BENTONVILLE, Ark. — NorthWest Arkansas Community College was recently awarded an $8,000,000 grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation to establish a trails trade school with a state-of-the-art lab.
Students will be able to gain certification in trail building and maintenance and build upon these credentials by earning a bike technician certification and an associate degree in construction technology or general technology.
The trails trade school’s goals are to produce a workforce of certified trail technicians for NWA businesses, ensure access to regional bicycle trails, promote responsible environmental practices, and further the outdoor recreation collaboration among area organizations.
Research, curriculum development, and renovation of the college’s former physical plant into a trails lab are planned to begin in 2023 and the school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024.
“We are excited to offer Northwest Arkansas a unique trails trade program that will be the first of its kind because of how it uniquely builds upon the college’s bicycle technician, construction, and general technology programs—offering graduates a range of professional pathways,” explained NWACC Dean of Workforce & Economic Development Dr. Megan Bolinder.
“The grant and trails trade school will help standardize workforce training in trail skills, allow NWACC to respond to the community’s need for trails of all types - mountain bike, hiking, equestrian, shared use, etc.- and elevate the outdoor recreation economy in Northwest Arkansas.”
“Our region has an incredible opportunity to solidify Northwest Arkansas as a major hub for outdoor recreation and our academic institutions play a big role in that,” said Charitable Support Foundation Chairman Steuart Walton.
“This new trade school will drive innovation in trail building here in the mountain biking capital of the world, throughout our state, and across the nation.” Walton said.
NWACC’s trails trade school educational pathways will include a Certificate of Proficiency, a Technical Certificate in Trail Building and an Associate of Applied Science in General Technology or Construction with an emphasis in Trail Building, and eventually apprenticeship pathways.
Those who want to pursue further education can transfer their college credits to Arkansas Tech University to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership online, to John Brown University to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Construction, or to the University of Arkansas to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and/or a graduate certificate in Landscape Architecture.
NWACC plans to further partner with the University of Arkansas to develop additional trail programming pathways in the Fay Jones School of Architecture, the Walton College of Business, and the Outdoor Recreation and Leadership areas, and solidify these pathways through MOUs and 2+2s.
Grant funding will also be used to renovate NWACC’s former physical plant further to house the new trails trade school’s lab space, classroom, heavy equipment, and fine tools.
NWACC plans to enhance current partnerships with trails management leaders such as the Professional Trail Builders Association and American Trails, and to extend collaboration with The Office of Outdoor Recreation and various government, land management, non-profits, and private stakeholders to create an internationally recognized hub for innovation in trail design, maintenance, and workforce and employer certification.
Another grant objective is to work toward establishing a Standard Occupational Classification for Sustainable Trails with the Department of Labor so that the trail-building industry will have a specific category, be able to obtain data and employment trends, qualify for federal and state funding, and be available for SOC designated trade apprenticeships.
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