There was a time not too long ago when it seemed most national parks banned bikes from trails and dirt roads. Two-wheeled transport was typically welcome on pavement, but that was pretty much it. Since 2010, bans have been lifted across the country, however, opening trails and dirt two-tracks to bikes in 40 national parks.
One of those is Saguaro National Park, just outside Tucson, Arizona. Massive cacti like something from a cartoon line trails there, their thick arms reaching to the sky and their barbed base providing plenty of motivation to stay over your saddle, away from the quills, and out of the ER. The park allows just a short section of singletrack riding, only three miles, but those three miles are a corridor linking the city of Tucson to the grand Arizona Trail, more than 800 miles of dirt riding that draws desert-loving cyclists from around the world.
Tucson and Pima County officials have taken note of the popularity of bikes attracted the desert dirt and road riding options in the area; just this month, Pima County approved a bike-oriented resort just outside the park, in an area known as Saguaro National Park East. Saguaro National Park’s superintendent approved the project as well.
The resort, tentatively called Bike Ranch, will be a 45-acre stretch of open space and 50 “casitas” where cyclists would stay. A small commercial zone would include a restaurant, a cafe, a lighted public gathering space, and 34-foot high “Bike Barn.” There would be spaces for about 80 vehicles. too. Just across the street from the resort is the entrance to Saguaro National Park, via the Old Spanish Trail.
The project was proposed in 2014, though the application was ultimately pulled back by the developers when it was clear the Pima County Board of Supervisors was likely to reject the resort’s application. Public comments about the proposal were mixed then and now, with many locals objecting because Saguaro NP is supposed to be protected by a one-mile buffer zone keeping development away. The Bike Ranch area is zoned for rural housing, but officials are making an exception for the development. Some pushback has come from a group called “Save Saguaro National Park,” which is opposed to the location of the resort though not the spirit of the place.
Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías was one of two supervisors to vote against the proposal (it passed 3-2).
“In many ways, I like the idea,” Elías said. “I like all the specifics about it, but that doesn’t cut it. So, it’s about location and the location is problematic and there’s nothing that you can do to fix that.”
“There is only one Saguaro National Park. It cannot be moved,” says Save Saguaro National Park in a publication. “The bike resort can be built anywhere.”
Supporters, however, are eager to maintain the Tucson area’s image as bike-friendly and expect more cyclists to sample the dirt and pavement options surrounding the city. Plus, the proximity to the park’s singletrack corridor to the Arizona Trail is sure to be a draw.
Regardless, the construction of bike-oriented resorts like Bike Ranch point to the increase in popularity of bikes, both off-road and road racing, and a willingness of municipalities to try to capitalize on the expansion. At this point it’s unclear when the project get underway.
Photo by Bureau of Land Management