail, from bronze sculptures of various animals (I saw a pig, hare, tortoise, bear and horse on my short trek), to glass Chihuly installations, large abstract works and architectural wonders. It was fun to consider the pieces of man-made art against the natural environment of a forest. It is truly lovely how they complement each other as partners, even while each maintains its own intrinsic beauty.
I wrapped up my visit with a stroll through the North Lawn and made my way back to the car just as a few sprinkles started to fall. Next time, I’ll wear my hiking boots and plan to stay a little longer.
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