Plans underway to transform Lions Park into ‘gateway to the community’

Once the Utah Department of Transportation completes the new twin highway bridges across the Colorado River north of Moab, Lions Park will be restored to make it a gateway the community can be proud of, according to members of the Lions Park Planning Group.

The “gateway to Moab” will use the bike and pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River to link Lions Park with Grand County-owned land on both sides of the river.

Trails will connect the bridge to a coordinated system of pedestrian/bike trails, including a nature trail, a trail along the river to Goose Island, and a trail connecting Lions Park with the Arches National Park entrance, according to information from the National Park Service’s Rivers and Trails Program.

Before that, perhaps as early as this fall, construction will begin on a “Transit Hub” on the south side of the river road. The hub will feature a parking lot, a transit bus loading/unloading area, and an underpass under the river road, according to the contract awarded by Grand County to Horrocks Engineers to plan, engineer, and construct the hub.

The underpass will connect the transit hub parking lot to the bike bridge and trails so that bikers riding from Moab will not have to cross the river road, according to the plans.

Following that, work will begin on the bike/pedestrian trail slated to link the bike/pedestrian bridge with the Goose Island trail that is already in place, plus the connecting trail between Courthouse Wash and SR313, planning group members said.

The plan calls for trails to be built under the new twin highway bridges at both ends, allowing bikers and pedestrians a route to cross U.S. 191 without having to go onto the highway. A connection from the new bridges to Courthouse Wash will be constructed as the bridges near completion.

“Isn’t it great. We could hold a figure 8 criterium [a bicycle race on a circuit road course] with those underpasses,” planning group member Kim Schappert joked.

More seriously, Schappert, who has been actively involved in developing bicycling amenities since serving on the original Sand Flats Stewardship Committee, extolled the accomplishments of the Lions Park Planning Group, which includes Grand County, Moab City, the National Park Service, BLM, Trail Mix, and the Moab Trails alliance.

“Everybody [in the planning group] feels this is going to create a very important amenity for the community,” Schappert said. “We all realize we need to be cooperative and work together to make it happen.”

Grants for all the projects, except for Lions Park restoration, are in place. Once the restoration plans are completed the planning group will be able to raise funds for that project.

A $100,000 design grant from the National Park Service will pay for the design of Lions Park restoration, county officials said. A memorandum of understanding that allows Moab to manage the park and administer this grant has been approved by the Grand County Council, County Engineer Mark Wright said.

“Moab is one of only a few communities to receive that much because of its proximity to Arches National Park, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, and the Slick Rock National Recreation Trail,” said Marcy DeMillion, community planner for the NPS Rivers and Trails Program.

The memorandum of understanding is being considered by the Moab City Council this week. The city has also applied for a grant to continue its planning and project oversight, DeMillion said.

“Moab has a dynamic group of partners working together to design a welcoming community gateway at Lions Park,” DeMillion said. “It’s amazing what the Lions Park Planning Group has accomplished in less than a year by working together to create a vision for Moab’s gateway located along Scenic Byway 128 and adjacent to Arches National Park.”

A $3 million grant is in place to construct the bike trail to Goose Island – an expensive proposition because the space between the river road and the river is too narrow for a proper trail bed, which means the trail must be securely anchored and protected from ravages of the river, Wright said.

Work to remove tamarisk and to plant native plants has begun on the north side of the river, paid for by a $28,000 grant from the state Division of Wildlife Resources. Trails may eventually be built on the north side, upstream from the bike and pedestrian bridge, Wright said.

A $774,000 grant from the Federal Transit Authority will pay for the design, engineering, and construction of the transit hub and river road underpass. Grand County will manage this grant and the transit hub, along with the bike and pedestrian bridge and trails, Wright said.

Plans for the new twin highway bridges show that motor vehicles will be able to exit U.S. 191 onto the short county road that serves the boat ramp on the north side of the river. Vehicles returning to U.S. 191 will be able to turn right only. Motor vehicles and bikes will share the short road to the boat ramp, Wright said.

The entire Lions Park/transit hub consists of 156 acres. Of that, the five acres owned by UDOT will be turned over to the county when twin bridge construction is complete. The county already owns 19 acres south of the river, and 134 acres on the north side, according to the memorandum of understanding.

ByBy Craig Bigler

contributing writer