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Mill Creek Parkway – The In-Town Solution
by Marcia Hafner

The old jalopy is in intensive care. Without wheels you can’t get out of town for a hike. In the dead of winter, cabin fever is at a high pitch. You’ve got to get out of the house for some vigorous exercise before you go stark raving mad.

There is a solution to this dilemma. It’s called The Mill Creek Parkway, a three-mile walkway that lets you take a traffic-free brisk walk, jog or bicycle ride within walking distance of downtown Moab. By being able to access the trail at many different points throughout town, you can eliminate the winter drive. It saves on the gas bill and is handy for a quick stroll or workout during the lunch break.

The trail begins at Rotary Park, which is crammed full of kid-oriented activities. On a sunny day the air rings with the laughter of young ones playing on the swings, sliding boards and jungle gyms. They, and even the adults, can’t resist creating their own symphonies on the giant xylophones known as “free notes.” The xylophone on top of an ore car would be particularly hard to resist. There’s a storybook wooden animal carved out of a huge dead tree along with tree benches and forts. One of my favorites is the swinging wooden bench.

To get to Rotary Park, go south on Main Street and take a left on to Center Street (at the Moab Information Center.) Follow Center Street to 400 East and take a right. Continue on 400 East for five blocks and go left at Dave’s Corner Market on to Mill Creek Drive. Parking for Rotary Park is on the right hand side across from the Red Rock Elementary School.

Rotary Park, however, isn’t just for children. It’s meant for the enjoyment of all ages. For the gathering of friends or family there are plenty of picnic tables and grills just waiting to be used. For those theatrically inclined a large amphitheater offers the opportunity for group performances. A few steps from the amphitheater you can enjoy the native plants of the Butterfly Garden, which is maintained by the Moab Bird Club. On a hot summer afternoon I come here to relax with a book in the idyllic shade of the large cottonwoods and ponderosas.

The Mill Creek Parkway starts at the bridge at the west end of the park. Cottonwoods, hackberry, silver leaf poplars and catalpas line the paved walkway. Several side spurs allow you to walk close to the creek. Listening to the chatter of magpies, ravens and chickadees you almost forget you are walking through the middle of town. If you’re extremely lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some wood ducks or a screech owl.

The Dan O’Laurie Museum has created an outdoor collection of antique mining and farming equipment. During your walk you’ll pass by vintage ore cars, “one-man mockers,” threshers and plows. You can also enjoy the imaginative murals painted on the walls of two of the underpasses.

Just past the 400 East underpass you’ll stroll by the historic Shafer House. Built in 1884, it is the oldest home standing in Moab and is officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.

The original owner, John Henry Shafer organized the local government of Moab and served as a Grand County Commissioner. In the early 1890’s he was named a school board trustee and became instrumental in getting the first schoolhouse started by lending the funds interest free. His obituary referred to him as “the Father of the Grand County school system.”

The final owner was Richard Le Roy Holyoak. He and his wife Sarah lived on the property for thirty years and it became known as the Holyoak Farmstead. For more in depth information, go read the sign in front of the house.

Next to the high school is the Youth Garden. It originally began as a program offered by the Juvenile Court for youth to work off court-ordered community service hours. It has expanded to offer classes in science, gardening and outdoor education. In 2007 twelve high school students built The Nibble Garden as part of their Garden Science/Natural Resource Management Class. During the growing season the public is invited to stop and nibble on yellow pear tomatoes, currant tomatoes and edible flowers. In the future look for strawberries, peas, snap beans and raspberries.

Almost to 300 South Street, there is an Arbor Day Grove with the sign “See if you can find all the trees.” Twenty-six species with photos are listed. Most of them were planted on Arbor Day, 1999.

An underpass gets you safely past Main Street and on to 200 South where an immediate left takes you over the bridge. To stay on the trail take a sharp right on to the dirt path. A short side spur to the left goes to The Hospice Garden Memorial, which has been set aside by the Grand County Hospice. It is a rock-lined, lovingly cared for garden with a white stone plaque listing loved ones who have died under Hospice Care.

Between Main St. and 500 West the vegetation is a mixture of cottonwoods, tamarisk and Russian olive. There is one footbridge across Pack Creek, which received its name from packs cached near the creek by the William D. Huntington and Jackson Stewart trading-exploration expedition in1854.

After 500 West, the final, newest developed section goes into a more primitive area called The Anonymous Park. This far down the trail, the crowd has dwindled and the thick vegetation cuts out most signs of civilization leaving the hiker with a sense of privacy and solitude.

So the next time you can’t get out of town, don’t pout. Instead enjoy a country in-town walk on the Mill Creek Parkway.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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