Guest editorial: How should Toll Canyon be managed?
When a public-private coalition pulled together over $6 million to purchase Toll Canyon, we thought we had protected it. But it turns out the fight is not over. If we don’t speak out NOW, this sliver of wild could become a multi-use freeway that will destroy the natural attributes that made it worth saving. What will happen to this space of nature and solitude for humans and animals, if the proposed multi-use (read biking) trail slices across a steep shoulder of the canyon and switchbacks through a thick stand of 100-year-old firs and blue spruce to connect to the heavily-traveled Mid-Mountain Trail?
The Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District is accepting public comment until Oct. 26 on the proposed Toll Canyon Stewardship and Management Plan. The document will determine the future of the 781 acres of wilderness and wildlife habitat that is sandwiched between the neighborhoods of Summit Park, Timberline and Pinebrook and I-80. As residents on the edge of the canyon, we applaud much of the plan because it proposes to protect the spring-fed perennial stream and many acres of untracked backcountry primitive open space.
However, we fear that all the efforts by Utah Open Lands, the taxpayers of Summit County, and 400 residents who raised $250,000 in less than five weeks to preserve this pristine sanctuary will be undone if Toll Canyon becomes a connector and endpoint for the Mid-Mountain Trail.
"It’s so quiet," is the usual first reaction upon entering the narrow bottom of the canyon. Even the gurgle of the stream does not disturb the cool, deep silence that belies the close proximity to so many neighborhoods. Our path wanders through a natural jewel box filled with emerald, jade, and gold, between thick screens of willows and among stands of towering conifers and fluttering aspens. The flattened underbrush suggests that some big animals perhaps moose, black bear, elk, or mule deer–have bedded down here.
A grouse startles and flaps away, startling us too. A moose and her two yearlings who have been browsing by the stream clamber up the steep hillside as we approach. Even as slow and quiet walkers we disturb the denizens who hold first rights to this space.
Take your own walk in the canyon with the plan’s trail map and ask how they can cut through the tightly-packed conifer forest without taking down many of the giants. Stand in the quiet by the stream and envision all the bike traffic from the Mid-Mountain Trail charging down the proposed route, rutting the landscape and disrupting the wildlife. Add your voice to the many hikers and mountain bikers who do not believe this fragile place can or should sustain such an incursion simply for human recreational pleasure.
Basin Rec argues Toll Canyon is necessary for its master plan for trail connectivity all over western Summit County, but there are two other routes available to satisfy that requirement without linking into Toll. Additional public access IS necessary but it can be achieved in the plan without making Toll a traffic thoroughfare. As taxpayers who paid for the property, let’s tell Basin Rec "Leave it be," as a unique wilderness area that needs human stewardship, not more human activity.