The grand opening celebration and ribbon cutting for the Lions Park Transit Hub and Colorado River Pathway on Saturday, May 31 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. marks the completion of what started as an idea for a Colorado River pathway and grew into an entire network of trails and hubs.

“We never, in the beginning, thought that we would have an alternative transportation system, but that’s really what it is,” said Kim Schappert, executive director of Moab Trails Alliance.

The North Moab Recreation Area Alternative Transportation System (NMRAATS), as the network of trails and hubs is called, stemmed from safety concerns about traffic on state Route (SR) 128.

“It started back in 2000,”said Schappert, who was then serving on the Grand County Council. “UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) basically wanted us to figure out dealing with (SR) 128 and making it a safe place for alternative transportation.”

As Moab’s tourism industry gained momentum in the 1990s, both motorized and non-motorized traffic increased on SR 128, a designated Scenic Byway that also accesses hiking and mountain-biking trails. The narrow and curvy road that threads between red cliffs on one side and the Colorado River on the other has no shoulder and very little room for passing.

A NMRAATS case study cited information from a Utah Highway 128 Bike Path Feasibility Study and UDOT traffic data, saying that approximately 500,000 persons per year drive on SR 128 and about 26,000 cyclists ride some portion of the same road annually. Bicycle traffic accounts for nearly 20 percent of total highway use during the months of April and May.

“I think it was UDOT looking forward, trying to be proactive and trying to come up with a solution,” Schappert said.

However, a solution was expensive and money slow to come. The first study and design of a river pathway, at $5 million, was seen as too expensive to be feasible. The project was tabled, but safety concerns continued.

“The next project was going to be the bridge across the river,” said Schappert, who, as council member, wrote the grants for the bridge construction in 2002. “If you remember the old car bridge, everybody took their life in their hands trying to cross it.”

At that time, UDOT had no plans to build a new car bridge, so the pedestrian/bike bridge became a priority.

However, UDOT did construct a U.S. Hwy 191 underpass near the Gemini Bridges lower parking lot in 2004, allowing cyclist to bike from town to SR 313 without having to negotiate highway traffic. With the planning for the pedestrian bridge also underway, this added some momentum to the idea of an alternative-transit system.

This momentum attracted other funding from sources like the Federal Transit Administration and the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program, which supported a larger vision of an alternative transportation system.

“It was like each piece built up another piece,” Schappert said. “The project took on a mind of its own.”

By then, Schappert, whose council term ended in 2002, had started the nonprofit Moab Trails Alliance (MTA) to continue the work and write grants for NMRAATS and other non-motorized trails and pathways.

“There wasn’t anyone in the county who wrote grants like that,” she said. “So MTA was my business card to be able to write these grants, mostly for the county, but for the city, too.”

The collaborative efforts of UDOT, Grand County, the City of Moab and MTA have created an alternative transportation system that includes 42 miles of non-motorized paths or lanes. The completion of the latest project includes the Lions Park transit hub, Colorado River Pathway, and the Granstaff Campground bridge and pathway.

From the transit hub, non-motorized users can access Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dead Horse State Park, and BLM campgrounds and recreation trails without conflict with motorized vehicles.

The paths have an added bonus as they are a recreational opportunity in themselves.

“We were in the right place and the right time with the right project to get the money that we got,” Schappert said of the $10 million project. “We were really lucky.”

Many of the grant opportunities MTA used to fund the project no longer exist and changes in UDOT transportation-enhancement programs makes future funding uncertain.

“The way that the money works for those type of projects now is that the money comes to the state and the state decides whether they want it to be used for alternative transportation or not,” Schappert said

Support for bike paths on a state level may be waning. In a May 6 statement to the Senate Finance Committee discussing federal transportation funding, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called for spending reforms as one means of dealing with a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.

“Since its inception in the 1950s, the Highway Trust Fund has been called upon to fund an increasingly broad scope of activities, such as bike paths and other so-called ‘enhancements,’” Hatch said.

Another $3-to-4 million is needed to close the half-mile gap between the end of the current Colorado River Pathway and the bit of trail system at Granstaff Campground near Negro Bill Canyon. Schappert believes it may be possible to come up with funding if the County Council is proactive with lobbying efforts on a state level.

People close to the project envision other changes as the community gets used to the NMRAATS and create commercial and entrepreneurial opportunities for using the transit hub. Elevated Transit bus service to and from Salt Lake City is already planning to use the hub as one of its Moab stops.

“We see the potential for it to be integrated into a future Arches shuttle system as well,” said Krissie Braun, Grand County’s community development director.

The grand opening celebration includes several group bicycling rides, food and family activities, an award ceremony and brief speeches by noted state dignitaries. It is the culmination of the combined efforts of city and county staff, MTA, Western Spirit Cycling, Rim Tours, and Horrocks Engineers.

Alternative transit network includes 42 miles of non-motorized pathways

“We were in the right place and the right time with the right project to get the money that we got. We were really lucky.”

What: Grand opening and ribbon cutting for Lions Park Transit Hub and the Colorado River Pathway

When: Saturday, May 31

Where: Lions Park Transit Hub; Intersection of U.S. Highway 191 and state Route 128 (aka River Road)

6 a.m. – Riders gather to ride to Dead Horse Point – signed waivers

6:30 a.m. – Road Ride – Riders Leave for Dead Horse Point Ride – 73 miles

7:30 a.m. –  Riders gather to ride Potash Road – signed waivers

8 a.m. –  Road Ride – Riders Leave for Potash Road Ride – to be confirmed – 37 miles

8:30 to 10:30 a.m. – Pancake Breakfast by Western Spirit Cycling Adventurers, Rim Tours, and Horrocks Engineers

9 to 10:30 a.m. – Bike Swap & Rodeo

10 to 10:30 a.m. – Riders return to Lions Park

10:30 a.m. – Lions Park Transit Hub & Colorado River Pathway Grand Opening and Road Respect Community Designation

Invited Speakers:

Kimberly Schappert, Moab Trails Alliance Grant Writer / Executive Director

David Beckhouse, Federal Transit Administration Region 8 Federal Transit Administration Planning and Program Development Team Leader

Pam Juliano, Rep. Jim Matheson’s (D-Utah) Price Field Office Representative

Wayne Niederhauser, Utah State Senate President

Colonel Daniel Fuhr, Utah Highway Patrol

Rick Torgerson, UDOT Region 4 Director

Presentation of Road Respect Designation to Grand County and Moab City, receiving the award: County Council chairman Lynn Jackson and Mayor Dave Sakrison 

Ribbon Cutting – Kimberly Schappert, Moab Trails Alliance

Family Ride on Colorado River Pathway

1 to 3 p.m. – Lunch and Forum at Canyonlands by Night and Day; RSVP only

For more information call Krissie Braun, Grand County Community Development Director: 435-259-1371