A site on Tucson’s southeast side is a sort of pedaling paradise — offering cyclists miles of riding options ranging from a paved segment of the Loop trail system to rugged and winding trails for mountain bikers.
Immediately south of a trailhead parking area at South Harrison and East Irvington roads, the Harrison Greenway segment of the Loop offers smooth pavement for road cyclists. And, sprawling east of the Greenway is the rolling desert terrain of the Fantasy Island trails park for mountain bikers.
The Greenway offers connections with other Loop segments including the Pantano River Park segment and the Julian Wash Greenway.
Fantasy Island, which is mostly on State Trust land, attracts mountain bikers with a network of single-track trails winding through terrain bristling with desert vegetation. Among the eye-catching plants are enormous chain-fruit chollas here and there along the trails.
“Fantasy Island is one of the oldest and most popular trail systems in Tucson, and until recently (with the addition of McKenzie Ranch trails southeast of Tucson), it was the only mountain-bike-specific system,” said Evan Pilling, president of the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists.
“With more than 20 miles of high-speed flowy trails that dip and dive through washes, it is popular with riders of all ability levels, and the relatively tame terrain is appealing for newer riders,” Pilling said. “As Tucson’s east side has become more and more developed, Fantasy Island is an important pocket of open space and it provides a valuable outdoor recreation amenity for area residents.”
He said the site covers nearly 2,000 acres.
“Fantasy Island is located primarily on land owned by the Arizona State Land Department, and as such is shadowed by the long-term threat of closure and development,” Pilling said. “A smaller portion in the center is owned by the city of Tucson.”
The Mountain Bicyclists website notes that use of State Trust land requires a permit from the Land Department. Some people use the site without a permit, but the $15 per year cost of a recreational permit isn’t prohibitive.
The 2006 Fantasy Island Trails Park Master Plan calls for permanent preservation of the northern part of the trail system, but preservation is not guaranteed, Pilling said.
The Mountain Bicyclists group “is committed to preserving as much of the trail system as possible as development continues in the area, and works with the City of Tucson, Arizona State Land Department and other stakeholders to achieve that goal,” Pilling said.