Daggett County seeks to boost outdoor tourism, gets funds to launch new trails project

Struggling remote county will create an inventory and framework for new trails after losing significant source of revenue in its jail.

(Brett Prettyman | Tribune file photo) The view of Sheep Creek Bay at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.

After a false start put funding in doubt this summer, Daggett County will soon have a blueprint for building trails that it hopes will provide a tourism-fueled boost to its struggling economy.

The Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB), a panel that distributes money from federal mineral royalties, agreed Thursday to give $100,000 toward creation of an inventory of mountain bike and other trails and plan for expansion. State Parks will contribute another $100,000 for the effort.

Tourism is the remote county’s primary economic driver, largely from fishing and boating on the Flaming Gorge reservoir. A recent study of its public lands found most of the recreational opportunities require trails. But Daggett lacks a plan for harnessing its public lands to generate money through mountain biking, snowmobiling and other outdoor activities.

Before this year, the tiny county also used its jail as a job-creator and revenue-generator, with the state paying $52 per day per inmate to house some 85 prisoners there. The arrangement came to an abrupt end when the Department of Corrections pulled all its inmates in February.

Investigators say a jailer used a stun gun on inmates. Two inmates were also allegedly bitten when the officer conducted improper training in the jail. Five employees were charged, including former Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen, who resigned.

After months hoping the state would refill the jail and resume the revenue stream, Daggett County is looking at a future without a money-making jail.

CIB considered the trails request in August but held off on a decision when the board’s attorney announced Daggett County risked losing federal funding if it received the request.

After Thursday’s approval, money approved by the panel will pass through the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, a group working to generate projects in rural Utah counties. Using that method may avoid jeopardizing Daggett’s other federal funds. The coalition will work with the Daggett County Commission to pick a contractor who will conduct the study.