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Rail Trail earns national recognition

SKYLER BELL, Of the Record staff

When the Interstate Commerce Commission deeded the Union Pacific Rail Trail to the State of Utah to make it a state park, some local landowners complained that the land should be deeded to them. Now, over 17 years later, the trail has been nationally recognized and designated a national recreation trail.

"There was resistance then because some of the property owners near Atkinson were hoping for abandonment instead of conversion," Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott said. "But I think everybody is happy about it now. I don’t know of anybody who can’t look at the use that it gets and the obvious help it gives to health, recreation and the economy and not see it was a very smart thing to do."

Elliott, who helped fight for the easement’s preservation since day one, said she has seen myriad people use the trail. From a cross-country truck driver who stopped on the trail to ride his bicycle, all the way to a pair of parents who took their two kids for a walk, the trail serves anyone interested.

"It’s my baby. I was the construction manager and I’ve watched it with a careful eye for over 16 years," Elliot said. "I think one of the reasons why it was given national recognition is that there are many trail stops and a readable guide all along the way that points out some of the interesting history and features of the trail."

The national designation announced June 1 by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne coincided with the 14th annual celebration of National Trails Day held two days later. A total of 36 new trails in 24 states will be added into the national trails system, including two from Utah.

"The new trails joining the National Recreation Trail System illustrate the diversity of the country’s pathways," Kempthorne said in a news release. "These remarkable resources provide outdoor recreational opportunities that include the chance to hike the rolling tundra of Alaska’s backcountry, paddle an urban waterway in Milwaukee, bike and abandoned railway in Utah, ride an equestrian trail in Virginia, or wander along a nature loop in Oklahoma."

The designation sets the trail apart with over 10,000 miles of trail nationwide, and will give more recognition to the state.

"We now get into this awesome database of national trails," said Carol Potter, Executive Director of the Mountain Trails Foundation. "It gives us more recognition, it gives us more attention from the media, and it gives us a special designation when we write grant requests. It gives us a status that not all trails have."

The trail starts at Rail Central in Park City and ends 28 miles later in Echo. It is 125 feet wide, on the average, and is open for running, hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing or a leisurely walk. Much of the trail is paved, with earthy paths for horses on the side.

State Trails Coordinator John Knudson said an estimated 12,000 people used the trail in the month of August 2004. Estimates are higher now, with approximations near 50,000 users per year.

"We want the trails to connect communities, which this does because the train rail needed to go from town to town, so the trail goes from town to town," Potter said. "It’s also a great family trail. All ages can enjoy it."

Potter said she is just glad the state got the land when it did.

"If it had just been left to landowners, there’s no way we could ever go back and recover the 28 miles of trail from landowners along the way." "We are part of a national system now, and anytime you get a national designation it’s very exciting."

For more information on the Historic Pacific Union Rail Trail, go to http://www.mountaintrails.org.


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