The Rio Salado Pathway points to Tempe Town Lake and a soon-to-open route to Mesa's baseball stadiums

Many East Valley residents might not consider the Salt River particularly scenic, envisioning its usual parched appearance and maybe a few old tires sitting in the river bottom.

But the Salt looked far different at the grand opening of Mesa’s new Rio Salado Pathway, a cyclist’s dream come true that helps connect west Mesa with such far flung places as Chandler Heights, Phoenix and Scottsdale through a web of paved and unpaved paths along canals and freeways.

Wayne Churchman, a veteran bicyclist who has lived in Mesa for 40 years, said he has bicycled on the new path twice and loved it. He said bicyclists are able to take in the beauty of the environment because they are moving at a much slower pace than drivers.

The view from the new path’s trailhead, near Riverview Park and the city’s wastewater treatment facility, includes such area landmarks as Red Mountain and Four Peaks, along with a considerably less appealing sand and gravel operation on the Salt River Indian Community.

“You can take time to look at it,” Churchman said, referring to the view. “I love it. For years, this just sat out here. It was just sort of here.”

“It’s scenic. We’ve been stopping to look at cranes” and other wildlife.

But the 1½ mile paved pathway, which starts at the Loop 101 freeway and ends at Dobson Road, helps unlock the underappreciated area’s potential, he said. Cyclists, joggers, even dog walkers, can look forward to another nearly two-mile section.

That section is scheduled to open in June and will connect Mesa’s two Cactus League venues, Hohokam, now home to the Oakland Athletics, and Sloan Park, the Chicago Cubs’ latest venue.

“I think you will see a lot of commuters who live in Mesa and may work in Tempe,” Churchman said. “This is a wonderful gateway to convert drivers to cyclists.”

Reed Kempton, another cycling enthusiast, said even beginning cyclists might take a ride on the path, realize that it’s not particularly difficult, and consider commuting on their bicycle for fitness.

The pathway allows bicyclists to avoid mixing with cars, always a dangerous situation, but commuters would still need to leave the path and use arterial streets to reach their offices and other places of employment, he said.

Jim Hash, Mesa’s bicycle and pedestrian program manager, has been planning a system of bicycling and jogging trails since at least 2009, when he was quoted in a newspaper article outlining his plan.

"I think it will be a big quality-of-life asset to the community," Hash said at that time. "It would be an uninterrupted commute or day from Mesa to Phoenix and Scottsdale."

He said it is a great pleasure for him to see the plan finally come to fruition eight years later, with the long lag time typical for such projects.

“This is one of our most iconic pathways,” Hash said. “The vision was to create a loop that follows the Loop 202, San Tan and Red Mountain freeways.”

He said the Rio Salado Pathway, including its extension to Hohokam, represents major progress on the plan. Most of the remaining paths through East Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert are unpaved.

“This is one of our most vital links. It links the whole thing together,” Hash said. “You have to think like a planner. We are not used to anything coming to fruition for 10 years or so.”

The $3.3 million project was financed with a combination of two Federal Highway Administration grants, a 2012 Mesa parks and recreation bond issue and the Mesa local streets sales tax, according to the city.

– Reach Jim Walsh at 480-898-5639 or at

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