Summit County weighs what to do about trail overcrowding
Short-term solutions include restricting direction and use type, longer-term hopes include a shuttle system
The official who manages trails for the Snyderville Basin Recreation District recently described a vision for the future, a shuttle system that could pick people up from Main Street or transit centers and bring them deep into the Basin’s trail network. That would ease congestion issues and enable users to get lost in nature more easily than if they’d driven themselves and parked at trailheads.
The vision appears years away from reality, and would require money that hasn’t been allocated and collaborations with entities that barely exist. But the Summit County Council seemed receptive at a recent meeting when it heard a Basin Rec report on work to address overcrowding on — and near — the area’s trails, and the steps officials have taken in the last several months and plan to tackle soon.
County residents have invested heavily in the Park City area’s trail system for years, creating a world-class recreation amenity that is now threatening to become too popular for its own good. Trailheads routinely exceed parking capacity, hikers and bikers compete for the same space (at very different speeds) and an us-versus-them mentality has creeped in, with locals blaming the masses coming from the Salt Lake Valley for ruining a wonderful amenity.
Overcrowding at trailheads proved to be the flashpoint that prompted County Council action, when it heard in 2019 that parked vehicles were blocking emergency vehicle access and tailgaters were pestering nearby residents.
That’s the issue a multi-disciplinary group has attempted to address first, creating a one-year plan to ease trail issues and eyeing medium- and long-term solutions for another report to come later.
Officials from Basin Rec, the Summit County Attorney’s Office, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, the Park City Chamber/Bureau and several other county departments have convened regularly to try to fix the issues caused by the trail network’s popularity.
The most tangible step to date has been Basin Rec hiring a traffic enforcement officer to warn and ticket people whose vehicles are parked illegally.
Basin Rec officials told the council that officer had issued 275 parking tickets, mostly near Rob’s Trail in Sun Peak and in Summit Park. Most of those tickets have been warnings, with monetary penalties only given to repeat offenders: $40 for parking outside a designated area and $50 if the vehicle blocks an emergency egress route or handicapped-parking zone.
Dana Jones, Basin Rec’s newly hired director, said she and Matt Wagoner, the district’s trails and open space manager, were working to shift the district’s focus from building new trails to ensuring that proper infrastructure is in place to support the existing network.
“Pre-Matt and I, a lot of the focus was on just building trails: ‘Can we build more trails? Can we build more trails?’” she said. “And Matt and I have a little bit of a different way of looking at things, I think. … I’m not saying we’re not going to build more trails, but we’re going to do it much more thoughtfully.”
Wagoner said the ultimate direction would be to work toward removing personal vehicles from the idea of using a trail, that people would ride their bikes or mass transit — or, perhaps, a shuttle system — to trailheads.
In the meantime, Basin Rec officials are considering shorter-term fixes, like installing bike racks at trailheads and studying data from trail counters installed last year at a dozen popular trails to determine when and where to implement “dispersal” strategies.
Those include dedicating certain trails at certain times to certain uses or single directions, like restricting a trail to uphill hiking when it’s at its busiest.
A staff report accompanying the presentation indicates that single-user type trails will be the standard practice for new trails.
Officials indicated the ticketing campaign successfully cut down on illegal parking near Rob’s Trail, and significantly cut down on its use, as well.
But despite efforts from the County Attorney’s Office, officials were unable to match license-plate data with the county where the person’s vehicle is registered, so officials could not corroborate the widely held belief that many new trail users are coming from the Salt Lake Valley.
“We need to know whether we’re the enemy or whether it’s outside forces that are driving this problem,” said Councilor Doug Clyde. “Or, it’s likely both, but just knowing the data would be helpful.”
Basin Rec’s trail network has grown considerably and is being expanded at the Discovery Ridge development near Summit Park, and is expected to keep growing in coming years at county-owned land in the Trailside neighborhood and elsewhere.
The County Council approved Basin Rec’s 2019 request to increase its property taxes by about 1/3. At the time, Basin Rec officials said it was necessary to finance its operations.
Residents at a public hearing who opposed the tax increase — but not necessarily the district’s mission — asked whether user fees could be implemented to defray some of the costs, suggesting that such fees could be levied on non-Summit County residents.
Officials have said it’s unlikely that would generate enough revenue to offset the cost of enforcing the policy.
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.