Outdoorsy types who are itching for an expansion of the trail network in Salt Lake City’s foothills will need to wait until at least next year to trek across new dirt.
The long-range foothills trail plan — paused last year due to public outcry over the first stage of construction — will continue to be reviewed by consultants until at least next year.
“We need to move slowly to get it done right,” said Tyler Fonarow, trails manager for the city’s Department of Public Lands.
The purpose of the trails plan, he said, is to create sustainable recreation and promote conservation of the foothills for generations to come.
Salt Lake City spent years developing and receiving public input on a plan to expand access to the foothills before work began in 2020 on city-owned property near the Avenues and City Creek. The total expansion of the network includes land that stretches from Emigration Canyon to the Davis County line.
When shovels hit the dirt, however, opponents cried foul, arguing the trails were prone to erosion, prioritized mountain bikers, ignored culturally sensitive areas and deviated from the plan that was originally presented (the city said those original trail maps were guidelines, not blueprints).
After about a year, Mayor Erin Mendenhall halted the project for additional review.
Overall project still on track
Fonarow said the city has since hired one consultant to review the environmental, ecological and cultural impacts of the trails plan, and is working on a contract with another to review what has already been done and the proposed work for future phases.
Even with the extended review, he said, the city is on pace to complete the project in the originally anticipated 10-year span.
Fonarow believes construction of new trails will be able to resume next summer or fall to complete what little work is left of the project’s first phase. Crews then would start on the second phase, which includes land owned by the state and federal governments that spans Emigration Canyon to Dry Creek and City Creek to the Davis County line.
“We aren’t planning to build any until then,” he said, “because we still have to have all those logistical background meetings anyway.”
Ultimately, he said, the mayor and City Council will decide when trail construction can resume. The Public Lands Department will seek approval of an official addendum to the plan before moving forward.
Instead of shocking people by rapidly building miles of trails — like with what happened in the first phase — Fonarow said future efforts will likely progress more slowly, but more consistently, with fewer crews in the hills.
Once completed, the trail system — anchored by the Bonneville Shoreline Trail — could include more than 100 miles of new paths, creating greater access for hikers and bikers of varying skill levels.
“There’s a lot of users that we want to get into the foothills,” he said, “because it’s for our community.”
Fonarow said the city will continue to educate the public about its approach, and that includes an explanation that not every decision will be up for public review. Still, he said, officials always will welcome feedback.
Review is ‘better late than never’
Daniel Schelling, a founding member of Save Our Foothills, said the city is on the right course in using consultants to review the plan.
“It’s a bit of a shame it wasn’t done before the trail construction,” he said, “but it’s better late than never.”
Schelling said it’s worth taking time to execute the trails project correctly.
“The foothills aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “They’re going to be here next year and the year after, and so let’s not rush forward and make mistakes.”
Sarah Bennett, executive director of Trails Utah, said groups like Save Our Foothills got more attention for their concerns than they deserved last year.
She objected to accusations that trail builders were being environmentally irresponsible and said robust public input took place before the new paths were built.
But now that the dust has settled from the brouhaha, she said, the city is making the best of a bureaucratic mess.
Bennett said all groups that care about the foothills need to figure out how to work together to boost access because Salt Lake City and interest in outdoor recreation are growing rapidly.
“Everybody,” she said, “deserves a little piece of the action.”
Extended pause is ‘concerning’
Not everyone is happy with the prolonged review.
Nancy Schmaus, former head coach of the multischool Salt Lake City Composite Mountain Biking Team, doubts the pause will improve what has already been built.
And with increased popularity, she said, the foothills have become too crowded.
“We’ve waited so long,” she said. “I really wish that the city would move some of these trails forward. I understand that there are some areas where there’s more concern, but to halt everything is very concerning to me.”
Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, another organization that criticized the first crack at expansion, said he understands those who are eager to have new trails constructed, given the population growth in northern Utah.
“But we only have one Wasatch Mountains,” he said. “And I think it’s incumbent upon us to do these things right for the benefit of our community and the benefit of the landscape that we’re so privileged to have right outside our city.”
Not all trail-related work is on hold. The city is planning and designing five new trailheads to access the foothills. Construction on those may begin next year.
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