Tribune Editorial: Urban Utah needs more happy trails

It is not only the job of local government, but of all those who use our trails, to keep them safe.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Avenues Ridgeline Trail is a new trail (combining parts of old trails + some totally new) with sweeping views of the Salt Lake Valley from the “summit.” The highlights of the trail right now are beautiful yellow leafy arnica, which are everywhere, along with Missouri milkvetch. Though numerous variations exist It's about 3 miles long and not too difficult except for a couple short, steep climbs. The trail is primarily used for hiking, mountain biking, running and nature trips. May 12, 2021.

We are now well into the time of year when months of winter have left us with a great pent-up desire to get outside. Except, this spring, for many of us, it’s more than a year’s worth of confinement that needs to be undone.

Utah is just the place to do that. And, because more and more people know that, one of the more important tasks before our communities is to preserve some access to the great outdoors that so many people are moving here for. The same great outdoors that is rapidly shrinking under the new houses, businesses and highways that are being built to make room for all our new neighbors.

Many local officials see that one thing they can do to keep us human in all this humanity is to preserve and develop those slivers of the real world that draw us to walk, run or ride our bicycles.

Salt Lake City is among the jurisdictions that is paying attention, and spending money, to have more and better trails. Those trails are popular enough that, on some crisp mornings, the trailheads look like the line to a ride at Disneyland.

The answer to that problem is, of course, more trails.

Not that it is always that simple. As Salt Lake City has expanded its trail system, rival constituencies have raised different concerns for how the trails have been sited and built.

According to some, recent trail work has been, er, geared too much in favor of people who like to ride mountain bikes, laboriously up, and very rapidly down, the foothills. All at the expense of those who prefer a more leisurely stroll and who understandably feel threatened by their speedier trail companions.

City officials say they are aware of the issue and are working on a system where some trails are bike-friendly and others designed for walkers. As the system is built out and some paths shift from one focus to the other, we are told, things will sort themselves out.

Besides, it will never be enough for Salt Lake City or any community to just carve a walking path through the underbrush and call it good. Trails need to be planned, created, maintained, designated as to whether they are for walkers, bikers, both, with or without dogs, with trailheads marked and rules set out on signs that also have to be maintained.

There are too many people who use these trails to leave everything to chance or to nature.

And the job does not belong only to any elected body or bureaucracy. Those who use the trails must take responsibility, too.

People on the trails need not only to obey the posted rules but also to employ common courtesy and common sense. Don’t litter. If it is a trail that allows dogs, pick up after them. (And that means taking the little bags with you, not leaving them by the trail.) If dogs are not allowed, leave them at home. Be aware of your surroundings and yield to one another. Don’t take motorized vehicles of any kind anywhere they are not allowed. Stick to established trails and don’t try to expand existing paths or create new ones.

Perhaps most important as summer heats up and dries everything out, don’t do anything that might start a fire. As vegetation loses its moisture, it can quickly turn a small spark or discarded cigarette into a rapidly spreading blaze.

The metropolitan areas of Utah, where the vast majority of us live, work and play, don’t have nearly enough open space. The spaces we have, even the narrow ones that take us up above the city, need to be protected, by public agencies and by the public.