ST. GEORGE — The St. George trail system has become a popular tourist attraction for biking and hiking enthusiasts, but because it links the city together, it also forms a mass transportation alternative for many residents to get to work, retail shopping or to get out and just have fun.
In the coming weeks, a key connection on the trail system will be completed. By late May or early June, a path will be officially opened connecting Sullivan Park and SunRiver. The path will allow travel from SunRiver to Telegraph Street.
The connection, years in the works, is applauded by St. George City Council member Dannielle Larkin.
“I am very excited about this,” Larkin said. “The spot we are finishing right now the Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance has called the missing link for years because it is a really challenging spot to travel.”
Larkin said people currently have to get off the existing path to ride on the sidewalk on Riverside Drive, which can be “quite dangerous.” Along with challenges to ride over on a bicycle, the area also presented challenges to the city because of an environmentally sensitive ecosystem.
The first-term councilwoman, who was appointed in 2016 to the St. George City Planning Commission, told St. George News she really wanted to see this connection come to fruition. In the nonprofit sector, Larkin has chaired the St. George Art Around the Corner and helped found the Bicycle Collective, a nonprofit community bike shop.
“I really wanted to make this connection so that St. George and Washington could connect,” she said. “We really want people on bikes or on foot to get through the valley without having to go through dangerous spots.”
Larkin said she is very pleased this project will be near completion in the coming weeks.
“This is a really big deal,” she said. “I am an advocate for the trail system not only for recreation but to connect our city to travel to work or the financial need to ride or walk on the paths.”
Larkin added that the expansion also gives residents and visitors more options to visit more areas of St. George.
Over the past couple months, increasing numbers of people have sought an outlet to being sheltered in place in their home. Larkin said the 100-mile trail system is key to a positive, safe, socially distanced way to burn off steam from cabin fever.
“People have known but are recognizing how valuable our trail system really is,” she said. “It gives an opportunity to get out and about and recreate for free.”
From an economic perspective, Larkin said visitors’ No. 1 draw to Southern Utah is its outdoor recreation and St. George’s paved trail system.
“We are doing better with the connectivity with our new neighborhoods because we realize the vision,” Larkin added. “Even our developers don’t need prodding to put the trails in. We don’t need to do that anymore. They want trails through their subdivisions.”
City officials say that the trails have “truly” become a value-added incentive when people move to St. George.
“This has been an interesting thing to watch,” Larkin said. “It has transformed from its beginning to become part of our transportation network. Instead of thinking about moving cars fast, we think about how to move people and accomplish that task in various ways.”
Although there is a cost of establishing and maintaining the trail system, Larkin said it “more than pays for itself.”
“They really don’t require the normal upkeep that a roadway does, which take a beating from cars,” she added. “But the economic value, especially from tourism and value to the quality of life, is invaluable.”
The trail system was the brainchild of former St. George Leisure Services Director Kent Perkins and former St. George City Manager Gary Esplin, who said with the support of past and present City Council members and mayors, the system has blossomed into what it has become.
“Everyone has been supportive of this idea,” Esplin said.
The genesis of the trail system came in 1989-90 after the Quail Creek Dam broke and flooded from the lake down through the Virgin River into St. George.
Because of extensive flood damage, city officials decided to put the first trail in from Bloomington to the confluence of the Virgin River and the Santa Clara River below the Dixie Convention Center.
“The idea was to create a spoke out from Confluence Park and build trails along with the river system and then to connect all of our parks,” Esplin said.
The concept of a trail system kept growing to connect other areas such as Washington City and Santa Clara, with a long-range vision possibly connecting a trail to Zion National Park.
“It’s become much bigger – and can be much bigger – than just access for St. George,” Esplin said.
What started as something for recreation has grown into something that has surprised Esplin.
“Originally they were for recreation, but now they connect to the hospital and office buildings, and people are riding them to work.”
The unintended consequence of the desire to get people out and about to exercise, Esplin added, has been the reduction in the number of cars on the road in an environmentally friendly way.
“This combination has been good,” Esplin said. “Some of this wasn’t the original concept, but it has really blossomed into what it has become.”
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