New group to blaze trails on the county’s East Side
December 5, 2015
Twenty-five years ago, Park City’s mountain trail system was little more than a handful of mine roads and enhanced animal trails on private land. You hiked and rode these trails at your own peril, risking injury from lurking branches and incurring the wrath of local landowners.
Tom Noaker remembers it well. Noaker has lived in eastern Summit County since 1975 and sold some of the first mountain bikes ridden on Park City trails.
Now Noaker and friends are setting out to do in the South Summit area what Mountain Trails Foundation did in Park City: take a scattering of disconnected, quasi-legal dirt tracks and weave them into a sanctioned network accessible from the surrounding communities.
"It’s very similar, on the ground now, to what it was like here (in Park City) in the ’90s when the Mountain Trails Foundation (MTF) started," Noaker said. "We had a bunch of trails. Ninety percent of them were illegal."
In recent years, Noaker said, he’s had numerous conversations with MTF Executive Director Charlie Sturgis about developing a nonmotorized trail network in the Kamas Valley. He said Sturgis argued that, rather than being served by an extension of the MTF, the South Summit area would be better off with a trail system developed by people like Noaker who lived in the valley.
At first, Noaker said, he didn’t agree, believing that he couldn’t "get the buy-in" from local residents. But his attitude changed about six months ago when he scheduled a meeting of potential trail users at the Oakley Town Hall.
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"We had about 50 people show up," he said. "I was astonished. I walked into the meeting and there were already people there. I thought I would be speaking to five people, maybe."
Noaker, a longtime Oakley resident, had good reason to be skeptical. After all, this isn’t his first rodeo. About 10 years ago he was part of a group that worked with Summit County trail planner Trish Murphy-Cone to begin a network in the Kamas Valley. The group lobbied for a trail to be developed along the Weber-Provo Canal, which picks up water from the Weber River in Oakley and delivers it to the Provo River west of Francis. The canal is operated by the Provo River Water Users Association.
"On both sides of the canal there’s a levee, and on top of each of those levees there’s a pathway," Noaker said.
"And it seemed like a perfect connection because it was off the highway. It was already established. It has a road base, essentially. All it would have to be is improved for a trail to connect.
"It was met with a lot of opposition by some old-time landowners ranchers who had property right next to it. One of those property owners happened to be on the County Commission at the time (and) expressed and gathered a lot of opposition to that alignment," he said.
"We heard feedback that trails are a magnet for crime, that there would be drugs, that there would be people throwing trash. We heard all sorts of things that make no sense that it devalues the land values. All of that has turned out to be just exactly the opposite. A trail system, or proximity to or a trail or a trailhead, actually increases your land value. It has been proven all across the country now. Park City is a great example."
Ultimately, the County Commission voted to build an eight-foot-wide paved trail along S.R. 32 between Oakley and Kamas. But when the first 1.5 miles cost twice as much as expected, the project ground to a halt.
"To me it’s sort of a stick in the eye," Noaker said. "It never really addressed the problem, which is to somehow connect both ends of the valley with a trail system that can be used by non-motorized travel away from a highway. It was very cost intensive and it’s never been completed."
However, the turnout at the recent meeting gave him reason for optimism. The group decided to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the South Summit Trails Foundation, modeled after the MTF in Park City, and chose a five-person board with Noaker as board president. Much of the work in applying for 501(c)(3) status, developing a website, keeping the books, etc., is being handled by volunteers with expertise in those areas.
"I think as an organization we have critical mass now," he said. "We have people who have interest, energy, skills. I never thought we’d be there this early, but we’re there. So we’ll see where it goes from here with respect to actual shovel-in-the-ground projects."
One of the group’s first tasks is to take an inventory of the existing trails, both sanctioned and otherwise. Noaker is looking for people with GPX and Strava electronic maps showing trails in the area.
"You can map something that you’ve done and then send that file to Chris Braun, who’s running that mapping committee. And we’re going to take all those as we get them and put them on one large digital map," he said.
"We don’t have any grand 400-mile inventory of trails planned," he said. "We just want to get it started."
With donations from local residents and some seed money from the MTF, the organization has set up a bank account and hopes to be able to accept donations on its website, southsummittrails.org, by Dec. 20. The group also plans to apply for funds from the Summit County RAP Tax program.
"You can’t really do much until you have the funding, but you can’t really ask for funding until you do something," he said.
Noaker said he plans to start with the "low-hanging fruit" — existing trails, whether sanctioned or not — and approaching landowners to try to negotiate rights of way.
One of the existing sanctioned trails is the Oakley Trail, used mainly by hikers and equestrians, which starts at a trailhead near the Oakley water tank. Among those who worked on that project was Doug Evans, who prepared a trails master plan for the town in the 1990s and later served as the town mayor.
"We worked with the (U.S.) Forest Service and some landowners that developed a trail going up Hoyt’s Peak from Oakley and up into the Forest Service land. That was a big project, and that was our first formal public trail. I think that was done in ’98," Evans said.
"There were a lot of volunteers that worked on that. The Backcountry Horsemen did a lot of work on that, and they’ve kind of helped maintain it over the years as well," he said.
"The idea back then was to have a trail that would go all the way from Oakley and meet the Highline Trail (in the Uinta Mountains) clear up by Mirror Lake. I mean, it was never completed, but it was the ultimate goal to kind of follow the ridgeline and work its way over towards Trial Lake and Bald Mountain Pass and the Highline Trail."
Evans said he would also like to see the new group revisit the old plans to develop a trail along the Weber-Provo Canal. "That would be our version of the (Union Pacific) Rail Trail because that would connect all the communities in South Summit," he said. "That’s a real worthy goal, but that will take some work."
He offered to write a mission statement for the new organization but ended up creating a 17-page draft master plan that is now being circulated.
"It was mainly kind of designed to help get people’s ideas and trigger comments. The final form may be a little different," he said.
For more information, go to southsummittrails.org.