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Under the dome

Huckelberry: New map showcases public art along the Loop

Loop users often tell us about the natural beauty they observe along the path. Bobcats frolicking in the wash. A magnificent sunrise peeking out over the Rincons. Harris hawks circling overhead.

But bats popping wheelies while astride a mountain bike? Or tilework chronicling the story of Spanish Explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and Padre Eusebio Kino? You'll find that and much more on our county-wide shared-use path, which might more appropriately be called our 131-mile open space art gallery.

Out on the Julian Wash, about a mile east of the Roy Schoonover Trailhead, you can pedal under a sculptural arch that spans the path. Not far from that spot, near Kolb Road, artist Chris Tanz's two sculptural figures, drawn from Hohokam pottery, greet you on either side of the trail.

Continue over to the Santa Cruz and observe the intricate work comprising the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge along Cushing Street. The integration of artistic themes on the bridge pays tribute to this once perennial river that sustained and nourished countless generations.

And if you make your way over to the Rillito River Park, you'll encounter cascading rain and raindrops depicting the abstract movement of water using 2,000 iridescent glass marbles and broken tile.

Users can track down these — and more than 50 other pieces of art along The Loop — in a new Loop Art map available later this month at our downtown administration offices and at Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation headquarters at 3500 W. River Road. Art lovers also may visit pima.gov/LoopArt where they can download a PDF of the map and expand each river park segment to view a photo of each piece of art, find the name of the artist and when it was installed and read a brief description of the piece.

What you'll see is all manner of creative expression, from free-standing metal sculptures to mosaic tile work along bridges to benches carved out of the granite gneiss (pronounced "nice") rock found in our nearby Santa Catalina mountains.

Some of the works you'll see along The Loop are not part of the Public Art Program, but instead are generous donations by civic-minded Loop lovers. Art helps shape the quality of life for people in Pima County by offering a form of expression that embodies our community's spirit.

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Loop users can enjoy that art thanks to the Pima County Board of Supervisors' longtime support of a Pima County Public Art Program. Art enriches our environment and our lives, celebrates our cultural heritage and diversity and expresses the hopes and dreams of people living in vibrant neighborhoods.

Our Loop, as you may know, came about when the Pima County Regional Flood Control District began building soil-cement bank protection along the Rillito And Santa Cruz rivers after the massive 1983 floods. Over the next couple of decades, every time we built new sections of embankment along the major waterways, we built more river parks and multiuse paths.

The Board established the policy back in 1990 to allocate one percent of the cost of public works' projects on public art. By doing this, we not only beautify our community, but we increase employment opportunities in the arts, actively encourage emerging artist of culturally diverse backgrounds and advance other community goals, such as youth development and delinquency prevention.

The Loop Art map is a work in progress. As we add new artwork along the path or in one of the 30 parks immediately adjacent to the Loop, we'll update the site. In the meantime, the next time you're out biking, walking, jogging or riding along the Loop, take a few moments to enjoy the natural and human-created beauty along the path.

Chuck Huckelberry is the administrator of Pima County.

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