Not everyone is pleased that Salt Lake City has put trail work on hold
Public outcry over new trails being struck by the Salt Lake City foothills caused the mayor to put future work on hold, fueling frustration among residents who liked the trails and wanted to see more.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced on Tuesday that an order that she had already issued in May to stop work on the path system would apply until at least June 2022.
The mayor, city council and city officials have filed numerous complaints about the paths that deviate from the master plan in some places, are prone to erosion in others and have led to the closure of old paths on ridges. Other stakeholders have asked the city to give more consideration to the environmental impact and indigenous history of the foothills.
But strong contingents support the new trail plan and many are disappointed that the new construction will be interrupted.
“It was a well thought out plan,” said city resident Michael Yount, a former Salt Lake Tribune employee. “Nothing is ever perfect, but they did such a great job separating the traffic with the new trails.”
Opponents of the new trails have complained that they were cut so low that they were apparently built for cyclists, not hikers.
Yount disagrees. He argued that new and future trails built for pure downhill cycling will help reduce conflict among users.
“They made a much nicer way to both hike and ride,” he said.
Yount added that, given all the outcry, he didn’t blame the mayor for pausing future trail work.
But “I feel like it’s a vocal minority” complaining, he said. “… The everyday users do not put up yard signs.”
Nancy Schmaus, head coach of Salt Lake City’s multi-school mountain biking team, said she was excited about the plan for new trails as the foothills get thicker.
“We really have limited space to drive in Salt Lake,” she said. “My kids get bored when they ride the same trails.”
She added that interest in mountain biking is growing, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. Cycling allowed children and adults to relax outdoors at a safe distance. That year she had to turn 20 children off the team because she was unable to keep up with the influx of interest.
“Demand is growing,” says Schmaus. “Now we’re going back [trail work] for a whole year?”
The coach added that the city is “behind the ball” when it comes to building trails, compared to nearby mountain bike magnets like Park City and Corner Canyon.
She also pointed out that a few years ago the city began planning its new plan for 106-mile foothills – a process that included public relations and feedback gathering.
“Then they start cutting the trails and suddenly there is a huge commotion,” said Schmaus. “I find it disappointing that they stop building the trails. I just don’t see how to change what you’ve been doing for four years. How much better will they do it? “
Elected leaders respond
Councilor Chris Wharton, who represents the Avenues area, where most of the new pathways have been cut, said the feedback he received was divided.
“Many local residents are relieved that there will be a review of the measures,” Wharton said Thursday, “and that there will be more careful planning for the future.”
The city council added that there is also frustration among residents who have been waiting for new paths and recreational opportunities for a long time.
“But I think in the end, most people will agree that waiting another 10 months is a small price to pay,” said Wharton, “if that means we have 100 years of more sustainable avenues for all of our users.”
In an interview on Friday, Mendenhall admitted that the city had already carried out extensive public relations work on hiking trail plans from 2017.
“We know the work has happened,” said the mayor. “… In my years on the city council and now in this role, there have been many public processes that have been robust and lengthy. But when [we] We heard from people who felt that no process had taken place, and that decisions were made and projects funded. “
Mendenhall said during the last feedback process the city received about 30 letters, which were mostly positive. The mayor added that the few residents who were disappointed with the work break were generally concerned that a single group of users would gain the city’s focus if road construction resumed.
“I have tried to reassure these people that this is the real reason we need this longer time to interact,” she said, “so that we can fully incorporate the voices we need and want.”
The mayor said she was particularly looking forward to working with tribal leaders.
“Frankly, the lack of a relationship between our governments,” said Mendenhall, “is so significant that [we haven’t had] the best information on areas that are sacred or should be protected. “
That relationship, she said, “is something we are building now.”
Those who wish to provide feedback during the mayor’s moratorium and complete a survey on the trails can visit slctrails.com.
A new trail advocacy group?
Kenton Peters, longtime Salt Lake City resident and trail user, said he was in the early stages of forming a pro-trails and pro-mountain biking group to ensure good hearing for the future.
“We respect what the other groups say,” said Peters, “but we want to make sure that the mountain bikers don’t miss out during the break.”
Still, Peters said he agrees with some of the concerns raised by organizations like Save Our Foothills and Save Our Canyons, who are campaigning for a re-evaluation of the trail map.
“There are problems with the current track layout and the access,” said Peters. “We don’t like it when the runners are poorly developed and scarred … [hiking trails] on Morris Meadows they have a terribly flat slope. “
He added that he was “disappointed” that old paths along the ridge line have been removed from the system and that parking at the trailhead is a problem for the Avenues neighborhoods.
“But our group is different,” said Peters, “in that we try to speak for the hundreds of young drivers and adults.” [cyclists] which are really the growth area in foreland use and the future of it. “
Many of the new trails were planned for mountain bikes, and Peters said he feared the break means they may never be built.
“We hope to work with the other groups and the city to come up with solutions that are win-win for everyone involved,” he said. “… what we heard [so far] seems to put bikes at part of the problem. We want to be seen as part of the solution. “