A halo of sun advanced down the Tortolita Mountains towering over over a dirt lot as Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath congratulated a crowd of town council members, employees, residents and mountain bikers on a brand-new trail many were giddy about breaking in.
As the group sipped hot coffee to counter the chill in the morning air, Hiremath praised the coalition that pulled together to create the new Big Wash trailhead: local businesses, the town of Oro Valley, Pima County, the land owners and local mountain bike groups. Volunteers forged 1.3 miles of trail through "rattlesnake and prickly-pear-infested" terrain, Hiremath said.
The new trailhead is providing much-anticipated public access into the Honeybee Trail system, which connects to Tortolita Mountain Park and runs all the way to Dove Mountain. The system is said to be the best network of bike trails in Southern Arizona. People come from all over the country to ride—14,000 a month, according to Steve Anderson, planning division manager at Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation.
"This whole thing was driven by volunteers," he said to the crowd on Dec. 9. And with the help of Oro Valley, "they scrambled and made this happen in record time."
Volunteers worked over 375 hours in about five weeks. The Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists helped construct the trail and paid $3,000 for a cultural resource survey to determine if any archaeological sites were in their path. The teens of the Oro Valley Interscholastic Mountain Bike Team were the main trail builders.
The Pima Flood Control District in collaboration with Oro Valley cleared brush for the 50-car dirt lot. The county also completed a biological survey.
"It's a sterling example of two jurisdictions jumping in to solve a problem that we really had no jurisdiction in," said Oro Valley Councilwoman Mary Snider.
More than a year ago, the popular access to the Honeybee trails, running through the Rancho Vistoso neighborhood, was suddenly closed with a locked gate and accompanying sign that read "No Access to State Land." Cyclists originally thought the town was responsible, Snider said. But the Honeybee Ridge Association, which manages the utility road, erected the gate.
Within two weeks of Honeybee Ridge closing the access trail, Oro Valley jumped into action, said town Parks and Recreation Director Kristy Diaz-Trahan.
She said the new trailhead "was a solution to a problem. We came together and said, we need to do something."
The landowners dedicated roughly 500 acres of land to the public, stretching from the new trailhead down to Tangerine Road, as part of a rezoning which allows them to develop houses on other parcels. The impact fees from new home buyers will pay for the second phase of the trailhead, in an estimated two to three years: pavement, bathrooms and shade structures.
Many have been waiting anxiously for this day, as local cyclists of all ages frequent the state land trails. The 45 teens on the mountain bike team, who used the old and now-closed route several times a week to practice competitive mountain cycling, were easy to spot at the new trailhead ribbon cutting, decked out in cycling gear and ready for the inaugural bike ride on the trail they helped construct.
As cyclists hopped on the trail, the only complaint heard was over the chilly weather.
"What's exciting is to see the young people and adult bikers," Snider said. "They're going to be using and enjoying the trail for years. It's the definition of community—government and residents coming together, working on a common goal."
The Big Wash trailhead address is 1880 E. Rancho Vistoso Blvd. From North Oracle Road, turn west onto East Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, make a U-turn at North Del Webb Boulevard and turn right onto the dirt road.