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Trail project stalls in Sugar House Park

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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Parleys Trail project manager Walt Gilmore, left, and Salt Lake County Parks spokesman Martin Jensen look over an aerial map of Sugar House Park where the route is planned. The trail enters the park behind them at 1700 East near Interstate 80, where its design required fill dirt to modify a steep slope and the removal of 30 trees.

By christopher smart

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 12 2012 06:11PM
Updated Oct 30, 2012 11:32PM

A trail runs through it — well, not yet.

Funding to complete the eight-mile Parleys Trail from the mouth of Parleys Canyon west to the Jordan River Parkway Trail — about $10 million — evaporated with a recent vote of the Salt Lake County Council.

That has halted work on the trail in Sugar House Park, said trail project manager Walt Gilmore, who also is a county parks planner.

The council’s Republican majority, in a 5-3 vote along partisan lines, determined not to put Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon’s $123 million parks bond before voters in November. If approved, it would have cost the average household $14 a year to spruce up existing parks, build new ones, as well as complete the Parleys and Jordan River trails in Salt Lake County.

"For them not to put the bond before the voters is kind of dumbfounding to me," said Juan Arce-Larreta, chairman of the Parleys Rails, Trails and Tunnels Coalition (PRATT). "It’s shocking to me the politicians wouldn’t let the public make an informed decision."

But Council Chairman David Wilde, a proponent of the Jordan River Parkway Trail, said the mayor’s bond was too large.

"There were too many ornaments on the Christmas tree," he said. "It was sticker shock."

Nonetheless, construction of a tunnel under 1300 East and an adjoining plaza on Sugar House Park’s west end should begin this summer, Gilmore said. Funding for those $3.2 million portions of the Parleys Trail project comes through federal transportation grants and money raised by PRATT.

The plaza will be "the jewel" of Parleys Trail, he said, and should be complete by spring 2013.

As planned, the Parleys Trail would run west from the Bonneville Shoreline Trail at the mouth of Parleys Canyon and parallel Interstate 80 to Sugar House Park. On the park’s west side, the trail would jog north before going beneath 1300 East into Hidden Hollow. From there, it would twist south and head down Wilmington Avenue to the planned green zone along the proposed Sugar House streetcar route. From the Central Pointe TRAX Station, the trail would stretch west to the Jordan River Parkway Trail.

Only two segments of the Parleys Trail have been built. The first followed bridges over I-80 and I-15. The second was a 1.3-mile stretch just west of the bridges in the Parleys Creek corridor.

Arce-Larreta is not alone hailing the benefits of connecting the Shoreline and Jordan River routes via the Parleys Trail. It would be a boon for recreation along the Wasatch Front.

But, for now, the $400,000 needed to complete the one-mile stretch through Sugar House Park is nowhere on the horizon, Gilmore acknowledged.

As envisioned, that work along the park’s south edge would require axing 63 mature trees, said county parks spokesman Martin Jensen.

Recently, Salt Lake City resident Jessica Kunzer helped launch Save Sugar House Trees in an effort to halt the removal of the Scotch and Austrian pines along with ash and maple trees in the trail’s planned alignment in the park.

"There has to be some way we can have the trail," she said, "and have the trees."

But officials say the public process for the route was years in the making and the identified alignment is the best one for Sugar House Park and trail users.

"We understand the heartache of losing trees," Jensen said. "But we have done our due diligence to save as many as we can."

About 30 trees already have been taken out near 1700 East, where crews built a berm to mitigate a steep bank into the park. But the remaining 33 trees slated for removal will be left standing, Jensen said, until funding for the Sugar House Park segment is assured.

It is possible that bond financing may still be an option, Corroon said this week. He will leave office at year’s end, but said he may bring back to the council in coming weeks a smaller parks bond proposal.

"I haven’t given up the fight," he said.

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