What a week! Wednesday I took my 3rd of 7 Architectural Registration Exams for my architecture license and the rest of the week and into the weekend, the Arkansas AIA (American Institute of Architects) state convention was going on in Hot Springs. The convention is a great time to catch up with old class mates that have gone off to work in different parts of the state and hear speakers from architecture and design firms across the country. One of the highlights for me though is one of the very first events of the week. Biketecture.
A group of volunteers started the first biketecture tour last year when the convention was held in Little Rock. It was a guided bike tour through some of Little Rock’s great buildings and neighborhoods, new and old, as well as some of the great trail systems and amenities that have helped Little Rock grow such an active biking culture. There was some concern over whether this year, Hot Springs would have enough stops or trails close enough together to plan a tour. But after some research by the bike team, It turns out Hot Springs has a lot to offer for those willing to park the car for a day and explore. And not just Bathhouse Row.
After I finished my test, I drove down to Hot Springs to meet up at the starting point downtown. I had loaded up my new Electra bike that morning. My parents had surprised me and Nicole with new bikes as wedding presents but between the hot weather and studying for my test, I had not had an oppurtunity to even take mine for a test ride yet!
We met at Transportation Plaza, downtown, near the convention center and just off Central Ave. Transportation Plaza is actually the old Hot Springs train depot. The rail line once branched off from Malvern, where passengers would change trains from the Iron Mountain Route and ride a narrow gauge train along the Ouachita River valley that ended at the foot of the mountain where the water emerged from underground and the bathhouses lined the street. The depot serves as the city bus connection for the three bus routes that cross Hot Springs today as well as the Greyhound Depot. Its neat to look down the grassy lawn and imagine the tracks that once ran here and the number of movie stars, gangsters and millionaires that passed through this depot in its hay day.
The first leg of the tour was the Hot Springs Creek Trail that started at the train station. I had seen the trail once before but never had the opportunity to explore it before today. Before we began the tour, Ken Freeman,Trail Coordinator for the City of Hot Springs, joined us and gave us a quick history of the project and discussed the future of the trail. The Trail follows Hot Springs Creek and will eventually connect to Lake Hamilton, roughly four miles away. Right now the trail is about 2/3rds complete, while funding is being sought for the southern end now.
The trail was a wonderful surprise of an intriguing landscape through a part of Hot Springs that few ever see or even know of! It winds through a sculpture park and past the city’s farmers market, following the old industrial core where the rail line once ran. The creek rushes over the exposed bedrock, part of which has been channelized long ago with stone walls on either side. One of my favorite spots was actually a small waterfall where Nicole and I had visited this spring to take some of our engagement photos. The trail eventually levels out and follows a wide plain area, ducking under and old trestle bridge and following a power line to the south, through the Hollywood Park neighborhood and ending on Chelsea st. From here the trail will hopefully follow another old rail right of way on its way to the shores of Lake Hamilton.
Before turning back, we biked west, through a neighborhood, and arrived on the backside of Oaklawn Park, right at the edge of the race track. It was an interesting vantage point of the park I had never witnessed before. We headed back towards the trail and back to downtown where we continued our architecture tour of Hot Springs. We climber a hill to the old Hot Springs High School, a beautiful Gothic revival building which now houses apartments. The building sits on a hill overlooking Central Ave below and must have been an amazing place to attend school every day.
From here we continued downhill and across Central Ave, biking through the Quapaw neighborhood, Hot Springs historic residential district lined with beautiful old homes. After looping around the neighborhood we turned back towards the main commercial district. Travelling along prospect ave, it became evident to us, this town has an amazing urban core that is often overlooked. One biker went so far to say, Hot Springs really is the most urbanized area in Arkansas. Most people rarely get off of Central Avenue, but the urban depth and complexity of Hot Springs is surprising for those who take a moment to look around and wander.
The next day, A tour of Bathouse row and the Historic downtown area was being offered, so we didn’t really discuss the area to much that day, rather we continued on down Hwy 7 (Central Ave) passing through the Park Neighborhood, where the old Motor court hotels lined the streets, as time capsules of the early rise of the automobile and tourism in the city. We stopped briefly at President Bill Clinton’s Boyhood home, which I had never even noticed before. I think it may have still been a private residence because it wasn’t marked very well and it had a sign out front letting everyone know that tours were not offered!
From the Mountanaire Motel, we continued on a short ways down highway 7 and turned onto Gorge Rd, which followed a narrow canyon road that crossed back and forth over Gulpha Creek. We stopped at the National Park campgrounds on the bank of the creek, before continuing on and returning to to Transportation Plaza. The trip was around 17 miles and was an excellent start to the convention. Thank you to Terry Watson, Jay Clark and Aaron Wenger, for putting the tour together as well as Ken Freeman for showing us the Hot Springs Creek trail!