Hidalgo County Commissioner Eduardo Cantu had modest expectations when he set out to bring a hike-and-bike trail to Pharr and San Juan.
It was early 2015 and Cantu was well aware of the health and fitness improvements made in Brownsville, McAllen and Harlingen as those cities have constructed and opened miles of outdoor trails. The same has occurred in Mission and San Benito as hike-and-bike trails have flourished across the Rio Grande Valley.
Cantu wanted the same for the communities in his precinct.
“The goal was to connect cities, schools and lots of people,” he said.
Five years later and it can be said mission accomplished. Hidalgo County’s Precinct 2 Hike & Bike Trail will run for nearly eight miles when it’s finished in the next two years. Much of it is complete with the trail starting in San Juan near Ridge Road and running west through Pharr before ending on south 2nd Street in McAllen.
The last piece of the 7.8-mile trail ending in McAllen remains to be completed. Residents in San Juan and Pharr are already enjoying over six miles of paved trails. A key feature are four tunnels that run under busy thoroughfares. It allows fitness enthusiasts uninterrupted passage to continue their runs, walks and bicycle rides.
The fact that it will run through three cities makes it the only Valley hike-and-bike trail connecting multiple communities.
“My vision wasn’t this vast,” Cantu said of the trail’s length and its path through three cities. “You walk and ride through it and you feel like you’re in a big city.”
Providing Safe & Unimpeded Exercise
The majority of the over $6-million construction price tag was provided by the state through the Texas Department of Transportation. The county and the three communities provided the remainder of the funding.
The underground tunnels and two pedestrian bridges are key elements in the Precinct 2 trail. The first tunnel starts just west of the trail’s start in San Juan and goes under a busy I Road thoroughfare.
“People want a safe place to walk and ride, and the tunnels along with all of the lighting we have provide it,” Cantu said.
The county commissioner is also a residential developer and says hike-and-bike trails bring value and growth to cities. The importance of fitness amid safe exercise outdoors was a highlight during especially this year, he said.
“It’s all interconnected,” Cantu said. “Healthy communities, growing cities and providing facilities to improve the quality of life where we live.”
Community leaders across the Valley like Cantu see the emergence of hike-and-bike trials in area communities as key components in dealing with endemic health issues such as obesity. Combining more exercise with health care improvements drive down rates of diabetes and other chronic health issues in the region.
On a recent weather-perfect morning, walkers and runners of all ages were up and enjoying the trail in San Juan. They would disappear momentarily under the I Road tunnel before reappearing on the other side.
“It’s how we designed it,” Cantu said. “Safe and enjoyable exercise is what we were after.”