It’s no secret that one of the greatest, most tangible benefits to living in or visiting Wasatch County is the proximity to high-quality, sustainable trails.
Whether you consider yourself a hiker, a mountain biker, an equestrian, or just someone looking for great views in Heber Valley — you know our trails are amazing — but have you ever wondered how the trails you use came to be?
THE BEGINNING OF IT ALL
In 1992, the Mountain Trails Foundation was established in Park City at a time when all local hand-cut trails were on private land. Their team and board worked with developers and private landowners to advocate for creating more non-motorized trails across Park City.
The same energy, desire, and opportunity for a hand-cut trail system existed in Heber Valley, but without any formal organization to get it off the ground. A group of dedicated individuals, including Carol Potter, a Heber Valley resident and former Executive Director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, and Don Taylor, took on the challenge by founding the Wasatch Trails Alliance. They began heavily advocating for trails in Wasatch County with a focus on soft surface, single-track style trails. But, due to being largely run by volunteers, the organization eventually paused operations as the founders focused on other initiatives.
Luckily, the light of the Wasatch Trails Alliance never fully went out. Together, Perry Dickson, the owner of Slim & Knobby’s Bike Shop, Eric Porter, a local professional mountain biker, and other current board members took the Alliance through a rebranding and relaunched a few years ago with a new website, now doing business as Wasatch Trails Foundation.
“That original group basically came in and breathed new life into the organization. They brought in new donors, new blood, and started looking at new projects,” said current Foundation director, Scott House.
“This was right about the time that the WOW (Wasatch Over Wasatch) trail was coming out of concept into something that could be a reality. That was really where Wasatch Trails Foundation hit the ground running — working with Wasatch Mountain State Park and Mountain Trails Foundation to get the WOW Trail as we know it today built and in place. That really was the proof that this can be successful. We can do this as a group of volunteers. And that there’s a high demand in our valley for trail work and trail advocacy.”
BLAZING NEW TRAILS:
START TO FINISH
From ideating and designing to funding and building, you might be surprised to learn just how much goes into bringing the trails we know, use, and love, to fruition. Let’s start from the beginning.
“Everything starts from an idea — whether that’s an idea from a board member, community member, or one of our partner organizations — be it Mountain Trails Foundation, Wasatch Mountain State Park, or another,” said House.
The next step is to pressure test if an idea can live as a legitimate concept. The Foundation determines if they can move from the idea phase to designing by heavily examining local maps and putting down lines and markers to determine what terrain is available. The Foundation then consults with partners and community members to continue determining the viability of the design.
Once the initial design is mocked up, the next step down the funnel is going through the costing process — pricing out each step, including rough estimates for using professional trail builders, creating signage, and more.
With a solid dollar amount in mind, the Foundation moves to get approvals from their board on where the trail’s going to go in Wasatch County and where it’s going to cross through. Then, they talk with respective landowners, land managers, and state and national environmental agencies for full approval to move forward.
5 GRANT WRITING
After design and budget approvals, the real action begins — finding funding for the project in mind.
House explained, “We start looking for different grant resources, both locally in the state of Utah and nationally. Most of the grants that we have written, or wrote as of late, have been through the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, which is under the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. And those grants can cover up to 50% of the cost of the total project.”
The other 50% is typically matched by fundraising efforts locally and through partners.
6 TRAIL BUILDING
Once the grant is awarded, that’s when the work can really start of building a trail. The Foundation begins by flagging the corridor.
“That means we’re out in the woods, walking through the hills, tying nylon flagging on trees, shooting grades, avoiding sensitive areas, and all the things we need to do to get that trail alignment,” said House.
Next comes clearing the corridor of trees and brush with the help of volunteers and paid professionals to prepare for building out the trail. House stated that, “Wasatch Trails Foundation has taken the stance that hiring professional trail builders — who this is their career, this is what they focus on — really produces the best product. They build that trail [from] start to finish and are all polished up. Once it’s in, we take all that information and we report that to our grant: this is what we’ve completed, it’s all done, here are pictures, here’s how everything went. We show them all the money we spent. And then the grant reimburses all that back to our organization.”
The Foundation currently has two grant-funded trails in the works: one on schedule to be completed by June 15, 2022 and another trail that will break ground this summer with a target completion of fall 2022 or summer 2023.
Supporting Wasatch Trails Foundation’s mission of creating, supporting, and preserving a sustainable, non-motorized trail system in our community is simple and customizable.
1 Become a member
Membership levels include: business/corporate for $200/year; couple for $60/year; household up to 6 people for $110/year; and individual for $35/year. A sustaining member is $15 every month, ongoing.
2 One-off donations
Make a donation to Wasatch Trails Foundation in any amount (one-time, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually). You can also choose a campaign (i.e. Winter Grooming) to dedicate that donation to.
A FIRST FOR UTAH STATE PARKS
When asked what project has been closest to the heart for members of the Foundation, House says the Pike Canyon Bike Park comes to mind first.
Considered a big feather in their cap, the Pike Canyon Bike Park was not only the first bike park facility in Wasatch County, but it was also the first in a state park in Utah. Generously supported by local donations and a grant supplied by the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, the project set a precedent for using grant funding to build high-quality projects that not only benefit the Heber Valley community, but also help advance Utah state parks into a modern era of supplying the state park’s clientele and visitors with the amenities they’re now looking for.
“[Pike Canyon] has the mountain biking and hiking experiences and all these things that the modern recreationalist is looking for. That project was extra special for the group.”
TO INFINITY (SALT LAKE COUNTY) AND BEYOND
Last year, the Foundation was awarded grants for the BO to WOW Connector: a project with the goal of connecting the upper part of the WOW Trail into the Bonanza Flat Loop, which is in the Bonanza Flat Open Space. It’s a 1200 acre parcel of open space owned by Park City and under conservation easement with Utah Open Lands. Currently, Mountain Trails Foundation is building hiking trails, biking trails, and multi-use trails up there. Wasatch Trails Foundation is building a 3 to 4-mile section of trail that will connect into the Upper Trail System to the top of the WOW Trail.
“Once that 4 mile piece of trail is in, you have a true single-track route where you can leave from Wasatch County and ride all the way up and over the Wasatch Crest and into Salt Lake County. You’ll pass through Wasatch, Summit, and Salt Lake Counties and you’ll never really have to ride on a road, other than crossing a road to connect into another piece of trail. It’ll be a full single-track connection from valley to valley. It’s really a special piece of trail,” shared House.
Wasatch Trails Foundation has an incredibly bright future as it continues to work every day to improve and expand on the unmatched outdoor recreation opportunities for everyone that visits and calls Wasatch County home. The Foundation sees the local community as an integral piece of its past, current, and future successes. But, building a strong, passionate trails community requires hearing the voices and desires of all involved.
House said, “One of our main focuses of 2022 is community engagement . . . and trying to listen to and figure out what our community wants. Where does our community see a need and how can Wasatch Trails Foundation meet that need? We don’t want to sit in our own echo chamber, thinking we’re the only ones with good ideas, assuming we know what everybody wants. We want to hear from our community.”
The Foundation hopes to expand its donation base to help bring in the additional funding needed to go after bigger grants to expand our trail systems, maintenance programs, and provide better trail connectivity. House states that “As we work through the next 5, 10, 20 years, we have a lot of potential for big projects in Wasatch County. But without the support and engagement of the community, it’s really hard to get those projects off the ground.”
Next time you’re out enjoying one of our many wonderful trails, take a moment to remember the visionaries, volunteers, and donors behind Wasatch Trails Foundation and the incredible amount of work involved in creating the means for all to get out and explore the beautifully scenic space we call home.