Hector Benitez rides his bike on a 12-mile loop once a week from his home near Queen Creek to the entrance of San Tan Mountain Regional Park.
There, he stops at gates blocking the paved road, catches his breath and looks at the pristine desert beyond. Benitez has seen coyotes dart across the road in front of his bike and once watched a blackand-orange Gila monster meander in the dust. He says he hopes to one day ride on trails planned for the park, and is excited about its future campgrounds.
"I’d like to bring my grandson out here to camp," he said.
Benitez is one of about 10,000 people who visited the park last fiscal year. Regional park superintendent Bob Ingram said that’s an increase of about 4,000 people from fiscal year 2003-04.
He attributed increased use of the more than 10,000-acre park to "word of mouth that the park is there, and population growth in the area."
Although physically in Pinal County, the park has been part of the Maricopa County park system, and used for outdoor recreation, for years, but a master plan approved by the board of supervisors in November contains trails and other amenities to be added as funding becomes available.
The first amenity on the master plan opens Thursday — those locked gates where Benitez stops his bike will open and visitors will have access to the brand-new entry station.
"It’s the first anything, really, that’s been built out here," said Sherine Zaya, spokeswoman for Maricopa County Parks and Recreation.
Public parking and a paved turnaround area surround the 2,000-square-foot building.
Visitors can pull up to a drive-through window to receive information and pay park fees. Admission is $5 per motorized vehicle and $1 for equestrians, bicyclists and hikers.
Two shaded recreational vehicle spaces with water and electric hookups are reserved for volunteer hosts who do work around the park in exchange for a place to park their RVs.
The building itself has a small visitor center/souvenir shop, office space and a kitchenette. Its bathrooms and community room both have exterior entrances so they can be reserved for after-hours use.
Maricopa County, Pinal County, Salt River Project and the Maricopa County Transportation Department cooperated to pay for the nearmillion-dollar building.
What: A grand opening at 9 a.m. Thursday will celebrate completion of the San Tan Mountain Regional Park entry station at 6533 W. Phillips Road in Pinal County. The ceremony is open to the public. The Friends of San Tan Park will provide refreshments and cook Dutch oven cinnamon rolls. Supervisors from Maricopa and Pinal counties and municipal leaders are scheduled to attend. Gila River Indian Community officials will present a $250,000 grant for fencing in part of the park.
Information: (602) 506-2930 or