Governor announces gravel bike ride to span 336 miles between Fayetteville, Jonesboro

Scotti Lechuga, event director for the Arkansas Graveler, speaks Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, during an announcement for the unpaved road bicycle tour of the state which is slated to begin in June, at Lake Wilson in Fayetteville. The multi-day event begins in Fayetteville and ends in Jonesboro. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)


FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted she is not much of a bicyclist.

"I know there were a lot of questions around that," she told a crowd gathered at Lake Wilson on Thursday. "Thankfully, I was smart enough to marry one."

Sanders announced the inaugural Arkansas Graveler event to be held June 23-29 next year. The ride will start at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus and span 336 miles along back roads to the Arkansas State University campus in Jonesboro.

Gravel bike riding refers to riding a drop-bar bike on unpaved roads and trails, fitting somewhere between road cycling and mountain biking, according to BikeRadar, a national online publication dealing with bicycling and bicycling equipment. Gravel riding can involve all types of terrain.

About 400 riders are anticipated to take part in the event. Seven cities will serve as hosts, with courses ranging from about 50 to 70 miles on any given day:

Day 1 -- Fayetteville to Oark (55 miles)

Day 2 -- Oark to Jasper (56 miles)

Day 3 -- Jasper to Marshall (55 miles)

Day 4 -- Marshall to Mountain View (51 miles)

Day 5 -- Mountain View to Cave City (49 miles)

Day 6 -- Cave City to Jonesboro (70 miles)

Crews will transport equipment and belongings of the participants between destinations. Entry fees will cover daily breakfasts and dinners with locally sourced food, along with post-ride craft beers. Mechanical and equipment support will be available, and paramedics will follow riders. Live music will entertain riders nightly, and riders will be able to sleep in their own tents in group camp settings. Hotels are few and far between along the route, and if riders want to sleep indoors, it will be at their own expense, according to the Arkansas Graveler website.

For those who find six days of riding to be too much, a one-day "Mini Graveler" event between Fayetteville and Oark will be available. The event will end with a family-style dinner in the woods with live music and entertainment. Riders will be able to take a shuttle back to Fayetteville.

Scotti Lechuga, professional cyclist and event director for Arkansas Graveler, described the event as a "gravel festival."

"It is so much more than what will just happen on the bikes. It's an event -- a tour -- not actually a race," she said.

The event will give riders a chance to soak in the natural beauty the state has to offer, Lechuga said. Some of the terrain will be tough, however. The route will feature some significant elevation challenges. But that's the sort of thing gravel riders tend to love, she said.

"This is really a chance for people to enjoy Arkansas by bike," Lechuga said. "That's what this whole event has been built toward. It's really for the purists who enjoy spending all day riding."

Len Frey, executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer at Arkansas State University, read a letter to the crowd from Jonesboro Mayor Harold Copenhaver. Riders will probably be relieved to know the final hours of the route will go along some beautiful, flat land in Northeast Arkansas, Copenhaver said in his letter.

Sanders touted the event as part of her Natural State Initiative, an executive order she signed in January to promote outdoor tourism and recreation. Her husband, Bryan Sanders, is serving as chairman of the Natural State Advisory Council, to carry out the initiative.

"One of the most important things that we have, one of the most important opportunities we have, from a state perspective is growing our outdoor economy and growing our tourism industry," she said. "We will be No. 1 in the country when it comes to this."

Other speakers on Thursday included Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan; Shea Lewis, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism; and Michael Spivey, executive director of the Ozark Foundation in Bentonville.

The event is founded by the Ozark Foundation, with support from the Arkansas Department of Parks Heritage and Tourism, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas State University, University of Arkansas, Experience Fayetteville, Walmart, Arvest Bank and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Registration for the event begins Jan. 1.

  photo  Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan speaks Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders after an announcement for the Arkansas Graveler, an unpaved road bicycle tour of the state which is slated to begin in June, at Lake Wilson In Fayetteville. The multi-day event begins in Fayetteville and ends in Jonesboro. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
 
 
  photo  Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan speaks Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders after an announcement for the Arkansas Graveler, an unpaved road bicycle tour of the state which is slated to begin in June, at Lake Wilson In Fayetteville. The multi-day event begins in Fayetteville and ends in Jonesboro. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
 
 


Video online

Officials speak during Thursdays event

nwaonline.com/825graveler/

 



The story was updated to correct the days of the event.