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The Foothills Natural Area Is Ready For A Facelift

Photo of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.
Looking south from the shoreline trail in Salt Lake City

There are at least half a million more people in Utah today than a decade ago, and the majority are concentrated along the Wasatch Front. So a lot has changed over time, including trail use.

The Foothills Natural Area extends from the upper edge of the Capitol Hill, Avenues and University of Utah neighborhoods to the boundaries of wildlife research and drinking water protection areas in City Creek and Red Butte Creek. 

The areas’ trail system is under review, as part of its ten year update.

Lewis Kogan, manager of the open lands program for Salt Lake City, hopes that the general public will weigh in at a  website specific to the plan.

“It links up to a really nifty mapping tool where people can view and provide feedback on specific draft proposed trail alignments” Kogan says. “We would love to get as many people to participate in that as possible and help us understand how they use the foothills trail system, how they would like to see it developed, or if they disagree with any of our proposed improvements or alignments that are on that map.”

Results from a preliminary survey of about 1,500 Salt Lake City trail users showed three-quarters of them said they want to see more trail miles in the foothills, and over 90 percent want to see sustainable trails for current users and for demands of population growth. 

Another exploratory analysis of residents around the valley found more than half of the respondents use the targeted trails system at least once a month. Kogan says trails consistently floated to the top in answers about quality of life and access among those who represent all demographics and all parts of the city.

With that heavy use comes conflicts, especially along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.  Kogan says resolving those is a major goal because of growing numbers of mountain bikers, hikers and those enjoying preserved open space. 

“More and more people are seeing conflicts between dogs and bicycles, with trail crowding, conflicts with people who would like to learn how to use a trial and are new users or are less fit and struggle to find a trial that works for them,” he says. 

Kogan notes that some of the trails are simply too steep. Among the ideas being floated is re-routing some for better use and less erosion. As well, leaders are proposing single-directional trails for bicyclists, an idea that’s getting mixed reviews. Kogan points to the Wasatch Crest Trail as a destination that can be problematic.  

He says when hikers have to step off the trail every few minutes to allow bikes to pass, they quickly appreciate how single-directional trails can be beneficial.  On the topic, the responses of the two statistical surveys are split.

“We found that about half of trail users were supportive of increasing the number of trail miles for single directional trails and about half felt like we should put our efforts into multiuse trails," Kogan says. “We intend to do both.”

With crowds come parking challenges, too.  That issue is being addressed in the questionnaire, and with long-term planning.  Kogan says they hope to site trail heads for easy access for public transit users.

“Providing expanded parking and trailhead facilities is a challenge in Salt Lake City.  Many of the past opportunities for trail heads have now been developed and built out,” says Kogan.  “We’re having to get creative in figuring out where people can park along major roads, though I think we’ve identified some opportunities to develop major trail heads.”

He says those would have substantial parking and potentially have bathrooms and drinking fountains in the future. 

Who’s paying for it? That depends on what trail segment is in play and whether it’s a new trail build or regular maintenance of existing trails.  Kogan says his office is looking at endowments and cost-share programs among agencies, and exploring long-term funding to keep the trail system in top shape.

The public comment survey will be live until early January.

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