Users Are Well Into the Millions
By Steve Rivera
Paul Weiderhold is one of thousands of cyclists who spends time riding the Chuck Huckelberry Loop for recreational purposes and for convenience of travel.
Weiderhold uses The Loop to get out for a nice ride a day or two or more each week, and sometimes to get across Tucson as easily as possible.
“Easy access,” Weiderhold called it. Get from the far east side to the northwest side − no problem. “Convenient, too” he said.
Ten miles on the Loop, give or take a few miles, and enjoy the ride.
“The thing that I love about The Loop is that it helps you control your tempo,” he said. “Even if you are a fast rider, it’s a break … it’s forced discipline. I stroll (at times). It’s great for that. And you find out you can get to places nearly as fast as you can being in traffic.
“We appreciate it for that,” he said. “But it also lowers the anxiety. No matter how long you’ve been a cyclist, there’s always a level of anxiety being on the road on a bicycle. It’s a retreat. You don’t have to worry about traffic, but you’re still mindful of those on The Loop.”
“The Loop is the gateway to everything Pima County has to offer,” says Matt Stoger, a park supervisor for Pima County.
County officials say more than 1.3 million people used The Loop last year, making it one of the most visited attractions – if not THE most visited − in Southern Arizona. In 2021 and 2022, USA Today named The Loop the best recreational trail in the United States. Pima County officials called that “a big, big deal.”
“The Chuck Huckelberry Loop continues to be an incredible draw for tourism in Pima County,” said Diane Frisch, Director of Pima County Attractions & Tourism. “With access to numerous parks, art installations, murals, historical sites, restaurants and shopping, there’s something for everyone to enjoy including our scenic landscapes and wildlife. We are indeed lucky to have The Loop and visitors and residents tell us that every day.”
It’s 137 miles of health and wellness, and so much more.
“The Loop is a Tucson hidden gem,” said cyclist Tim Medcoff, a local attorney. “Whether you are a walker, runner, bicyclist or horse rider, The Loop is the safest place in town to walk, run or ride while also enjoying the beautiful scenery that makes Tucson special.”
It’s for the everyday person looking for a nice stroll and all kinds of athletes looking for a strong workout.
“We want to make sure that everyone knows they are encouraged to use The Loop,” Stoger said.
There are plenty who are out there to see the wildlife, too.
“You can take pictures of critters,” Stoger said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been out in the field doing inspections on The Loop and I’ve seen Gila monsters, javelina, deer or snakes. There is so much to see and enjoy.”
There’s even a sculpture of a javelina on a bike, a bat on a bike, tile murals and more than four dozen pieces of art along The Loop.
Walk or ride one mile, more of it, or all of it. People see the benefits of it. Maybe more now than ever, especially after the COVID pandemic brought people out who didn’t want to stay indoors. The cycling industry saw a big spike in sales and usage.
“People wanted to be out there, even in the heat of the summer,” said Steve Morganstern, an avid cyclist and owner of Bicycle Ranch Tucson. “No doubt I’ve seen an increase in usage.”
He should know. He said he’s out on The Loop two to three times a week. It’s a draw for visitors or tourists who happen upon it.
“People move to Tucson because of the cycling availability here and for The Loop,” Morganstern said. “It has a safety and great infrastructure.”
Cycling advocate Damion Alexander is a frequent and consistent cyclist on The Loop, often doing business with clients or potential clients. A local realtor, Alexander said he’s closed “quite a few” deals while strolling on The Loop. He also runs a Facebook page highlighting all things concerning The Loop.
“There’s not a day where I go out and don’t run into a friend, if not dozens,” Alexander said. “On a business level, there are so many people choosing to move to Tucson because of it. If you’re into outdoor recreation, there is no safer place to ride a bike. You pass through so many neighborhoods that back up to The Loop and all have direct access to The Loop. Some of the clients looked at where they could ride, and The Loop was a major factor in the decision to come here.”
And where better to be than in the outdoors – for most months – than Tucson and Southern Arizona? Smoger admitted The Loop was one of the reasons his family moved to Tucson from Chicago.
“We got a lot of positive feedback from people just being able to get outside, get some fresh air and still be socially distant and still stay healthy.”
It’s built for everyone with connections to bus and bike routes, restaurants, hotels, schools and more. Don’t forget the historic sites like Rillito Park
Businesses – and they are numerous – benefit from the seemingly constant traffic as it stretches from the far northwest side to the far east side to the south and everywhere in between.
Completed in 2018 − and dedicated that same year to Huckelberry, the former Pima County Administrator, The Loop is a network of shared-use paths that connect the Cañada del Oro, Rillito, Santa Cruz, and Pantano river parks with the Julian Wash and Harrison Road Greenway. It’s grown from 131 miles to 137 total miles.
Edmund Marquez, a local businessman and cyclist, rides The Loop five times a week, and rode with Huckelberry back in the day.
“He’s so proud of The Loop,” Marquez said. “I’d see him and his buddies riding it, too, and they’d always wear their Pima County cycling kits. I loved seeing him out there.
“Thank God Chuck saw the vision of The Loop to make it happen. He created one of the biggest assets we have in this community. Of all the cities I’ve been and cycled in, they don’t have a loop like this.”
Smoger said there are no immediate plans to expand The Loop, except “to add connections to it.” A one-mile extension occurred in the last couple of years on the far northwest side near Tangerine Road in Oro Valley.
Pima County has also initiated a pavement preservation plan to continue to keep The Loop safe and travelable.
“It’s up to us to get a better handle, managing and maintaining the pavement specifically on The Loop,” Smoger said. “That’s to ensure safety for all users. We want to look at sealcoating priorities; we need to crack fill areas as the pavement needs to be redone.”
He added: “We are also evaluating user experiences on the path to determine how to evolve it for all users.”
Smoger did say the county continues to look at entry points into The Loop for easy access from all areas.
“It’s not just a loop. It has stretch segments that reach out that allow you to move through multiple towns, municipalities in the county to make it accessible for great recreation or for easy transportation, commuting for work, visiting parks,” he said. “We’re trying to bridge the gap to make sure you can get to other jurisdictions.
“It’s really easy for people to go out and enjoy The Loop.”
It’s helped the iconic El Tour de Tucson gain cycling participation given Tucson is now considered a cycling hotbed.
“El Tour was established in 1983 about the time The Loop was first started,” said TJ Juskiewicz, executive director of El Tour. “It’s not a coincidence Tucson is a bike-friendly and bike-centric destination because of El Tour and The Loop. New cyclists who come and ride in El Tour love what we have here, and The Loop is one of the reasons. It’s easily accessible and easy to ride. El Tour cyclists train on The Loop to get ready for the ride. It’s a great partner of ours.”