The Frisco Trail – Fayetteville, Arkansas

Posted 12/01/13 by Jake Lynch in America's Trails

Photo © City of Fayetteville

Trail of the Month: December 2013

"Like many American communities developing their trail networks, Fayetteville is booming..."

Although only a relatively short rail-trail at 1.3 miles, the Frisco Trail in Fayetteville, Arkansas, has had an oversized impact on its city.

Since the entire length was opened in 2010, the Frisco Trail has provided a convenient connection right into the vibrant entertainment center of Fayetteville, and along with the Scull Creek Trail forms the spine of Fayetteville's extensive trail network.

Interestingly, the Frisco Trail parallels, at various stages, both an active and a disused rail corridor. The northern end of the trail, from West Spring Street to West Prospect Street, runs adjacent to an active Arkansas & Missouri Railroad line, which carries freight and excursion rail traffic. This sharing of rail corridors for both motorized and non-motorized travel is a growing trend in the American rail-trail scene – today, almost 10 percent of rail-trails are actually rails-with-trails – adjacent to or within an active rail corridor right-of-way.

Like many American communities developing their trail networks, Fayetteville is booming - its population has grown 27 percent in the last decade and in the past few years it's been ranked one of the best places to live, to go to college, to do business or to retire. It is no coincidence that this acclaim has come as the city's long-range trails and greenways plan has started to come to fruition – all anchored by the short but powerful Frisco Trail.

Photo © City of Fayetteville

The Frisco Trail is one of the many rail-with-trail projects featured in our new report, America's Rails-with-Trails: A Resource for Planners, Agencies and Advocates on Trails Along Active Railroad Corridors.

Among the number of developers drawn to Fayetteville by its trail system is the Specialized Real Estate Group, which is building an apartment complex for more than 600 residents close to the Frisco Trail.

"The people we serve love the connectivity and health benefits of the trail," says Specialized Real Estate Group President Seth Mims. "There are obvious environmental benefits of choosing walking or biking over using a car, and these benefits give our developments an edge over conventional apartments built on the outskirts of town. In addition to our proximity to campus, we chose to build on the trail to give residents access to the entertainment district and greenspaces."

The realization of the Frisco Trail is a study in the challenges and opportunities common to many potential rail-with-trail projects. It took two years for the City of Fayetteville and the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad to find common ground over the railroad's fencing and insurance requirements, and how close the trail could be to the tracks. In exchange for complying with these requirements, the railroad gave the city a 99-year lease for the corridor for free. "I think they finally signed the document because they wanted me to go away," says Fayetteville's Trails Coordinator Matt Mihalevich.

Photo © courtesy City of Fayetteville
A big selling point for the railroad was that a trail would improve safety around the corridor. There had been a number of incidents of trespassers (often inebriated) crossing the tracks on their way to and from the downtown entertainment district. The provision of a safe and convenient pathway has now eliminated the need to dangerously cross the active tracks. Since the trail was opened, there have been no accidents involving a trail user and a train.

Besides the decrease in trespassing, the railroad has also received a functional benefit from the trail, in that they often board for their excursion train trips in Fayetteville directly from the trail.

On its route from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the connection with the Scull Creek Trail, the Frisco Trail passes through Frisco Park, an undeveloped section of woods. Night-time travelers need not worry, though—the trail is well-lit. This portion of trail follows an abandoned railroad bed that was originally built by the Pacific & Greater Eastern Railroad at the end of the 19th century. Later it was used by the Ozark & Cherokee Central during the early part of the 20th century before it was taken over by the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway, better known as the Frisco. The corridor was abandoned in the early 1980s but remained undeveloped until the city bought the right-of-way at the beginning of this century.

Photo © City of Fayetteville

When Rails-to-Trails Conservancy caught up with Mihalevich last week, he was keen to let us know that Fayetteville is continuing to work toward its goal of making trails a key part of the city's identity – an extension of the Frisco Trail and construction of the new Tsa La Gi Trail are currently underway and due for opening in March.


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