Mena is the site of a new cycling event: The Wheel A’ Mena. The event is a tour of the Ouachita Mountains via the Talimena Scenic Drive.
“The Ouachita Mountains in our area are beautiful and we felt this was a good way for people to see what we have to offer,” says Linda Rowe, who works on the event. “The Ouachita Challenge is a successful mountain bike race in this area and they have been very helpful in getting this project started. We hope to make this an annual event that grows every year.”
The tour is staged out of Mena, which is at the foothills of Rich Mountain; at 2,681 feet, it’s the second tallest mountain in the state. Two tour distances (70 and 30 miles) are offered. The event is September 22 and is being billed as a tune-up ride for the popular Big Dam Bridge 100 mile race in Little Rock September 29.
“This is a challenging mountain climbing course,” says Rowe. “There will be beautiful views, several vistas worthy of a photo, great views of the Kiamichi Mountains and the Kiamichi Valley, Lake Wilhelmina, and Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The route in Oklahoma is on top of the mountain range and presents views second to none.”
Both tours start and end at Janssen Park and include multiple ascents and descents.
“The wife and I are planning to ride the 30 mile tour on our tandem bike,” says Mike Kelsey, an avid cyclist who lives in Mena. “We plan on taking a deep breath at the top of Rich Mountain at Queen Wilhelmina State Park and soak in the view. Our next stop will be to take in the even greater view from the historic Fire Tower on Talimena Scenic Drive, where there is a spectacular 360 degree view of the Ouachita Mountains.”
As for details of the 30 mile tour, Kelsey says, “the first 13 miles are very flat but the four mile ascent to the top of Rich Mountain is a pretty steep climb. And we will for sure be in our ‘Granny Gear’ for that climb. Once you are at the top of Rich Mountain and you start your descent to Mena there are four more ascents, but the eventual reward is six miles of non-stop descent. We will make sure not to miss any of the many scenic turnouts on the way. Those that choose the 70 mile route will be presented with even steeper and longer climbs while on their route from Arkansas to Oklahoma and returning by way of the Talimena Scenic Drive.”
“If a person can finish this 70 mile course in the mountains, I think they consider themselves well above an average cyclist,” adds Rowe. “If one starts the tour and decides it is too much for them on that day, we will provide safe rides back to Janssen Park.”
The event is a project of the Rotary Club of Polk County. David Head is Vice President of the club and the man behind the race. “He researched similar races and has been the driving force behind our tour,” Rowe says. “He is most definitely our race director, even though he takes no credit for it.”
Rowe said she hopes the new event will help spread the word of the cycling available in the area. “The only organized cycling activity in our area is the Ouachita Cycling Club,” she says. “They have been organized for several years and have a hugely successful race every year. We hope to reach other cyclists in the area and give them an opportunity to meet and visit with each other.”
“Mena is well known for the surrounding trails for mountain biking like the local Earthquake Ridge Trail, the Womble Trail, and the Ouachita Trail,” adds Kelsey. “And many Arkansas cyclists are aware of the epic ride routes that are available utilizing the Talimena Scenic Drive atop the Ouachita Mountains. I hope the Wheel A’ Mena will introduce many more cyclists to riding opportunities in the area.”
Mena was founded in 1896 as a railroad town at the eastern foot of Rich Mountain. It is the eastern terminus of the Talimena Scenic Drive, a 54-mile byway that travels the crest of Rich and Winding Stair mountains between Mena and Talihina, Oklahoma. Thirteen miles northwest of town is Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The byway and park provide expansive views of the Ouachita Mountains. The Mena Depot Center in town greets visitors with history exhibits and railroad memorabilia. In Janssen Park you’ll find a 1851 log cabin still on its original site. If you might be looking for a side trip after the ride, east of Mena in the Pine Ridge community there’s the Lum and Abner Jot ‘Em Down Store and Museum. It houses memorabilia related to the popular 1940s radio comedy team of Lum and Abner. The late Norris Goff of Mena portrayed Abner.
Registration for Wheel A’ Mena is now open at BikeReg.com. On-line registration closes on September 12 but you can still register in person the morning of the tour starting at 8 a.m. at the log cabin in the center of Janssen Park. More details can be found at wheelamena.org.