Public outcry over the new trails crossing the Salt Lake City foothills caused the mayor to put future work on hold, stoking the frustrations of residents who loved the trails and wanted to see more.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced on Tuesday that an order she issued in May to stop work on the trail system would last until at least June 2022.
The mayor, city council and city staff have filed numerous complaints about the trails, which deviate from the master plan in some places, are prone to erosion in others and have resulted in the closure of legacy trails on the trails. ridge lines. Other stakeholders called on the city to give more consideration to any impact on the environment and Indigenous history of the foothills.
But strong contingents support the new trail plan and many are disappointed to see the new construction halted.
“It was a well thought out plan,” said Michael Yount, a resident of the city, a former staff member of the Salt Lake Tribune. “Nothing is ever perfect, but they did a great job of separating the traffic with the new trails. “
Opponents of the new trails complained that they were cut to such low levels that they appear to have been built with cyclists in mind, not hikers.
Yount disagrees. He argued that new and future trails built for downhill cycling only help reduce conflict between users.
“They created a much nicer trail for hiking and biking,” he said.
Yount added that he had not blamed the mayor for suspending future track work, given all the outcry.
But “I have the impression that it is a vocal minority” which complains, he says. “… Daily users do not put up road signs. “
Nancy Schmaus, head coach of the Salt Lake City Composite Mountain Bike Multi-School Team, said she was excited about the plan for new trails as the foothills became increasingly crowded.
“Space is really limited to allow us to ride Salt Lake,” she said. “My kids are bored walking the same trails.”
She added that interest in mountain biking is increasing, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic. Cycling has allowed children and adults to recreate themselves outdoors at safe distances. This year, she had to turn 20 children away from the team because she lacked the capacity to keep up with the influx of interest.
“Demand is increasing,” Schmaus said. “Now we are remitting [trail work] for a whole other year? “
The coach added that the city was “late” with building trails compared to nearby mountain bike magnets like Park City and Corner Canyon.
She also pointed out that the city began planning its new 106-mile foothills trail plan several years ago – a process that included raising public awareness and gathering feedback.
“Then they start cutting the trails and all of a sudden there’s a huge uproar,” Schmaus said. “I find it disappointing that they don’t continue to build the trails. I just don’t understand how they’re going to change what they’ve already spent four years doing. How well are they going to get away with it? “
The elected officials react
City council member Chris Wharton, who represents the avenues area where most of the new trails have been cut, said the comments he received were mixed.
“Many residents are relieved that there is a review of what has been done,” Wharton said Thursday, “and more careful planning going forward.”
The city councilor added that there are also frustrations among residents who have waited a long time for new trails and recreational opportunities.
“Ultimately, however, I think most people agree that waiting another 10 months is a small price to pay,” said Wharton, “if that means we have 100 years of more sustainable trails for all of our work. users. “
In an interview on Friday, Mendenhall acknowledged that the city had already completed a massive public education effort on trail plans starting in 2017.
“We know that work has taken place,” said the mayor. “… In my years on City Council and now in this role, there have been many public processes that have been solid and lengthy. Yet when [we] concluded and decisions were made and projects funded, we heard from people who felt that no process had taken place.
Mendenhall said in the last feedback process, the city received around 30 letters which were mostly positive. The mayor added that the few residents who shared their disappointment with the work break were generally concerned that a single user group would gain the city’s attention when trail construction resumes.
“I tried to reassure these people that this is the very reason why we need more time to engage,” she said, “so that we can fully integrate the voices we need. and that we want. “
The mayor said she was particularly excited to work with the tribal chiefs.
“Frankly, the lack of a relationship between our governments,” Mendenhall said, “is so important that [we haven’t had] the best information on areas that are sacred or should be protected.
This relationship, she said, “is something that we are building now.”
Those interested in providing feedback and taking a trail survey during the Mayor’s Moratorium can visit slctrails.com.
A new trail defense group?
Kenton Peters, longtime Salt Lake City resident and trail user, said he was in the early stages of forming a pro-trails and pro-mountain biking group to ensure balanced hearing at the to come up.
“We respect what other groups are saying,” said Peters, “but we want to make sure the mountain bikers aren’t harmed during the break.”
Still, Peters said he agreed with some of the concerns raised by organizations such as Save Our Foothills and Save Our Canyons, which have called for a reassessment of the trail plan.
“There are issues with the current trail layouts and approach,” said Peters. “We don’t like to see the underdeveloped and marked foothills … [hiking trails] on Morris Meadows, they’re of a terribly shallow quality.
He added that he was “disappointed” that the old trails along the ridge had been removed from the system and that parking at the trailheads was an issue for the Avenues neighborhoods.
“But our group is different,” said Peters, “in that we try to speak on behalf of the hundreds of young riders and adults. [cyclists] which is, really, the growth area in the use of buttresses and the future of it.
Most of the new trails were intended for mountain bikes, and Peters said he feared the break might mean they might never be built.
“We hope to work with the other groups and the city to come up with win-win solutions for everyone involved,” he said. “… What we heard [so far] seems to put the bikes in part of the problem. We want to be seen as part of the solution.