I attended the recent open house at Holladay City Hall regarding the possibility of constructing a network of mountain biking “skills trails” in the nature preserve area of Olympus Hills Park. What I thought would be more of an open discussion about the project turned out to be a meeting of Salt Lake Valley Trails Society (SLVTS) and their friends and a few representatives of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation.

I saw a lot of designs with several different areas where I could talk to somebody who was a member of the SLVTS who could tell me all the positives about the plans and how it won’t interfere with anything in the park currently.

What I didn’t see was anybody on the other side of the issue. When I questioned the members of the parks department, they assured me this is in the “preliminary planning stages.” But I wondered why there wasn’t a more open discussion from members of the community about the issue and why there wasn’t anybody at the meeting who could possibly talk about the negative issues and impacts a mountain biking trail system could have on this very small park. I question how anyone leaving that meeting could feel that they could make a more informed decision about the proposed bike park (positives and negatives alike).

I recently toured the park with other members of Utah Physicians for a Health Environment (UPHE) and members of the Salt Lake Audubon Society. I was struck by the number of walkers and joggers who were enjoying the park on a Sunday morning. They pointed out the numerous species of birds in the area as well as the native vegetation that is present in abundance. They also pointed out a central mountain biking trail that was originally designed to help make the park attractive to both bikers and walkers alike. Regrettably, I was also shown a few “rogue” trails made by a mountain biker or snowboarder vandalizing the natural fauna “off trail.”

I envisioned what a bike park would do to all of this native vegetation and numerous bird species that were flying all around us. I also thought about the dust that would be constantly kicked up and drift over nearby and downwind homes and yards.

My father is not physically able to hike the Wasatch canyons. But I took him to the top of Olympus Hills Park a few months ago when he last visited, where we stopped to watch the sunset on the Great Salt Lake. He remarked how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful place.

My father is like many of my neighbors who live around Churchill Middle School, which borders the park. They can’t hike our mountains, but they can walk with their children and grandchildren through Olympus Hills Park and enjoy views of the mountains and the lake and the relative quiet of mother nature at her best.

Mother nature is also a remarkable benefit to our health. Hundreds of studies have shown that as a refuge from urbanization, even “small pockets of nature” have a remarkable ability to lower blood pressure, heart rate, risk of diabetes, even mortality rates. They reduce the risk of pregnancy complications like premature birth. They improve mental health, the immune system and even reduce the risk of cancer.

This important benefit to park visitors would be significantly degraded by the traffic and habitat destruction inherent in the construction of the bike trails and the steady stream of bikers.

Placing the interests of a select few above the interests and needs of the many is a very anti-democratic approach to public policy. For over a year, cheerleaders for carving mountain biking trails into the park have been bending the ear of public officials in private meetings. The rest of the public has been shut out of the process until now.

UPHE urges all the public officials who will participate in making this decision to take as much time listening to and deliberating with the opponents as they have to its proponents, and make a decision that preserves the benefits the park for the greatest number of people.

Brian Hall, M.D., is a member of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.