© 2024 KASU
Your Connection to Music, News, Arts and Views for 65 Years
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Here is where you can find news about Jonesboro, Craighead County, and Arkansas at large, as well as news for Missouri and Tennessee.[ Read our Mission Statement ]

Trailblazers launches a new ambassador program

The trails system in northwest Arkansas is a vital element of the region’s infrastructure. The nonprofit organization Trailblazers is seeking four Movement Challenge Ambassadors to help promote the trails and encourage people of all abilities to make movement a priority this year. Lauren Hildreth is the senior manager of community programs for Trailblazers. She says one of the main goals of this ambassador program is to remember that when it comes to the trails, all movement is good movement.

Lauren Hildreth: And to coin a phrase from all bodies on bikes, all bodies are good bodies, and helping people get outside and celebrate movement.

Matthew Moore: Why do an ambassador program?

LH: Trailblazers has been hosting the National Bike Challenge for a number of years. And this year we're transitioning it to the Movement Challenge. May will be about all types of movement on trails, streets and pathways, and September is about cycling specifically. And when we've looked at our experiences over the last handful of years with the National Bike Challenge, we're seeing a lot of great stories that people are sharing through the platform we were using. And this year, we're switching platforms, we're adding in the different types of movement, including runners and people who are walking, going hiking, skating and scooting on all of our trails, that we really wanted a way to capture those stories and highlight the different ways that people are out and moving in our community.

MM: You've got four different positions that you're looking to fill. Why four and what sort of peg do you have to those four? 

LH: We'll have four open positions for the ambassadors and that's one for each core cities — so thinking about our I-49 corridor. We'll also be trying to see what kind of stories and experiences aren't always the most represented. So we're thinking about different fitness levels and bodies and experiences and backgrounds: parents or non parents, students or not a student, thinking about our race and gender and sexuality as well. But really just thinking about the bigger picture of who's living in our community who's using all of these trails, and making sure there's an opportunity to share those stories.

MM: When I think of the word “ambassador,” I think of someone who is representing a community. And I think it's really important that we highlight communities that aren't often highlighted, especially when we think of fitness and activity and outdoor recreation. I think it's easy to imagine a guy who looks a lot like me, right? A straight white guy who has a nice bicycle, but there are lots of people who either do a lot of activity or aspire to do a live activity to it. I think it's important to be representative of those communities.

LH: Yes, it is and the work that Trailblazers has been doing as a whole is looking at the bigger picture of who is in Northwest Arkansas, who is using trails, streets and paved pathways. Why are people using them, and even why aren't people using them? And this is just kind of a culmination of a lot of that work and research we've been doing over the last several years.

MM: Talk a little bit more about what you mean when you say why people aren't using them.

LH: When we think about barriers to use, why are people not getting out and using trails or using something like the Greenway or even going out to dirt trails? And a lot of times those are things that aren't always thought about when these trails are designed and who has access to them whether that's something you have to drive to. Can you get to it by foot? Is it safe to get to it by foot? Are you able to walk out or ride out from your front door and have a safe and comfortable experience? Most of the time, that answer is no. I mean, it's great in our urban cores in the region, but often there's not a safe route for someone or for thinking about how someone may use a trail to get to and from work. Now that might not always be the most comfortable experience, so there's a side piece to all of this work that we're doing. How can we improve our infrastructure? How can we improve the connectivity here in Northwest Arkansas?

MM: It's taking a critical look at the things that are good and making them even better, right? 

LH: Yes. And that's where again, having the ambassador program comes in. We're sharing what it looks like for different people. So someone who maybe lives on the outskirts of town, what does it look like for them to get out and go to the Greenway or go ride a mountain bike or go walk their dog? And then for others who maybe live a little bit more centrally located, what does that experience look like?

MM: I think some of us may think of the trail — especially here where we are in favor word you know, a stone's throw away from the Razorback Greenway — we may think of it as it's really a bike first kind of trail, but that may not necessarily be true.

LH: No, our trail network that's in Northwest Arkansas — whether those are paved trails, like the Greenway and lots of different types of paths in Fayetteville and also even our dirt trails — those are meant for all types of users. And this is also an opportunity to talk about what trail is meant for what type of mode and it's designated most of the time, though it is multi use. That means that it can be used by foot or by different types of wheel. And then usually if it's a cycling specific trail, there's going to be a sign that says that.

MM: So it's fair to say that it's used more by folks who aren't riding their bikes. Because I think when we think of like Bentonville, we think of mountain bike capital of the world. There are people riding their mountain bikes on the trails, but there are people walking their dogs and they're doing other things on the trails, too, right?

LH: Oh, yes. So we are moving to using Strava as the base for the movement challenge in May and September this year, and we'll also be encouraging our ambassadors to engage heavily on Strava. One of the reasons is the data that's collected is used by the cities around the region, and as we're looking at that data, even planning for this program, we're seeing that people are recording more activities on foot that they are by bikes, which was a huge surprise to us. And, it showed different times of day that people are recording and days of the week and people are more consistently outside recording activities by foot than they are by bike.

MM: Okay, so someone wants to apply for the position, what sort of things do you want them to come in hand with to be prepared to apply to be an ambassador?

LH: There is an online application. On the application, it's one page of more in depth questions. Asking what's your experience like being outdoors? What barriers might you face? What makes you want to be an ambassador? How do you like to get outdoors and what types of activities really bring you joy? We'll also ask for people to share how they will go about posting. What does it look like for them to post on their Instagram or Facebook or on Strava? What would they include? Do they have pictures that they'd want to share? So it's not a very in depth process, but we do want people to be thoughtful when they're applying. And it could take you 10 minutes or it could take you 20 depending on how much time you want to spend on it.

MM: People have started applying at this point already. What sort of stories are you seeing and what sort of ways are you getting excited already about the potential ambassadors that you're already seeing?

LH: We've had a number of people apply already. There have been some incredible stories shared about how being outdoors has changed someone's life. And it's really powerful and we're grateful and excited to see the willingness people have to share their story and be open and honest about what their experience has been — whether that's always positive or not — and how getting outdoors whether that's hiking or walking or riding a bike or something else has had such a deep impact in their life.

MM: Is there anything I missed or anything that you want to make sure we talk about here?

LH: The applications close on Wednesday, March 13 by midnight, so if you're interested, set some time aside over the next couple of days to apply. It is a paid ambassador program, so people will be compensated for their time. All of the details can be found on our website. We'll have the announcements all publicly made starting on April 1 with the start of the contract. The website has the timeline of what everyone can expect. And again, how to get on to that application. And of course, if anyone has any specific questions, they're welcome to email me at lauren@wearetrailblazers.org.

Ozarks at Large transcripts are created on a rush deadline by reporters. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of KUAF programming is the audio record.

Copyright 2024 KUAF. To see more, visit KUAF.

Matthew Moore is a reporter producer for Ozarks At Large. Before going into journalism, Matthew spent time in the music production industry, working with artists such as Reba McEntire, Steve Martin, 2 Chainz, and Chris Thile.
KUAF is an NPR Member Station and a content partner based at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville