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Huckelberry: The Loop is one of the largest & finest recreational amenities in the country

After the significant flooding in the Phoenix area in the late 1970s, the state Legislature required counties to create special taxing districts to raise money for the construction of regional flood control improvements. Pima County began building soil-cement bank protection along the Rillito and Santa Cruz Rivers after the massive 1983 floods. And then we noticed something interesting happening – nearby residents were using the unpaved maintenance access paths on top of the banks to walk their dogs, go for a run or ride their bikes.

What a good idea.

We started building river parks with improved paths on top of the banks, including pavement. By 1986, we completed a paved section along the Rillito from Campbell Avenue east to Oracle Road. This river park became hugely popular with hundreds of people using it every day.

These river parks weren't a good idea, they were a great idea.

And so, over the next couple of decades, every time we built new sections of embankment along the major waterways – the Rillito, the Santa Cruz, the Cañada del Oro, the Pantano and the Julian – we built more river parks and multiuse paths. Voters have also agreed to pay for several river parks that would be connected to the paths. To our delight, every section we built became just as popular and heavily used as the Rillito section.

By the turn of the century, several user groups started encouraging the county to connect these river paths. Another good idea. We decided to call it "The Loop," because once they were all connected, it would be possible to walk, run or ride a loop around the metro area.

This past January, we completed a section connecting the Pantano to the Rillito. The Loop is now an actual loop.

The connection got us thinking – over the past 40 years, our community has constructed one of the largest, finest and most popular public recreational amenities in the country. And we built it on top of flood control projects that are protecting hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars in property from flooding and erosion hazards.

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That sounds like something we should make note of. Maybe celebrate, too.

So, on March 17, we are celebrating the completion of The Loop at three different spots: Brandi Fenton Park, 3482 E. River Rd., Kino Stadium North Complex, 2817 E. Ajo Way, and at Oro Valley's Steam Pump Ranch, 10901 N. Oracle Rd. (hosted by the town of Oro Valley Parks and Recreation).

I hope you can join us because the celebration is also a thank you to the people of Pima County who have been the true force behind The Loop's creation.

While we're calling this a completion celebration, don't mistake that for The Loop being finished. We still have work to do. We have sections in Marana and Oro Valley to build and a few more sections along the Rillito, Pantano and the Tanque Verde to add. We need to widen some places, add more native vegetation, and add more bridges along with a few other improvements here and there.

The Loop is one of the most significant public facilities ever built in Pima County. It connects almost the entire metropolitan area and is a beneficiary of regional cooperation and collaboration. Yet not all county residents are aware of its connection to county government or how and why it was built.

To help educate the public and bring more awareness to the county's role in building and maintaining The Loop, we have partnered with the Arizona Daily Star to publish a supplemental insert to the Sunday, March 11, edition. It not only is intended to advertise the Completion Celebration March 17, but also to educate the public on the role they've played in creating The Loop and how The Loop improves our economy, attracts tourists, helps improve our health and even helps keep our air a little cleaner.

Most importantly, we want you to know that The Loop is for you, the people of Pima County. Enjoy it.

Chuck Huckelberry is the administrator of Pima County.

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