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Draper Journal

Hikers, bicyclists, equestrians weigh in on the future of Salt Lake County’s trails

Nov 12, 2019 03:50PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

Trails do not represent one source of truth, believes Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Planning Director Martin Jensen. (Jennifer J. Johnson/City Journals)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected] 

The Visit Salt Lake website boasts of Salt Lake City’s significant “trailheads in town”—but the only trails referenced are downtown-accessible and reference access to the Wasatch Mountains.

For those of us who live here, trails matter, too—and not just trails accessible from downtown, but trails in our parts of the valley for varied recreation as well as interconnected trails for daily transportation to-and-from work and other interactions.

The city of South Jordan routinely publicizes year-after-year survey results that the No. 1 amenity cited by residents is the city’s robust trails network. City administrators and elected officials repeatedly remind residents of this fact, when matters of development come up—such as paving previously unpaved areas to earn funding to interconnect the trails with other systems throughout the valley, etc.

The Jordan River Parkway is a continuous, non-motorized, paved trail, which follows the Jordan River—what Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson calls “the heart of the county”—for 45-plus miles, weaving in and out of urban areas, parks and marshy areas.

In August, the City Journals published an article about the preponderance of hiking trails in the area.

Trail advocates and environmentalist alike, throughout the valley, now have the opportunity to influence progress on not just existing, well-publicized trail systems, but fledgling, under-developed, unconnected and even undeveloped ones.

Defining trails

Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Planning Director Martin Jensen told the City Journals that Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Planning Department is working to “get municipalities and interested parties to come together” to help define and divine the area’s future for trails.

In the quest to best understand trails, he said he spent nearly a month studying—by personal enjoyment on a family vacation—trail systems in Japan, some of which date back to the eighth century.

Trails, he says, do not represent “one source of truth.”

They also, he has found, do not even consistently mean the same thing to different people or stakeholder groups.

Helping define trails syntax, along with developing the future of trails for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians, and other constituents is core to the work his team at the planning department are undertaking now.

August input

During August, the planning department hosted four open houses to solicit early resident and stakeholder input on updating the regional trails plan.

Constituents from Magna to Midvale, from Holladay to Herriman were courted to provide input on a proposed trails corridor that would enhance a current badge-shaped network that provides rare and incomplete East-West connectivity, to a richer, broader, measuring-cup-like trails network that would reach the edges of the Mount Olympus foothills to the East and the Oquirrh foothills to the West, and significantly amp trails access for Western constituents.

A big issue of consideration was the matter of to pave or not to pave select trails.

Constituent groups made a strong showing.

Those deep in horse country speak out loudly and proudly

Draper is still a horse community, although ordinances over the past few decades have reined in the larger-scale stables that once helped define the agricultural area now succumbing to development.

The Draper Open House, held at the Dimple Dell Recreation Center, was notable in three ways.

First, the session kicked off all four open houses.

Second, it was well-attended, dwarfing participation at other open houses.

Third, those attending the meeting and sharing their insights were decidedly horse-rights oriented and were of the “anti-pave” nature.

The nation’s oldest continuously operating horse organization, the Green Mountain Horse Association, indicates that horses are “the vehicle that thinks” and that “horses are the only means of transport into the wilderness that has a mind of its own.”

As a result, horse owners approach the concept of trail sharing as one requiring thoughtfulness and consideration from both rider and non-rider points of view.

A group of approximately 30 residents—most, if not all of whom represented the area’s horse community and loudly defended the importance of preserving river ecologies (riparian corridors)—attended and vigorously contributed in both written and verbal comments to the plan. 

The cycling community – representing those who ride recreationally and full time

“I’d like to see more unpaved, soft trails,” said Dylan Timmer of Rose Park, who attended the second of four open houses.

Timmer, a cycling aficionado who tends to ride his bike just about everywhere—either in tandem with transit or just solo—notes that it is “a different experience” riding on paved trails versus unpaved trails.

Young families, he observes, benefit in the effort to get children started on mountain biking by having a predominance of softer, unpaved trails, which are easier on newbies likely to experience some falls.

That said, Timmer also indicates that he is a big fan of the storied W&OD Trail—or “Wad” trail, which is short for Northern Virginia’s Washington and Old Dominion Trail. That trail is an asphalt-surfaced rail trail that runs through densely populated urban and suburban communities as well as through rural areas.

Wad, then, seems akin to Salt Lake County’s Jordan River Parkway.

“There’s a place for both,” he said and added, “I ride my bike wherever I go.”

Another hardcore cyclist is Kevin Dwyer.

Dwyer, on the board of both the Salt Lake Valley Trails Society and the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective, underscored what he sees as the critical importance of Salt Lake County’s trail visioning update.

“This plan is important—it’s a pathways plan,” he said, observing that the county’s plans for more extensive soft-surface trails, which are also connected with other existing or new trails, would significantly add to the quality of life and limit the need for automobiles in the overall transportation equation.

While horse and hiking enthusiasts are interested in the recreation side, bicycle riders such as Timmer and Dwyer are interested in leveraging the two-wheeled recreation experience they love to the fullest extent possible—and doing so in a safe environment.

Although the Salt Lake Valley Trails Society’s webpage features a mid-air cyclist in a 160-degree position, Dwyer indicates trails can offer—and need to offer—cyclists safe, connected transportation routes throughout the Salt Lake Valley.

Dwyer says he has been hit by automobiles three times while riding his bike. As a result, he says he no longer elects to ride on roads without dedicated pathways.

“Without a plan like this, I am terrified,” he told the City Journals.

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