When Marty Swigart moved to Arkansas from Kansas in 2003, he was getting out of stock-car racing and back into ATV riding. Once he got settled in his new home, he began looking for other ATV people to ride with. He tried the Razorback Riding Club, but it turned out they were a motorcycle-only club.
Having been a member of the Kansas ATV Association back in the early '90s, Swigart decided to take a stab at starting his own. He made some flyers urging interested riders to contact him, and in October 2003, handed them out at the trailhead of the Mark Twain National Forest. The response wasn't great. In fact, nobody contacted him.
"October is the wrong time to start a club, and I got a little discouraged," Swigart explains.
In February 2004, his phone rang. He picked it up, and Jim Harris was on the other end of the line. He and his son were looking for people to ride with, so the two met and agreed to join forces. They held their first club meeting on March 13, 2004.
"We had 11 people at that first meeting," Swigart says.
"And nine signed up on the spot!" Harris adds.
The organization grew rapidly and now has more than 85 members who meet for monthly meetings and take part in regular rides in the area. The club is based just north of Fayetteville, Arkansas, though its rides take place all over the region, on trails in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Their favorite areas include Mark Twain National Forest, Mill Creek Riding Area, Little Sahara and the Chadwick Riding Area, among others.
"Twice a year, we have a big club ride at Chadwick, Missouri," Swigart says. "Father's Day weekend and Halloween weekend."
"We've got a ton of new places we're going to ride," club secretary Mardella Swigart (Swigart's sister-in-law) adds.
The group gets around, to say the least. One of its big events is the annual D-Day ATV Rodeo, held the second weekend of April at D-Day Adventure Park in northeastern Oklahoma, near Wyandotte. The club hosts dirt drags, a poker run, an ATV rodeo and a mud pit. Every year, the event draws a large group of people and is becoming an increasingly popular regional ATV event.
The Northwest Arkansas ATV Riding Club is no doubt enthusiastic about its events. When asked to name the most popular one, everyone has a different opinion.
"The poker run!""No, the rodeo!""Muddin'!"
"All four of the events are different, and have their own draw," Swigart summarizes. "At the last jamboree, we incorporated a poker run, and we had 64 people. We had a five-mile loop, and they loved it. ... We charge two bucks for it."
One of the key factors in putting on the rodeo is support from the club's six dealer members, who offer space for the club to set up booths during open-house events, donate door prizes for club events and include flyers for the club with the packets that go out each time a customer buys a new ATV.
"I tell you what, without our dealer member support ..." Swigart trails off. "That's a big thing in our club."
They also work with other local clubs to host trail maintenance days and record their hours with the forestry service to receive credit for that time.
"And we're getting more involved with them doing trail maintenance. We have a quarterly ride where we do trail maintenance, and that helps the forestry service to collect money," Mardella explains. "We're going there next weekend, and that will be our first one for this quarter."
The club also does some charity work, particularly around Christmas. They give money to Youth Bridge, a charity that provides counseling and therapy to at-risk teens.
"At our Xmas party, we have people bring at least one unwrapped toy and donate that," Mardella says.
When I met up with them in early March, the club was running the trails at Mill Creek Riding Area in Arkansas' Ozark Mountains. About 30 members gathered and took to the hills on a mix of sport and utility ATVs. The Mill Creek Riding Area has about 42 miles of trails that wind through a portion of the vast Ozark National Forest on the western side-not far from White Rock Mountain-ranging in difficulty from easy to quite technical. Most of the loops offer options, and less experienced riders can avoid the more demanding terrain.
The system is still undergoing the designation process, with only phase one complete. The only open trails are those designated as such. The local forest ranger service is currently in phase two and making adjustments in deciding which trails are open and closed.
The NWAARC places a lot of emphasis on good, clean fun on the trail. Drinking is not tolerated during its rides.
"That's a big deal with our club. You can drink if you want, but not on trail rides," Swigart says.