Carter Williams,, File

Salt Lake City aims to create 'world-class' trail system in city's northern foothills

By Carter Williams, | Posted - Mar. 5, 2020 at 7:21 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Council has unanimously voted to adopt a master plan to oversee more trails throughout the outer limits of the northern part of the city.

The Foothills Trail Master Plan, approved by city councilmembers on Tuesday, calls for the creation of a nonmotorized and "world-class" recreational mountain trail system stretching from an area west of City Creek Canyon along the northern foothills of Salt Lake City to Emigration Canyon. The first phase includes about 15 miles of trail improvements and calls for construction to begin later this year. The entire timeline is expected to take 10 years to complete three phases of it.

Salt Lake City officials said new hiking and biking trails will be in the Avenues neighborhood, including a route called "Avenues Twin Peaks" that descends into City Creek Canyon, a hiking trail above Memory Grove to the east of the Utah Capitol, and new trails near Popperton Park and the city’s Shriners Hospitals for Children.

While the city adopted the master plan, Salt Lake City Councilman Chris Wharton explained there would be further discussions about projects in the future and the plan was passed in order to move the project along, which began with surveys a few years ago.

"There’ll be more details and more discussions to come as we fund and plan each phase of the plan," Wharton said, prior to the vote on Tuesday.

Salt Lake City’s foothills are a popular spot for recreation. You can go any day of the week and find hikers, bikers and runners along the trails. A study commissioned by the city found that about three-fourths of the nearly 1,500 people surveyed said they used the trails for either personal exercise or exercise with their pet. Another 18% said they go to them for either fun and excitement or wildlife/wildflower viewing.

Nearly 75% of those surveyed also said they use foothill trails either daily or weekly, so the master plan was proposed as a way to potentially enhance or expand the trail system.

The map shows a proposed trail prioritization Phase I from the Foothills Trail System Master Plan. (Photo: Salt Lake City)

While the plan was passed this week, it was addressed in more detail during a Feb. 18 city council meeting. During that meeting, members of the public had mixed reactions to the master plan.

Chad Whittaker, of Salt Lake City, said he is an avid user of the city’s trails for running and mountain biking. He told the council he opposed the plan because he thinks the city hasn’t done a good job managing trails it already has.

"I don’t understand how the taxpayers can be burdened or even trust the city to manage 40-plus additional miles of trail," Whittaker said, adding that some of the planned trails might be visually disruptive to the iconic geographic faces around the city. "And also, I don’t understand how we can trust the city to manage these when they have little to no experience doing so."

Another resident, Eric Edelman, called the proposal "flawed" during the Feb. 18 meeting. He said he was concerned about how the plans would affect Mt. Wire and Mt. Van Cott, which are both located in the city’s northeast side between the University of Utah campus and Emigration Canyon, because he believes having mountain bike trails at the top of mountains could lead to mountain bikers not using designated trails once at the peak.

"I don’t think this system has been thought out thoroughly, and it’s important to protect Mt. Wire and Mt. Van Cott, in particular, when looking at how the trail system is outlined," Edelman said.

The new trail plan also had several supporters. Elliott Mott, who identified himself as a longtime organizer for nonprofit outdoor groups, said he supported the plan because it provides the foundation to address key issues such as off-leash dogs, bicycles flying down trails with reckless abandon, and homeowner conflicts with trailheads. Another supporter, Katie Davis, acknowledged that passing the plan was just the first step in a long-term trail investment strategy.

"These plans are very difficult because you have a number of stakeholders, you have the public who has diverse needs, you have a number of conflicting user groups; and I think the staff has done an excellent job in weighing and balancing the various factors and all the comments and concerns and coming up with a plan that reflects the needs of the community-at-large," Davis said.

George Chapman, who also supported the measure, told the council that the city should speed up the program and add more rangers for the trail system.

A view of Salt Lake City from City Creek Canyon on Monday, May 27, 2019. The southern part of the canyon is within the Foothills Trail Master Plan, which the Salt Lake City Council adopted on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Photo: Carter Williams,

"This is important for recreation in Salt Lake City, and making Utah a recreation destination for the country and the world," he said. "Before the next Olympics, we should have a world-famous foothill trails program."

The motion was passed two weeks after that Feb. 18 meeting. In a prepared statement Wednesday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall applauded the council for moving forward with the project.

"Our system of trails is one of the things residents and visitors alike find incredible about Salt Lake City. Our foothills trail system is so close to our downtown core, making it accessible for many people, and this master plan will help to ensure its current use while also looking ahead and planning for future needs," her statement reads.

City officials say a future update of the plan will include the space between Emigration and Parleys canyons.

Carter Williams

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