Maybe, in a growing valley, conflicts will be inevitable, but it seems like we’re seeing the “not-in-my-backyard” mentality rearing its head more and more.
It may not seem like a bike trail would be the kind of thing that would rile up residents by the hundreds in both opposition and support.
A group of mountain bike enthusiasts — the Salt Lake Valley Trails Society — pitched the county and local mayors on a plan to use the northeast portion of the Olympus Hills Park for a mountain bike track.
What they envision is more extreme than, say, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Think more jumps and slopes and less of a rolling dirt path. It would touch on about 11 acres of the 31-acre park.
As my colleague Brian Maffly reported last week, the concept is being met with opposition from neighbors concerned the bike park will jeopardize their walking trails, the Great Salt Lake Audubon chapter worries it would tear up bird habitat, and even the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is sounding the alarm about the health effects of the dust the cyclists would kick up.
UPHE, whose board president, Brian Moench, lives near the park, went so far as to send a letter to elected officials citing a bike crash that paralyzed University of Utah professor Brooke Hopkins in 2008.
Hopkins, who died in 2013, was riding on the road in City Creek Canyon when he collided with another cyclist. Aside from bicycles, there is no parallel between his tragic accident and the Olympus Hills proposal.
Opponents of the bike plan have been subjected to intimidating and bullying from supporters, UPHE said, and one opponent had her home vandalized. It was an intense backlash for a bike park that, at least for now, is still not much more than a concept.
Fortunately, the county appears to be willing to go slow and listen to community members’ concerns.
Last week, more than 400 people showed up for a community meeting. More than 400 more submitted written comments and more comments are coming in every day.
“It was clear to us by the number of people that turned out on both sides that we need to slow down a little bit and consider this more,” Martin Jensen, director of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, told me Tuesday. “There definitely were passionate residents both for and against the proposed bike amenities and we want to make sure we listen to everyone and make a decision that is in the best interest for all.
“We promised we would look at absolutely every piece of feedback we received and that’s what we’re doing right now,” Jensen said.
They are, in short, trying to do it right.
The county already manages tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball and softball diamonds, golf courses, and miles of walking and cycling trails.
This kind of bike trail would be unlike anything else Salt Lake County operates (although the county has one planned at the Bingham Creek Regional Park in South Jordan). It would be a place where serious bikers could recreate and the Olympus and Skyline high school mountain bike teams would like to use it for practice.
Draper City has one. St. George recently built a mountain bike park and North Logan has opened up a bidding process for proposals to construct one.
“These types of amenities are being commonly requested,” Jensen said, “not just in Utah but across the Intermountain West, and we always try to be responsive to the needs of county residents.”
UPHE Executive Director Jonny Vasic said he plans to meet with backers of the bike plan to hear their side, as well.
“From people we were hearing from, it made it seem really urgent,” Vasic said. “The more we heard, it seems like we have a little time.”
Here’s the thing: As the Wasatch Front continues to blow up, we’re bound to encounter more conflicts, some that seem huge and intractable and others, like whether to build a bike park, maybe less so.
Regardless the challenge, we’re going to need people who are willing to take a deep breath, listen to the other side’s concerns and work toward reasonable solutions — whether that is tackling homelessness, addressing our affordable housing crisis, or, yes, building a bike park.