Traci Berry said society is shifting its focus from the materialistic to the experiences in one’s life. She said more people are traveling or participating in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and biking.
“They are ditching their 2,000-square-foot homes and living out of a van or camper,” Berry said. “I think Arkansas, especially, has shown not only an economic impact with hiking or paved trails, but with mountain bike trails. It is bringing people in, and they are spending money at restaurants, hotels and, in turn, you have people who live and work in your community who are open to a free and healthy activity to take part in.”
Berry was recently hired as the trail coordinator for the new Northwoods Trail System in Hot Springs.
“I just couldn’t be luckier right now to be a part of some amazing things that are happening in Hot Springs and in Arkansas as a whole,” Berry said.
In a press release, Steve Arrison, chief executive officer for Visit Hot Springs, said the opening of the trail system “is the culmination of several years of cooperation between Hot Springs, Steuart Walton and Tom Walton and the Walton Family Foundation, without whose contributions the Northwoods Trail System never would have gotten off the ground.”
Visit Hot Springs began construction last November on Phase I of the system of mountain-biking trails. A $648,421 Walton Family Foundation grant for Phase I was matched by Visit Hot Springs for the 14-mile trail segment. Phase II of the trail system will result in a 44.6-mile system of biking trails and will include forested hills and three lakes.
Berry said Phase I of the project should be completed by the end of the year. The grand opening for the Northwoods Trail System took place Nov. 16 with a ribbon cutting at the Waterworks Trailhead.
“My job is to promote Northwoods trails and cycling in Hot Springs as a whole by bringing in events and planning events,” Berry said. “I will also oversee upkeep, managing the trails and being part of future planning for the Northwoods trails. …
… “The possibilities are endless.”
“Traci brings a wealth of qualifications to our newly opened Northwoods Trail System, including one of the state’s strongest backgrounds in managing outdoor activities,” Arrison said. “As a leader of the Raid the Rock 24-hour endurance competition held in and around Little Rock, Traci knows how to organize things that outdoor recreation enthusiasts demand from an event or venue.”
The trails consist of various levels and multiuses for bikes with a range of skills, from beginners to the most advanced skilled mountain bikers.
“We truly do have the opportunity to be the biking hub of the South,” Berry said.
Berry is originally from East End, having graduated from Sheridan High School in 1992. She attended Henderson State University in Arkadelphia on a basketball scholarship and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1998.
She earned a master’s degree in building administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2003. She is working on her second master’s degree, from the Clinton School of Public Service.
She said she has always had a passion for the outdoors and public service.
“I like to do anything and everything outside,” Berry said. “I cycle, road-bike, mountain-bike, kayak and row. I do pretty much anything and everything that I can do outside.”
Prior to her coming aboard as the trail commissioner, Berry worked in Little Rock for the Arkansas Times, and until about five years ago, she worked for 14 years in education as a coach, a teacher and an alternative-learning director.
She started out in the Little Rock School District, working for Cloverdale Middle School, before working for Little Rock Central High School.
She also spent two years in Bentonville as an assistant junior high volleyball coach at Washington Junior High School, before becoming an assistant softball coach at Bentonville High School.
Following her stint at Bentonville, Berry was the alternative-learning director at Mayflower High School.
“There are aspects of teaching that I have been able to use in other jobs,” Berry said. “I miss the students and the interactions with the kids and knowing that you are influencing their lives.
“Teachers play a major role in that — they wear a lot of hats.”
After leaving education, Berry took a job with the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca, where she met and worked for owner Mike Mills.
“We were all very impressed with her tenacity,” Mills said. “She was willing to do whatever it took to do the job she wanted to do. She was our lead guide for several years, so she was constantly working with the public.
“Never once did I have a complaint; it was always compliments. As an employer, that is what you want to hear.”
Mills said he is a person who believes in determination and preservation, saying that kind of person is always going to come out ahead over other smart and talented people.
“Her willingness to do whatever it took to be apart of this project [is what made her standout],” Mills said. “It was a little bit of an adventure for us because it was a little bit unknown, but she convinced me that she should be there and proved that in the process.”
Berry, 45, lives in Little Rock but plans to relocate to Hot Springs. She has a son, Brandon Berkhan. Berry has a podcast titled Out in Arkansas, which is LGBTQ based.
“My background is in athletics,” Berry said. “I grew up playing ball sports, like softball and basketball.
“I think I’ve learned how to be part of a team and work with a team and problem-solve. I like to have goals and work toward the goals, and I think my background has helped me with my networking and people skills.”
Berry said one of her biggest goals as the new coordinator is to just get the word out to as many people as possible.
“She is a tremendous athlete in her own right,” Arrison said. “She will bring valuable insights to the Northwoods project as we move forward to its completion as one of the top-flight mountain-biking destinations in America.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.