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Plans Unveiled for Gateway Park at Colorado River
by Vicki Barker

Moab is again about to join the ranks of select sites in the country leading the way in design of a “sustainable” park -- the new and improved Lions Park at the Colorado River bridge.

Though the envisioned “oasis and gateway” to Moab is probably years from completion, the concept officially unveiled in late April sets Moab apart with only 200 other such projects under a new sustainable project initiative underway in the country, according to Sharen Hauri, Lions Park project leader.

“We want to make this a world-class project that nobody will ever forget,” Hauri told a crowd of local, state and federal officials who have been working for years on a new design for the Moab Lions Park. Officials gathered at the Grand Center April 23 for a public presentation of the proposed design after two days of workshops in Moab.

Upgrading and expanding Lions Park beyond its tiny niche on the east side of the bridge is a long-term goal that got a good boost with the opening of the Colorado Riverway Bridge two years ago. The 620-foot-long pedestrian-friendly bridge opened May 16, 2008 after nine years of work from concept to construction, Kim Schappert, executive director of the nonprofit Moab Trails Alliance, said in an interview.

Moab pedestrian bridge over Colorado RiverThe foot-and-bicycle bridge -- about 300 feet upstream from the main highway bridge -- was first estimated at $1.2 million but ended up costing $3.8 million, mainly because updated flood data mandated that an additional 12 feet be added to the height of the bridge in anticipation of a 100-year-flood. That’s why there is such a climb on either side to enter the bridge, Schappert explained.

“I think it’s such a wonderful addition to our community,” she said. “We don’t really know the numbers, but every time I go by there, there are always people there. It’s evolved into a destination for people to just go walk the bridge. They love to walk across that bridge. It’s a unique opportunity to cross the river.”

A member of the Lions Park Planning Group (LPPG), Schappert has been one of the primary grant-seekers for the Lions Park development and “Moab transit hub.” Between the footbridge, the new Colorado River bridge under development now, and the trails and interpretive signs and facilities that will complete the central site, “It’s all going to be a showpiece,” Schappert said.

McKay Edwards, consultant-designer for the Moab Lions Project, cautioned at the public presentation that the trails-and-bridges project is “not a done deal” and will be a lengthy and costly process. Dave Olsen, Moab City planner and LPPG member, guessed that the final figure will range from $1.5-$2.5 million. He credits Marcy DeMillion with obtaining the $100,000 for the design phase to date. DeMillion, in Salt Lake City, represents the National Park Service in the project, and received initial funding from the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.

Officials hope to begin the bidding process for park construction by the end of this year, said Edwards, owner-developer of the Moab Springs Ranch. Currently, the project is at the public-input stage. The central theme about 20 participants agreed upon during the workshop centers on the convergence at the bridge crossing of natural passages in water and stone that connect people to the Southwest, said Reci Peterson, an interpretive planner and consultant for Psomas Design of Salt Lake. The project is referred to as “Lions Park: Gateway to Moab.”

“We want to allow people to connect to the Southwest and Moab in a way that is memorable forever,” she said.

Various important elements in the design and function of the park have surfaced recently, including a proposal from the Grand County Historical Preservation Commission that the area be designated a historic district. HPC members Bette Stanton and Michael Wolfe in particular have argued for recognition of numerous cultural and archaeological resources and sites in the vicinity of the park, including Matrimony Spring, the Moab Panel and other prehistoric sites, a World War II bridge-guard station, and a colorful history of river crossings by such parties as the Spanish conquistadors, early Native American traders and Anglo trappers, Mormon explorers and outlaws such as Butch Cassidy.

The HPC and LPPG are collecting stories and information to make the interpretive aspects of the park as comprehensive and accurate as possible. The focus is now on collecting information on geological forces that shaped the area, people of the past who used the natural passages and how, river history and the river as the “lifeblood of an arid desert,” connections to outdoor experiences surrounding the site, access to nearby parks and recreation sites, experiencing and respecting the extreme environment, and recreational safety.

Visions of the transit hub include trails that cross under the main bridge to connect with the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve, cross over the river to connect immediately with Arches National Park, and that draw visitors onward to other attractions, such as the river road scenic byways and roads to Dead Horse Point and Canyonlands National Park.

Presenters said the transit-trailhead hub, starting at the current site of Lions Park at the intersection of Highway 128 and 191, will have as a focal point a “signature building” with a plaza full of interpretive stories and other information, plus picnic tables by the river, grassy and shady areas for play and relaxation, sand and volleyball courts, water features using nearby natural springs, several pavilions for group events, and a gigantic “walk-over” map that park visitors can traverse to see where they are in relation to the river, mountains and geography of Southwest.

“This keeps getting better as time goes along.,” Dave Olsen said.

To date, partners in the park project that have been memorialized on a plaque at the footbridge include the Moab Trails Alliance, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bikes Beyond, Federal Highway Administration, Grand County Special Service Recreation District, Lions Club, Moab City, JJ and Shouyu Wang, Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction, Val A. Browning Foundation, William E. Slaughter Jr. Foundation, Utah Department of Transportation Enhancement Program, Utah Division of Fire, Forestry and State Lands, Utah State Parks Trails and Pathways Program, Contech Bridge Design and Horrocks Engineers.

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