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When a new section of earthen trail opens up in these mountains of ours in Northwest Arkansas, it helps to build the region's reputation as a go-to destination for the physically demanding activity of mountain biking.

Biking of all sorts isn't just fun and games. It's pretty big business. The Adventure Cycling Association says bicycling is one of the fastest-growing types of outdoor recreation and tourism in the nation. It cites data from the Outdoor Industry Association that estimates 48 million people bicycle for recreation every year, with an economic impact of about $96.7 billion.

What’s the point?

Kudos to area first responders and other emergency professionals as they prepare for the growing popularity of cycling and related accidents sure to come.

When cyclists in any form venture into our corner of the state, with them comes dollars for spending on hotels, restaurants, local shopping and other expenditures. Tourism experts say they're also a low-impact kind of tourist, in terms of negatives.

The Walton Family Foundation, which has supported trail development throughout the region in recent years, last year released studies detailing a $137 million economic benefit to Northwest Arkansas from bicycling in 2017.

This is far more than a banana seat and a playing card rat-a-tat-tatting in the spokes of the wheel.

It's great to see the burgeoning world of cycling in the region as more and more local residents get into it as well.

But as with almost anything that provides a thrill, some danger lingers. A recent package of articles and photographs in this newspaper detailed how emergency response agencies are adding to their skills and knowledge as they develop plans to shorten response times and make retrieval of injured cyclists more efficient, no matter where on local trails their assistance might be needed.

This is no simple task. Generally, there are few markers or named exits on trails as might be more abundant on a road where an accident needs to be reported. So finding the injured can be a challenge.

Regional planners, communities and advocates for biking are working to improve signs identifying locations, so locals and visitors alike can help first responders zone in on location.

"The information we have to respond with is only as good as the caller gives," Matt Bagley, captain and spokesman for the Springdale Fire Department, recently told our reporter.

Finding the injured, whether it's someone who flipped over the handlebars, crashed into a tree or got tangled up in someone's dog leash, can be difficult because of a lack of cellphone coverage or because a caller is confused about the location.

So Northwest Arkansas agencies appear to recognize part of the region's hospitality to cyclists includes being prepared.

A lot of folks make the mistake of believing fire departments, law enforcement agencies and emergency management officials just know how to do everything related to first aid and transporting the injured. That's a testament to past training. But agency leaders who have long recognized the need for constant training about different kinds of rescues are amping up their efforts to become knowledgeable, geared up and prepared for the kinds of accidents one can expect with an extensive system of trails.

Naturally, the best scenario is for cyclists to prepare themselves by becoming familiar with the territory they'll be traversing. Make note of the trail name. Pay attention to the closest access to the trail and be able to describe its location relative to nearby streets.

Emergency response has always been a "seconds count" kind of service, and the trails add a new wrinkle to the intensity of the job. If nothing else, today we want to say "thank you" to the emergency response professionals who spend their time thinking through the kinds of scenarios in which none of us want to ever find ourselves. When an accident happens, in many cases, the immediate question to be answered is which pre-conceived scenario it fits. Then it's a matter of A leading to B then to C and beyond, until the person hurt is found, transported and treated.

Trained crews from fire departments to hospital emergency rooms are wisely preparing for the anticipated growth in popularity for cycling on Northwest Arkansas' trails. Being well prepared is as critical to the region's promotion of trails to tourists and locals as actually developing the trails themselves. Even in the moderately dangerous world of cycling, people want to know there's a safety net, a system of professionals ready to respond.

The good news is Northwest Arkansas' responders are on it.

Commentary on 05/15/2019

Print Headline: Prepared to roll

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