June 02, 2021

Salt Lake City Trails Pause; Letter to Salt Lake City Mayor and City Council

Written by Alex Schmidt

Dear Mayor Mendenhall and Members of the Salt Lake City Council:

We want to thank you for pausing the foothills construction of the SLC Trails Plan in an effort to address the issues that have been voiced since the construction began last year. On behalf of our board, staff and concerned members, thank you!

Additionally, we appreciate the time and consideration of the Mayor and her team for spending a couple hours on the ground, and their commitment to developing a successful outcome, not only for the foothills and canyons of the Wasatch, but for our communities. People have formed relationships and bonds with these incredibly awe-inspiring places for generations. But change is inevitable, for the both land and for our communities. Before these foothills were a city, the most formative force of these areas was an ancient lake. Today, the driver of change is people, and the changes they are driving are intensifying.

As we consume more land to accommodate more people, and as we encroach upon more

roadless landscapes with wilderness characteristics, we offer more opportunities for people while forcing the wildness of these places, bit by bit, to retreat to smaller islands of inevitably less diverse landscapes and habitat. Some describe it as the proverbial, “death by a thousand cuts.” It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way.

So, what does success look like and how do we get there? What is the City’s framework for the upcoming public feedback process for the Foothills Trail Master Plan? Save Our Canyons would like to be a partner in forming answers to these questions.

The Salt Lake City Trails & Natural Lands’ mission is to provide community leadership in protecting open space, caring for our environment, and connecting people to the outdoors. We, as neighbors and Utah residents, strongly support the mission of this department. The Foothills Trails Master Plan website states its primary objectives as follows: “(1) to provide detailed layout, design and management recommendations for a comprehensive non-motorized recreational trail system that is safe, enjoyable, accessible, connected, and sustainable; (2) to provide information to guide strategic implementation of the trail system over a 10-year time horizon; and (3) to provide and/or incorporate key supplemental information.”

There is an obvious incongruence between the mission of the agency and the objectives of the plan, namely the absence of an emphasis on the natural environment, the values and importance of the foothills to all users, even non-users, not to mention their significance from a cultural and historical context. This isn’t to suggest the status quo in the foothills should have continued without some changes and modifications. The ethos of change, and the narrative purpose driving change, however is important.

We have attempted on several occasions to encourage the prioritization of environmental protection as a foundational element of this plan. First, we engaged in the planning process attending meetings. Second, we directly reached out to SLC staff on several occasions starting in December 2017, stating we’d reviewed some of the concepts but were concerned that this plan didn’t address environmental concerns, like wildlife, invasive weeds, and stewardship and maintenance issues in the foothills. While trails and recreation organizations have effectively been a steering committee for SLC Trails and Public Lands, Save Our Canyons concerns, especially about wildlife impacts, haven’t been addressed and continue to go not responded to. We assumed that the City would actively engage with us as partners and advisors in an ongoing, collaborative planning process for the Foothills Natural Area— a role SOC has played in so many other planning processes affecting the Wasatch. We’re hopeful that this can happen now.

Foothills planning, trail maintenance, and public use is a good thing that we as an organization representing many city residents strongly support. We want to see trail improvements, we like seeing all user groups enjoying the open spaces and natural areas adjacent to our fabulous city, and we want to see access and engagement with nature expand. The Wasatch Mountains are the jewel of Salt Lake, and there is no place in the world with as vibrant and diverse a city directly adjacent to such a diverse and abundant natural area. We are known for skiing, biking, hiking, birding, delicious drinking water, and having the quickest, most convenient access to natural areas and wildernesses of any city in the country.

Thank you for pausing the construction, and allowing the community the space and opportunity to engage and be heard, hopefully before Phase I un-pauses and prior to Phases II and III. We feel a sense of urgency to engage.

For the Wasatch,

Carl Fisher Executive Director Save Our Canyons

SOC Organizational Values

  • Healthy Ecosystems, Pristine Water Quality, and Wild Landscapes
  • The Wasatch is a sanctuary for human mental and physical healthy, and quality of life
  • A community responsible and dedicated to protecting the Wasatch for future generations
  • Human development that is sustainable, coexisting with nature

For more information about the Foothills Trails Master Plan — please visit Save Our Foothills 

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