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Recreation park planned for Conway

By Tammy Keith

This article was originally published June 23, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. Updated June 21, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.

michael-hinchcliff-left-and-erik-leamon-both-of-conway-discuss-plans-on-the-property-on-which-they-plan-to-create-the-blaney-hill-outdoor-recreation-park-at-the-former-conway-landfill-site-west-of-arkansas-25-near-conway-the-men-are-members-of-the-central-arkansas-off-road-group-which-is-responsible-for-doing-planning-and-fundraising-for-the-city-project-they-envision-building-mountain-biking-and-hiking-trails-a-playground-area-a-pavilion-and-more

Michael Hinchcliff, left, and Erik Leamon, both of Conway, discuss plans on the property on which they plan to create the Blaney Hill Outdoor Recreation Park at the former Conway landfill site, west of Arkansas 25 near Conway. The men are members of the Central Arkansas Off-Road Group, which is responsible for doing planning and fundraising for the city project. They envision building mountain-biking and hiking trails, a playground area, a pavilion and more.

It’s going to take a lot of work — the former Conway landfill site is overgrown, and the road is more potholes than pavement — but cyclists Michael Hinchcliff and Erik Leamon envision the property as the perfect place for a park.

The Conway men are members of the Central Arkansas Off-Road Group, called COG, which was founded to create the Blaney Hill Outdoor Recreation Park, west of Arkansas 25 near Conway.

Leamon, 38, owns The Ride, a bicycle shop. Hinchcliff, 40, works at Acxiom Corp. and is a pilot. Both are married and have children.

“Conway’s a very family-centric town,” Leamon said. “We want a place where you can say, ‘Hey, kids, let’s get your bikes loaded up and go to Blaney Hill,” Leamon said.

“I think our vision is to have a place that gives people a reason to get outside, … that compels them to be together as a family.”

The 110-acre site has steep gradations, Hinchcliff said, and their idea is to develop bike trails for “all skill levels.”

“That’s high on our list,” Hinchcliff said.

He said 110 acres sounds like a lot of land, but when you’re talking about trails for cyclists, boring isn’t going to cut it.

“We feel like it’s important to have a lot of interesting things so they can learn new things and skills.”

It’s about mountain biking, yes, the men said, but much more.

“We expect to bring trail runners out here as well,” Hinchcliff said.

“Beyond bike usage,” Leamon said, “we all have a vision to have other user groups come work with us.”

He mentioned a remote-control air field and disc-golf area.

“We want it to be a real laid-back feel,” Leamon said.

The master plan calls for a three-phase development.

Leamon said the first phase would be created on the flat section at the top, making it a “family-friendly” area with bike trails for beginners, as well as more experienced riders.

“We want to have a children’s play area,” but with unique playground equipment, Leamon said.

Trails through the wooded area would be added later.

Hinchcliff said the master plan includes restrooms, a pavilion and barbecue grills.

The group is in the planning and design phase, “and we’re raising money to finish that,” Hinchcliff said.

Leamon said $500,000 is the “loose-leaf budget,” and Hinchcliff said $15,000 is the immediate fundraising goal.

“We’re looking for grants and donations — if there are any businesses or corporations interested in being a sponsor, they would be welcome,” Hinchcliff said.

Requests for proposals from trail designers will be sent out in July, he said.

Hinchcliff said the group will hold fundraising events, too.

“Right now, we’re in the very, very early stage of pulling this together,” he said.

It will be a city project, but COG will be driving it, Leamon said.

Although the city owns the property, the site is outside the city limits and the Conway City Council would have to vote to annex it.

Leamon said COG presented the park proposal to the council in February, and “we have their full support.”

“This has a lot of benefits,” Hinchcliff said. “We’re taking something that has very little use otherwise, and it’s sustainable,” he said.

He said the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has released the former landfill for development.

Hinchcliff said he sees economic opportunities because people may come to the park and spend the night in Conway, as well as eat meals and fill their gas tanks.

“That’s Salem Road,” Hinchcliff pointed out, standing on top of the hill.

The city of Conway plans to extend Salem Road and connect it with Arkansas 25. Hinchcliff said that will be about one-fourth of a mile from Blaney Hill. The city hasn’t promised anything, but Hinchcliff said the group has requested that a road be built to the site.

As the men started walking down the hill, Leamon pointed out the sound of a bird. “That’s a rufous-sided towhee,” he said.

“I love birds.”

That gave the men another idea — identifying plants and trees with markers, making it a good place for students to visit.

Information about the project can be found at Blaney

HillPark.com.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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