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Howler Bike Park pedals into play

Family-owned attraction hopes to draw avid riders and tourists in Taney County

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Following a near full year of construction, a bike park has emerged among the mountainous terrain along Highway 65 in Taney County.

Howler Bike Park opened May 20 roughly 30 miles south of Springfield at 3410 U.S. Highway 65 in Walnut Shade. The 200-acre park aims to appeal to mountain bikers of all skill levels, said co-owner Max Penny.

Along with seven trails of varying degrees of difficulty with amenities such as ramps and bridges, the facility includes a basecamp that utilizes repurposed shipping containers and offers guests access to a check-in station, a food trailer serving burgers, sandwiches and brats, and an outdoor seating area that accommodates around 150. A coffee shop also is part of plans this summer, Penny said.

“As we grow, we’ll add even more trails for beginners,” he said. “As it sits right now, we built it where you can come and hang out with your whole family.”

The park is a family-owned attraction, as Penny owns the facility and property with his parents, John and Jennifer Penny. Max Penny manages the park and handles daily operations, noting he’s dubbed the “head howler.”

“There’s a lot of cool things in Branson, and I think this [land] was meant to be a bikwe park,” Penny said, noting the park’s downhill trails start at elevations ranging 400-600 feet. “It would be really, really difficult to do anything but this.”

Penny said he envisions Howler Bike Park fitting in with other nearby tourist draws along the highway, such as horseback riding at Bear Creek Trail Rides and gliding adventures at Branson Zipline. He jokingly refers to the three forming a “Bermuda Triangle of Branson adventures.”

Park plan
The park isn’t the first ownership venture for Penny, a longtime mountain biking enthusiast. He also owns Mountain Movement LLC, a Springfield bike shop he opened in 2020 that sells bike parts, tools, protective gear and apparel.

“Both of the companies are centered around growing mountain biking and growing the love for outdoors,” he said.

Mountain Movement wasn’t started with the intent of eventually opening a bike park, but Penny said the family decided to take the leap over a year ago.

“We’ve had about a whole year build-out, which is somewhat quick if you think about it,” he said, noting the family had no idea how long it would take. “This is the first bike park we’ve built.”

For carving out the trails, the family recruited Colorado-based McGill Trail Fabrication, Springfield-based Reserve Concepts LLC and Bentonville, Arkansas-based Dirt Tek Trails LLC. The construction of basecamp was a quicker process – roughly 90 days – but involved work from close to 10 companies, including Ozark-based Superior Containers LLC and Preston-based Metal Magic Welding LC.

For Penny, the scary part was just starting construction.

“Once an excavator bucket goes into the dirt and you start moving stuff, it becomes very real from that point,” he said. “It’s no longer just a pipe dream.”

Penny declined to disclose the family’s investment other than to say, “It’s high. Enough to make us sweat a little bit, but not too much.”

The park sells annual passes priced at $399 for adults and $299 for children, which includes food and merchandise discounts. A one-day pass is $40, while a two-day pass costs $70. Penny said over 1,000 day passes have been sold since last month, adding annual pass holders exceed 200.

In the dirt
On the north side of Springfield, TrailSpring, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, continues its work on Dirt 66, a multiuse trail system. Construction on a $1.8 million, 33-mile segment in the area surrounding Fellows Lake began in fall 2020 and wrapped this month, said Jessica Pearson, the organization’s executive director.

TrailSpring’s mission is to improve the health and activity level of the Springfield area with multiuse trails. It focuses on mountain bike trails, which also are used by runners, hikers and birdwatchers. Two Rivers Bike Park, a 15-mile mountain biking complex in Highlandville, is one of TrailSpring’s past projects.

Fellows Lake was the first phase of seven planned for Dirt 66. Aside from Fellows Lake, the project aims to connect Sac River Trail, Ritter Springs Park, David C. Murray Park, Fulbright Spring Park, Lost Hill Park and McDaniel Lake with natural surface trails, greenways and shared-use paths, Pearson said.

“Our current attention is on McDaniel Lake,” she said, noting the area north of Springfield on the Little Sac River serves as Phase II. “That is contingent on a license agreement with City Utilities and a memorandum of agreement with Ozark Greenways. Both of those conversations are currently occurring with respective legal departments.”

Pearson said she hopes to have plans approved this month, adding the phase is estimated at $250,000. She said the organization doesn’t have money in hand yet for the work.

“I’d love to have the trails designed this year and out to bid next year,” she said. “Of course, that is contingent on those agreements being in place and the fundraising to support that development.”

Progressive Trail Design LLC, Rogue Trails LLC and Rock Solid Trail Contracting LLC – all based in northwest Arkansas – worked on the Fellows Lake phase, Pearson said.

“It’s exceeded our expectations in terms of trail quality and accessibility for a wide variety of users,” she said.

Taking shape
At Howler, Penny said the bike park took several months to take shape, emerging as an attraction unlike any other he’s visited.

“I’m not saying it isn’t out there. But I’ve never seen this in the capacity of a bike park,” he said, motioning to the basecamp area. “We wanted to go with shipping containers, No. 1, because of availability; they’re cheap and easy to get. Two, we have a sustainability and recycling thing around here, so these are all recycled shipping containers.”

Aside from completing the coffee shop, the eight-employee bike park also is awaiting its liquor license approval before beginning on-site beer sales. Additional trails also are planned, but Penny said that might not happen until next year.

“We also want to do community events around here soon – things that can generate more excitement around mountain biking,” he said.

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