‘The Loop’ gives Tucsonans options for enjoying region’s natural beauty

For more than two decades, Pima County has been building a multi-use trail system along the washes in Southern Arizona, officially known as “The Loop.”

Kevin, Stacy and Ethan Goldstein take a break while walking the Loop. (Damion Alexander)
Kevin, Stacy and Ethan Goldstein take a break while walking the Loop. (Damion Alexander)

When completed, The Loop will total 131 miles and connect the Rillito River Park, Santa Cruz River Park and Pantano River Park with the Julian Wash and the Harrison Greenway. There also will be a connection to Oro Valley on the Canada del Oro Wash. The Loop has been designed to avoid roads as much as possible and except for a few street crossings, users can go for stretches of 10-15 miles without stopping. Currently there are approximately 100 miles of paved paths plus another 15-20 miles of dirt trails.

The trail system is open to pedestrians, equestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders and all other non-mechanized forms of transportation. Occasionally you even see an unusual user, such as a chariot pulled by miniature ponies.

The parks linked by The Loop include everything from basketball courts to BMX tracks, water/splash parks, softball and soccer fields and gardens. Public art displays, including sculpture gardens and mosaics adorning bridges and benches, dot the landscape and more are being added all the time. One of the most popular is a miniature Stonehenge, built to be aligned with the solstices, on the north bank of the Rillito path west of La Cholla Boulevard. If you stand in the center and speak, you will hear a booming echo.

Thanks to reclaimed water, the lower Santa Cruz River section features running water year-round, creating an unexpectedly lush paradise that runs for miles. It’s a hotspot for bird watchers and a haven to every animal that makes a home in the region. If you look closely you will even see turtles basking on the sandbanks.

The Loop runs past the Tucson Jewish Community Center. “The adjacency of The Loop right in the ‘backyard’of the Tucson JCC is an ideal geographic partnership,” says Susan Frank, JCC director of health and wellness. “Many of the members and staff will go for runs, walks and rides during lunch or heading home. As the JCC develops its athletic programming The Loop is playing an even bigger role. The inaugural JCC/TMC Tucson Family Triathlon will use part of this scenic path to host the biking leg of the event due to take place on April 19. On Feb. 8 the J will be offering a free biking clinic open to all as a lead up to the event.”

Business is thriving on The Loop. Jamie Arrieta, owner of Peddler on the Path, has been setting up his mobile coffee shop on the weekends at River and Campbell for more than eight years and has seen the growth. “What is really incredible is the increased traffic of the walkers, cyclists and families. Hundreds of people stream past all morning long,” he says. Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation has a pilot program for non-motorized vendors at eight designated sites along the Loop and has built a pavilion at the Rillito River Park for weekly farmers’ markets.

For more information see http://webcms.pima. gov/government/the_loop/.

Damion Alexander is an avid cyclist and manages the Facebook page for “The Loop.” He is a member of the AJP advisory board.