WORDS / MARGARET H. ADAMS
PHOTO COURTESY / RUNWAY NWA
Northwest Arkansas is home to a growing bike trail system that reaches over 200 miles. As new riding features emerge and reshape the landscape, the environment transforms and new spaces materialize. Mike Abb, the creative director of Runway NWA, is passionate about invigorating the public spaces in the area, including along the bike trails, to ensure that they serve the community in ways that promote civic pride. These expanding networks of bike trails meander through cities, the countryside and daily life, making them essential real estate for such beautification projects.
Located in Bentonville, Runway NWA is a social and corporate outreach program that extends a creative hand to the Northwest Arkansas community by taking on large and small projects to vitalize public areas. Starting in 2016, this program has been responsible for collaborating with local organizations on urban planning and creative projects, such as public art installations and, basketball court renovations. According to Abb, numerous opportunities for beautification projects have opened along the expanding bike trail system, both paved and unpaved.
The corridors of the paved city trails, started in 2010, stretch between Rogers, Bentonville and Fayetteville, fostering numerous chances to envision revitalization projects like public murals and creative crosswalks. Abb worked with Experience Fayetteville on a project to transform electrical boxes on Dickson Street into a notification board for the public to post flyers and announcements. The once drab utility boxes now serve a dual purpose through a simple yet effective change. Runway NWA’s list of projects range from smaller modifications to bigger, multi-organizational efforts.
Abb describes the recently finished Arboretum located at the 00-mile marker of the Back 40 Greenway in Blowing Springs Park, Bella Vista. It opened March 18 on Arbor Day. Spearheaded by the local Property Owners Association and the Walton Family Foundation, this project also collaborated with the Bella Vista Bluebird Society, the Northwest Master Naturalists and the Monarch Society. The arboretum includes a pollinator garden, new educational signs and bluebird boxes. Creating an arboretum allows visitors the satisfaction of engaging with and learning about the surrounding environment , as well as finding new ways to care for the greenway.
“Excitement for me is watching others enjoy the project,” Abb said. Undoubtedly, an initiative like the Back 40 Arboretum is a legacy project that will continually evolve and give back to the community for years to come. Because many of the projects that Runway NWA collaborates on deal with public spaces, there can be significant legislation and bureaucracy involved. Despite this, Abb encourages those who would like to contribute to beautification projects to seek out volunteer opportunities, start a pollinator garden or simply take notice of spaces that could use improvement, like crosswalks or public signs.
For many pedestrians and cyclists, these bike trails are full of potential beautification projects, possibly passed by daily. For Abb, the overarching goal of Runway NWA is to cultivate engagement and civic pride in public spaces. “[The] true win is to take these projects to the people. Public space is for the people,” says Abb. The community is always in need of those who initiate change, and after all, locals are the ones best equipped to identify the needs of their own communities.