Coler Mountain Bike Preserve

bentonville, arkansas

Crafted in a vernacular palette of raw steel, natural wood, and formed concrete, Coler Mountain Bike Preserve was completed in 2020 and has quickly become the mountain biking mecca of the central and southern United States. The 17 miles of progressively built mountain bike trails, calibrated for every skill level, are strategically populated with thoughtfully crafted pavilions, bridges, campsites, amenities, and ride elements that take full advantage of the cross section of the Ozarks.

Located in the heart of the beautiful Ozark Mountain Region of Northwest Arkansas, yet only a five-minute bike ride from downtown Bentonville, this premiere recreation destination pushes the limits of mountain biking as the flagship destination of a 250+ mile network of natural-surface trails. Coler is a unique respite devoted to connecting family, friends, enthusiasts, and professionals to nature—whether you choose two wheels or two feet.

The Coler mountain bike trail system is a world-class preserve and serves all levels of the sport from beginners to experts. Every element is tied to a common design language, rooted in the thresholds and flows of mountain biking. This language combines to form an aesthetic sensibility derived from the Ozark vernacular. The design team had the unique opportunity to program, place, and fully design the entire palette of the visitor experience from the simplest wooden berm wall rides to the restoration of the original homestead structures and the new trailside cafe crafted in formed concrete. Our work blends nature and man in a harmonious play of defining thresholds and understanding the flow of the natural elements and the visitor experience, from hilltop to valley creek.

Peak One Hub

This is the mountain bike cathedral crafted in naturally weathering steel and locally sourced cedar. It is a place hidden in nature, a hub for interaction, and the launching point to the most epic single track in the region. Located at the top of the northernmost hill and at a juncture of multiple trails, the hub functionally allows riders a starting point, juiced with speed as they drop into the intermediate jump trail, the expert technical trail, and the expert jump trail. Peak One Hub is a functional nexus, a forest creature inviting camaraderie, rest, and anticipation of the downhill journeys ahead.

The Homestead

The original Homestead Barn, once an actual working cattle barn, is reimagined as a place for families. The ground level of the barn and the loft interact as a three-dimensional maze, a play structure as well as a simple shade pavilion. The restored original structural elements simply display an honest form and construction, providing that always-intriguing play of shadow and light, subtle reminders to the history of the place and the vernacular. It represents and educates with the stories of the agrarian and humbly-hewn past.

Ghost Barn

The Ghost Barn is a celebrated formal expression of the humble chicken coop at the homestead site. This small structure is a backdrop and operative stage for the homestead lawn and offers a smaller scale intimate space for reflection within the large public park. Most importantly, this structure is about a moment in time, capturing what we all love most about old barns; the play of light and shadow through the natural, repetitive wood construction.

The Berm

A ruin emerging from the Ozark hillside, the berm is crafted in highly textured concrete. The perceived relic creates mystery, shade, form, and frames views to the Homestead site. The timeless nature of the architecture invites users to pause at the center of Coler and is a counterpoint to the light, woody barns of the Homestead. The Berm is home to Airship Coffee and acts as the proverbial front porch to the valley trail. A rooftop terrace and a beer garden in the holler complete the ensemble, providing ample space for visitors to relax, play, and refresh along their journey through Coler. This building is a beacon of trailside food and beverage and culminates in the most solid and permanent design language of the entire preserve.

The Campground

Sitting on a densely wooded hillside, this gritty and natural site is a unique camping destination within Coler. The shower facilities, clad in naturally weathering steel, simultaneously convey an image of a found object along with a clearly decisive architectural language that is uniquely Coler. These facilities and camping grounds are carefully detailed, providing all the expected campsite amenities of tent decks, fire pits, and gear catchers but with a sharper eye to a common language and craft...a clear departure from the typical state park mentality. These facilities complement the world-class mountain biking experiences that define Coler Mountain Bike Preserve.

Coler Grove Pavilion

Coler Grove is a flexible hilltop with open meadow spaces ringed in native Ozark woodlands. The introduction of a new grove of Plum trees to this small farm site provides an ordered entry experience and a beautiful array of native trees to buffer and screen from the nearby single-family neighborhood to the west. A single primary pavilion structure, crafted in a palette of Arkansas-sourced Cypress and corrugated naturally weathering metal, houses flexible facilities in support of the various programmed family-oriented events. The entire site is an uphill starting point before launching to the valley trails below. The pavilion establishes a geometric dialogue between the ordered grove and natural meadow and is a sculptural anchor at the western edge of Coler Mountain Bike Preserve.

South Gateway Pavilion

The South Gateway Pavilion is defined by the crisp, triangular form of naturally weathering steel. The structural steel fins delicately float the thin roof form and capture framed views to Coler Trail and Coler Creek or inversely capture the eye as a trailside beacon when entering Coler Valley from the south along the paved trail. A mysterious form creates shadow and light with a custom perforated pattern inspired by the flow of water of Coler Creek and houses a bathroom volume clad in blackened Cypress rainscreen.

North Gateway Flyover

The North Gateway Flyover is the animated threshold of Coler. Every major element of the site – the hill, the meadow, and the creek converges here in a delightful rendezvous. The flyover structure is designed to safely negotiate the high speeds of mountain bikers coming off the hill with the more relaxed pace of the multipurpose trail that meanders through the valley floor and ultimately connects with the rest of the Razorback Regional Greenway. If Peak One Hub is the head of the creature, the Flyover is the tail of the beast, crafted in the same raw steel and Arkansas-sourced Cedar planks.

Trail Mix

The multitude of unique built features throughout the trail system were carefully crafted with an aesthetic sensibility born from the place and specific to the Coler experience. A common language, compatible with the Ozark vernacular, shapes these features as they are hand-hewn on the site by the gifted trail builders. The ideas of lightness and flow are reinforced through a kit-of-parts detail system for various cedar structures. Touching the land lightly, and always reinforcing the kinetic energy of the trail is fundamental to the overall language of Coler.

Typology Civic + Recreation
location Bentonville, Arkansas
completed 2020
photography Timothy Hursley