What’s new on The Loop?

Winding its leisurely way from one side of Pima County to another, The Chuck Huckelberry Loop is one of Southern Arizona’s greatest outdoor treasures. Today a determined hiker who wants to see the entire trail would be in for a stroll of more than 130 miles. 

It wasn’t always so. The Loop’s story begins in the late 1970s, when Pima County began adding soil-cement bank protection along the riverbeds to guard against flooding. The devastating floods of 1983 spurred the construction of additional bank protection. Many of today’s well-worn Loop trails began life as unpaved maintenance access roads used to monitor the condition of county rivers during and after floods. 

“With a little bit of paving and some striping and some landscaping, it became The Loop,” said Andy Dinauer, deputy director at the Pima County Regional Flood Control District. 

As the road became popular with hikers and bikers, paved walkways and handrails were added to make the path easier to use. At the public’s urging, the county began adding new paths to join up the different river park trails. By 2018, The Loop was finally one sprawling, continuous trail. 

Loop countersBut with a host of new developments in the works, that trail is far from finished. 

If you’ve been to The Loop lately, you may have noticed a relatively recent addition: bike and pedestrian counters. Every section of the trail now has at least one of these large blue and green counters, which measure how many people are using the different parts of The Loop. 

“We’re getting a lot of really good data,” Dinauer said. “We can see where there’s high pedestrian usage, so it’ll help us in planning for future improvements.” 

The counters even keep track of the daily weather so that this data can be compared with patterns of bike and pedestrian traffic. 

Pima County has also recently added two street connector ramps to The Loop along the Rillito River, one at North Swan Road and one at North Alvernon Way. While this might not sound like an exciting development, the ramps make the trail far more accessible from the road. 

“It’s a big deal for people to be able to easily get onto The Loop from the street system,” Dinauer said. “It makes it a lot more viable as a commuting option when you don’t have to get off your bike and hop over a curb. So we’re always looking for locations where we can do that.” 

The most noticeable recent development at The Loop is probably the set of retaining walls that were recently installed on the north bank of the Rillito River near the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club. 

“It was a much steeper slope with severe erosion,” Dinauer said. “What little vegetation remained on the slope was becoming more and more undermined and unstable.” 

The new retaining walls have made the slope gentler, so it can easily accommodate the hundreds of new plants and trees that will be installed on the bank. The walls will also be used for public artwork by artists who have not yet been chosen. 

The county is planning to continue the pathway along the east bank of the Santa Cruz River, where a bridge was recently installed across the Tucson Diversion Channel. Currently, that bridge has no connection point, but eventually Loop users will be able to use it to get to Ajo Way. 

“Everybody should be happy to see that the bridge to nowhere is finally going to be a bridge to somewhere,” Dinauer said. 

Between West Irvington and West Drexel roads along the Santa Cruz River lies a section of parkland that has fallen into disrepair. The county plans to rebuild and widen that area to make it more enjoyable for Loop users. 

“That section is a rich archaeological area,” Dinauer said. “So we’re going to work with the archaeology office to navigate through all the sites down there and see if we can come up with an alignment that doesn’t disturb but still gets a connection.” 

Also in the works are a series of extension projects. Pima County is working with Catalina State Park and the National Park Service to extend The Loop up the Cañada del Oro Wash to the county line. Another planned extension would take The Loop from Oro Valley Hospital, where it comes to a halt, up north toward Rancho Vistoso Boulevard. 

The county is also working with Marana on a project that will take The Loop from Avra Valley Road — where it stops — up north through Marana, where it will connect to an existing pathway. 

Other planned developments, like a proposed extension of The Loop from North Craycroft Road east toward North Sabino Canyon Road, are progressing more slowly. 

“We’ve hit a roadblock with some of the property owners in that segment, so we’re going to put that on the back burner and focus on Sabino Canyon Road up to Tanque Verde Road,” Dinauer said. 

One thing is clear: Tucson’s most famous trail hasn’t finished surprising us.
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