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story.lead_photo.caption Karen Martin

Since portions of the Arkansas River Trail remain challenging for bicyclists to enjoy because of the recent Arkansas River flooding--although the river level is dropping, it's hard to get a two-wheeler around fallen trees, and skinny tires tend to lock up when trying to roll across sand and silt left behind when the high water retreated--I'm becoming an urban rider.

Instead of heading west on the River Trail through Burns Park, past the soccer fields, across Big Dam Bridge, then east into Riverdale or west to Two Rivers Park, lately I'm enjoying heading south across the gentle incline of the Broadway Bridge to Little Rock's Quapaw Quarter.

The Governor's Mansion District and the MacArthur Park district are full of fascinating structures that, on a nobody's-in-a-hurry time frame, invite exploring.

Houses built from about 1880 to 1920 along these neighborhoods' quiet tree-lined streets include ornate Queen Anne, classical Greek- and Roman-influenced Colonial Revival, stolid and unadorned American Foursquare, and deep-eaved Craftsman architecture, painted in eye-catching un-2019 shades of yellow, terra cotta, salmon, plum, turquoise, maroon and blue as well as multi-hued schemes.

It's such a pleasure to leisurely pedal past these elegant historic houses built in the 19th century, many of them accurately restored to their original elegance. More than 200 of those structures are on the National Register of Historic Places, which provides recognition that a property is of significance to the nation, the state, or the community and may be eligible for federal tax benefits and assistance for historic preservation.

Among them is Hornibrook House at 21st and South Louisiana streets--aka The Empress bed and breakfast, built in 1888 (it took seven years to complete) and considered to be one of the Quarter's most remarkable properties in scale and craftsmanship.

Heading west, I've skirted Mount Holly Cemetery, where some of Arkansas' most significant artists, authors, clerics, and politicians are buried (bicycles don't suit the gravitas of such a distinguished burial ground), investigated the grand houses on Arch and Gaines streets, and circled the handsome campus of Philander Smith College.

Contrast the antiquity and order of the Governor's Mansion District with the anything-goes mix of new houses popping up among aging bungalows throughout the eclectic Pettiway neighborhood, loosely defined as the area south of MacArthur Park at 15th Street, west of Interstate 30, north of Roosevelt Road, and east of Scott Street.

The dictates of historic housing styles don't exist here. Thanks to reasonably priced lots and no need for a permit from the Capitol Zoning District Commission (required for most exterior remodeling and construction projects in designated historic districts), enterprising contractors are building modular homes (made from stacked shipping containers), edgy contemporaries with solar panels, newly imagined Craftsman designs similar to the decades-old originals found in Hillcrest, and traditional two-stories; no telling what some of the houses currently under construction will turn out to be.

If you stay clear of the trolley tracks (as soon as you look away to admire, say, the exterior of Gus's Fried Chicken restaurant in the River Market, you will surely get a bike tire stuck in the track, which will instantly fling you onto the pavement), a ride east from the Broadway Bridge down President Clinton Avenue provides a panoramic view of the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge (formerly Rock Island Railroad Bridge, built in 1899 and renovated in 2011 to accommodate walkers, runners and bicyclists).

It's also a fine vantage point to view the 13-acre William E. "Bill" Clark Presidential Park Wetlands, much of which was underwater that filled its basin when the river flooded; I'm guessing it's like a bucket of water--there's nowhere for it to go except to evaporate.

Veer south, then east on Third Street to ride to the strikingly curved modernity of Heifer International headquarters. Many don't know that just beyond is Heifer's urban farm, with a three-acre multi-purpose garden and a barn and fenced pasture that's home to alpacas, turkeys, goats, and pigs.

I like to ride another block south toward East Sixth Street, passing the stylish eStem elementary and junior high schools and Cathead's Diner, then turning west to cruise by Lost Forty and Rebel Kettle brewpubs. Then I cross over Interstate 30, ride around MacArthur Park, and head north to get home.

Next on the exploration list is the diverse Central High School Neighborhood Historic District, bounded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on the east, Thayer Avenue on the west, West 12th Street on the north and Roosevelt on the south.

It's full of 1920s-1930s era Craftsman bungalows, Tudor Revival, and Colonial Revival homes--some restored, and some in need of restoration--as well as the majestic structure voted the most beautiful high school in America by the American Institute of Architects in 1927 that became famous during the 1957 desegregation crisis.

There's more to check out to the east as well, like the Rock City Yacht Club (under construction, having taken a hit from the river flooding) and the Residences at Harbor Town, a seven-building luxury apartment complex that expects to open in 2020.

By the time all these metropolitan routes become familiar, I'm hoping that the River Trail will be clear and open for business. If not, I may have to swear allegiance to city rides.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

Editorial on 07/21/2019

Print Headline: KAREN MARTIN: Two-wheeled urban escapades


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