By Romi Carrell Wittman
Route Creates Community in Active City
Since its completion in 2018, the Chuck Huckelberry Loop has become an integral part of Tucson, connecting the city, the unincorporated areas of Pima County, Marana, Oro Valley, South Tucson and Vail with more than 131 miles of paved pathways and bike lanes.
It has become a community gathering spot, a place to enjoy the outdoors and unique desert vistas, and most importantly, a way to get moving on bike or on foot.
“These kinds of things create a great sense of community because people meet there, they form running groups, they meet up to walk,” said Julia Strange, Tucson Medical Center’s VP of community benefit, when the Loop was completed. “They get to know one another.”
The Loop not only promotes health and wellness, it’s a huge economic boon to the region.
“A lot of people are moving to Tucson because of biking and the Loop,” said Damion Alexander, a realtor with Long Realty. “It’s safe and there are so many miles of it. A lot of people don’t recognize how many loops off the Loop there are. There is so much connectivity built into it.”
Diane Frisch, Pima County’s director of attractions and tourism, said the Loop is great not only for tourism, but for residents. “Pima County recognized long ago that the Loop can be part of physical activity, which is critical for preventing chronic disease. The Loop gives us a chance to get everyone out there moving.”
Businesses located along the Loop have embraced its community-building qualities. The Tucson Jewish Community Center, for example, sits near the Loop at River Road and Alvernon.
“It serves us very nicely, programmatically,” said Todd Rockoff, JCC president and CEO. “We hold 1, 5 and 10k runs along the Loop and it provides a nice connection to the city. We use the Loop intentionally in our programming. It’s a really incredible asset.”
The Tucson Hop Shop in the Metal Arts Village has also developed several Loop-centric events. The award-winning tap-and-bottle shop hosts many events directly connected to cycling and serves as a meet-up spot. “We worked hard at courting cyclists,” said Tucson Hop Shop co-owner David Zugerman. “Lots of bike groups meet here before their ride or after.”
Steve Kimble, owner of the Metal Arts Village, said, “The Loop casts a wide enough net that it provides business to people that are one, two, three blocks away.”
To help more people access the pathways, Pima County Health Department has launched a “Reach the Loop” initiative.
A nearly $5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health – known as the REACH program – a reality in Tucson. It’s one of the only CDC programs that explicitly focuses on reducing chronic disease for specific racial and ethnic groups in urban, rural and tribal communities.
The grant has enabled the county to fund physical improvements around Tucson, including the Loop. The planting of shade trees, the construction of small ‘pocket’ parks in community neighborhoods, and other design improvements were made possible through the grant.
“REACH is grounded in the belief that interventions to promote health work best when they are rooted in the values, expertise and interests of the community itself,” said REACH program director Mary Kinkade.
To date, more than 500 community groups and agencies have been actively involved in local REACH efforts to promote the Loop. It was in these meetings that the idea of hosting six “Reach the Loop” events was born.
These events, which conclude in April, are small gatherings designed to encourage local residents to use the Loop. The events include free bike repairs, activities for families and opportunities to run, walk or bike portions of the Loop with friends. The next event takes place April 11 at Las Milpitas de Cottonwood.
“Everything we do is neighborhood- based,” Kinkade said.
To that end, Kinkade’s office has trained more than 60 community members so they can organize bike rides and other health and wellness activities. “The Loop gives communities a great place to meet and walk,” she added.
The county is also looking into extending the Loop to the Biosphere in Oracle and to the Pima County Fairgrounds. “People ride their bikes to work using the Loop. It’s about being healthy and building a community. It’s not just point A to point B. It’s all those things combined,” said Alexander.
Kevin Kaplan, Long Realty VP of marketing and technology, lives along the Loop. “The Loop is utilized by walkers, runners and cyclists alike, promotes safe (car free) outdoor physical activity, and increases the wellness of our residents,” he said. “Other cities have developed ‘Loop Envy’.”
“The connectivity, the community…there’s always something unique and it’s continually changing throughout the year. You see raptors, coyotes, turtles, tortoises, spring flowers,” said Alexander. “The Loop is one of those things that is truly a life-changer.”