Summit County Councilor: Permits to use trails will be ‘absolutely necessary’ to handle growth
Basin Rec officials say permits won’t solve crowding problems
Bikers and hikers are driving up from the Wasatch Front en masse, the story goes, descending on the Park City area’s trail system and taking parking spots, dog poop bags and peace and quiet from the trails that local residents funded.
Officials from the Snyderville Basin Recreation District have been called before the Summit County Council to report their efforts to solve this problem, but solutions have proven elusive for a trail network as vast as the one Basin Rec manages, one that is also close to millions of people on the Wasatch Front.
Basin Rec maintains more than 170 miles of trails and manages nearly 2,300 acres of open space in Summit County, according to its website.
To some, the answer is as simple as making the people from the Salt Lake Valley pay to use the trails. That was one solution proposed when Basin Rec raised property taxes in 2019, and one that elected officials have supported with more conviction in recent months.
“We are providing trail service on our nickel — on the county’s residential owners’ nickel — to the entirety of the Salt Lake Valley, and that, of course, is a couple of million people when you look into the future,” Councilor Doug Clyde said at a meeting earlier this month. “… I think that it will become absolutely necessary for us to control trail access by permits in the future.”
Clyde’s fellow councilors indicated that permitting for trail use or trailhead parking may indeed become necessary, but that they would look to trail-usage data Basin Rec plans to collect this summer before moving forward.
The general idea of a permitting system, officials have said, is to require a permit to park at trailheads and use trails, and to issue the permits for free to county residents.
Basin Rec Director Dana Jones doesn’t think a permit system will solve the problem, however. In fact, she says it might cause others.
“I believe the County Council is looking to limit the number of people on the trails,” Jones said in a recent interview. “A permit process I don’t believe in this case is going to limit the number of people on the trails.”
She said requiring a permit was likely to force people away from regulated lots and to park in residential neighborhoods, a problem that elected officials have said they routinely hear about from constituents.
“Although (a permit system) would possibly limit the number of people that are parking right at the trailhead, all of those people are now going to move past where you have to have the permit to park,” Jones said. “And they’re going to be parking even further into the neighborhood and causing even more problems if we were to do that. It’s like that little dolly you used to have where you squeezed it and its eyes popped out. So when you squeeze them in one place, they are going to pop out in other places. … We want to manage where they’re going to pop out.”
Selling permits might also create the expectation among those who buy one that there will be a parking space for them or more amenities at trailheads, which would lead to even more conflicts, Jones said.
County officials for years required new developments to provide trails and trail access, officials have said, with the unintended consequence that trailheads are now dotted through residential neighborhoods. The trails that were supposed to serve the neighborhood are now thought to be flooded with people from the Salt Lake Valley, though officials do not have data yet to corroborate that widely held belief.
Basin Rec officials are using trail counters to determine how many people use the trails and a cellphone tracking contractor called Streetlight to learn where those users are coming from. While officials wait for the data to roll in, and to learn whether a significant number of users are actually coming from outside the county, Basin Rec has started issuing parking tickets near trailheads.
Officials have said a permit system would be unlikely to generate more revenue — through tickets and the purchase price of permits — than it would cost to run, and that enforcement would be challenging and expensive.
“We’re never going to get paid for this. If anybody thinks we’re going to get paid for this by collecting fees, I need to disabuse them of that notion right away. Nobody ever will get paid by collecting fees. But fees, tickets, hooking, towing, all those sorts of things I think are in our future,” Clyde said.
Basin Rec has hired two enforcement officers — and is considering hiring a third — to issue parking tickets and educate trail users about proper etiquette on trails and in trailheads.
Jones told officials she thought a trail etiquette education campaign might help reduce the negative impacts of the increasing use of the area’s crowded trails. She said newly hired Basin Rec employees have already had hundreds of interactions with trail users in an effort to reduce conflicts. Directional trails and those dedicated to specific uses, like hiker-only trails, might help, as well.
Jones indicated that one key driver of dissatisfaction with the trail system is that users are expecting a wild experience and not the kind of urban trail experience that growth has delivered to the Snyderville Basin.
She said that resetting users’ expectations might help avoid conflicts.
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