Since the pandemic hit, Melissa Lipani has had a lot more people randomly showing up in her backyard.
Hikers and runners, mountain bikers and dog walkers, their stories are always the same. When the Pipeline Trail petered out on its way west out of Mill Creek Canyon or the Grandeur Peak Face Trail that starts at the end of Wasatch Boulevard tailed off on its way south, they followed one of a spider web of thin social paths through the scrub oak and rock outcroppings straight into Lipani’s Crestwood Drive neighborhood — where they would get stuck. There is no access to the street in that area except through residents’ yards, so interlopers usually have to be directed back to where they started.
“I definitely feel for people and I can understand how it happens because they’re just like, ‘Oh, I just need to get to the bottom, I need to get to the street,’” Lipani said. “And half the time they’re tired because they’ve been out for a while and now they’re lost and they just want to get to the road.
Finally, they’ll have a clear path, though Lipani and her neighbors worry it may be one that brings even more people into their yards.
Twenty years after it first became a priority of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Committee, the path for a two-mile connector trail between Grandeur Peak, via the Pipeline Trail in Mill Creek Canyon, and the foothills below has been cleared. And the mechanisms that came together in the past year-and-a-half that allowed all the pieces to fall into place could form a template for the completion of more long-sought-after sections of the trail in the coming years.
“It’s amazing and wonderful,” John Knoblock, the chairman of the BST Committee, said of the construction of the connector trail. “After decades of planning it’s finally happening.
“But there’s lots more work still to be done.”
When first conceptualized in the early 1990s, the BST was envisioned as a 280-mile, bike-accessible path that would follow the ancient shoreline of Lake Bonneville from Idaho to Nephi along the Wellsville and Wasatch ranges. The stretch between the east bench and Grandeur Peak was seen as one of the key trails for connecting the residents of the Salt Lake Valley to the mountains. Proposed during a 1999 neighborhood meeting at Eastwood Elementary, it received support from 90% of the attendees.
Seizing on that momentum, the BST Committee worked with Salt Lake County to acquire the land to create the Grandeur Peak Face Trailhead at the north end of Wasatch Boulevard in 2001. Relative to that, the purchase of the rest of the roughly 10 other privately held parcels was done at a snail’s pace. What Knoblock said is usually a five-year process stretched to 10, then 20.
Sarah Bennett, the founder and executive director of Trails Utah, which helped facilitate the procurement of properties for the trail and will manage its construction, said landowners were reluctant to sell their land or provide easements even though most of the sections needed for the trail are undevelopable because of their steep grades. The biggest hindrance, of course, was money. Property owners had to be willing to accept the appraised value since government entities are not allowed to pay more. Plus, most cities and counties don’t have $1.3 million ferreted away to spend on non-revenue-generating land.
After two decades of negotiations, though, trail advocates experienced a breakthrough in May 2021.
During their general session, state legislators approved a one-time, $5 million appropriation for the BST fund and tasked the state’s Division of Outdoor Recreation with distributing it. Program specialist Patrick Morrison said the money was mainly earmarked for purchasing land.
“Just because right now, the main obstacle for the BST is land acquisition,” Morrison said. “I think most of the sections that could be built have been built. So, it’s just a matter of cobbling together those last bits of land.”
Armed with that funding, the city of Millcreek under mayor Jeff Silvestrini earlier this year closed on the final two properties standing in the way of the Grandeur Peak connector trail — known as Rainclouds and Teton View. The Office of Outdoor Recreation also provided a separate grant of $50,000 in matching funds to Trails Utah to help cover the cost of building the trail.
Construction of the two-mile multi-use trail is scheduled to begin in mid-August and wrap up by November. It will link the section of BST that starts at the Grandeur Peak Face trailhead off of Wasatch Boulevard to the west end of the Pipeline Trail in Mill Creek Canyon, just above the Skyline “S.” In doing so, it will create 10 continuous miles of BST and provide easy access to the abundance of trails and wilderness in the canyon. On-leash dogs will be allowed on the trail.
Bennett of Trails Utah said she is thrilled about giving Salt Lake Valley residents access to a large network of trails without requiring them to first get into their cars. She said that’s too often the case in Utah.
“And that’s just really a crying shame,” she said. “In a place like Utah, where we have just these foothills that have a long history of being used for various things, and now they’re just shut off to recreation. I mean, we’re invested in recreation. It’s our identity, it’s our lifestyle. So, let’s make it so that people don’t have to get in their cars.”
Trails Utah and the BST Committee are working with the Office of Outdoor Recreation to advocate for the legislature to approve more money to be spent on acquiring land for trails — especially in light of the uptick in trail use since the pandemic and plans to expand the BST to 380 miles to include trails on the west side of the valley. The BST Committee would next like to link H Rock with Emigration Canyon, but it needs to access to three parcels of private land to make that happen. Combined with the new Parley’s Pointe Trail, which was completed earlier this summer, that addition would create a stretch of around 20 continuous miles of BST, ranging from Grandeur Peak to Ensign Peak. Approximately half of the original BST has been completed, Knoblock said.
But building a trail so close to residential neighborhoods isn’t without its controversies. Lipani sees the trail’s arrival in her backyard as “a double-edged sword.”
As a mountain biker, hiker and dog owner who uses the neighborhood trails to get up into Mill Creek Canyon, Lipani understands the allure and environmental benefits of a professionally built and maintained connector trail. As someone who, mostly through a backyard webcam, has witnessed the worst traits of trail users, especially as they’ve multiplied since the pandemic, she’s wary — as are, she said, many of her neighbors. More users likely means more piles of dog poop, more cut trails, more people ducking ropes and ignoring signs.
With a little proactive messaging, though, she thinks the trail could be beneficial for everyone.
“I’m optimistic that [the trail] will help kind of diminish people getting lost and things like that,” said Lipani, who lives near mayor Silvestrini, a major proponent of the trail, and who several years ago donated money to help Millcreek purchase the property behind her house. “But I do think it’s going to take some signage and other things to really help people know where to go, where to exit — you know, all the good stuff that should happen when there’s planned trails.”
It’s not that she doesn’t want the trail in her backyard, she just could do without the uninvited guests.
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