Salt Lake City

Public Lands Department

Phone: (801) 535-7800 | Email: publiclands@slcgov.com

Foothill Trail System FAQ

Why do the new trails have so many switchbacks?

Sustainable trail construction requires the steepness of trails to be constrained so that flow of water on the trail tread during rain and snowmelt events, and the resulting erosion, is minimized. In situations where a trail must climb or descend within a limited area, switchbacks are utilized to allow the trail to gain/lose elevation while maintaining an appropriate grade (steepness).

Are the new trails eroding?

SLC Public Lands staff are aware of several locations where backslopes on new trail tread have sloughed soil and rocks onto the trail tread as the backslope regains a stable slope angle. Staff are also aware of two locations where stormwater runoff above trails has resulted in damage to the trail below. Staff are not aware of more widespread erosion issues or problems with construction or layout that are resulting in significant erosion. Public Lands is currently pursuing funding that will allow a more comprehensive analysis of erosion on new and existing trails within the system, which can be used to refine future trail construction guidelines and identify high-priority trails for decommissioning.

What are the long-term environmental impacts of the proposed trail construction?

Salt Lake City Public Lands is enlisting the help of environmental partners to study wildlife usage within the Foothills Natural Area and evaluate the impacts that trail-based recreation in the Foothills may have on wildlife species, with a particular focus on the habitat study areas proposed in the Foothills Trail System Plan. The results of this research will help inform future trail construction and management. Public Lands is also evaluating the possibility of restricting trail construction activities to within a narrower seasonal window to support wildlife security during denning and nesting periods.

What is the City doing about off-trail travel by mountain bikes?

SLC Public Lands is working to expand regulatory signage and initiate a trail etiquette campaign with the support of volunteer Trail Stewards. Public Lands is also pursuing funding for a Trail Ranger program to enforce posted rules and regulations and increase trail user safety and environmental protections.

The amount of and speed of traffic through the upper avenues is impacting our community. What is the City doing about this? Can you also address the impact regarding parking?

The City is committed to enhancements of trailhead and trail access infrastructure, as proposed in the Foothills Trail System Plan, to facilitate public access to the trail system while helping to manage and mitigate residential impacts from trail access. The City is currently in the design process for trailhead improvements – including visitor amenities, parking, and traffic safety improvements – at numerous trailhead locations. Funding for these improvements has not yet been secured.

Can you discuss the Native American sites which has been impacted? Can anyone expand on the lack of heritage/indigenous archaeology study? What environmental analysis was done prior and during Phase I?

Salt Lake City engaged a reputable environmental and cultural resources firm to conduct a resource impact survey in spring 2020 prior to initiation of trail construction, including inquiries sent to cultural resource officers with the Ute, Goshute, and Northeastern Shoshone. SLC received no response to inquiries sent to tribal officials. The resource impact survey found no indication of cultural, archaeological, or paleontological resources that would be disrupted by trail construction. In May 2021, prior to completion of the Twin Peaks Trail, a local advocacy organization highlighted the potential significance of the Avenues Twin Peaks site to indigenous tribes. The City has delayed completion of the Twin Peaks trail while it makes additional efforts to engage and consult tribal representatives. The Twin Peaks trail will remain closed to public use at least until October 2021. The City thanks trail users for being patient and respectful of the trail closure.

What is/has been the role of Trails Utah and the BST committee? Did they initiate the idea of the trails project development? Are they being paid to consult on the project?

Trails Utah and BST Committee staff met with Salt Lake City Public Lands in 2016 to urge the City to engage in proactive trails planning for the foothills above the City. Trails Utah proposed the idea to develop a coherent identify for the foothills as the Foothills Natural Area, despite the checkerboard of land ownership and agency jurisdictions, to facilitate coordinated, intentional management of growing trail use. During the plan development process, these groups were included and participated along with many other stakeholder organizations, and repeatedly advocated in support of the project and emphasized the importance of proactive trail planning. They were not paid consultants on the project.

Are e-bikes allowed on the Foothills Trails and/or the BST? The signage is not clear. What is the plan to keep them out if they are not allowed?

Salt Lake City Ordinance defines e-bikes as ‘motorized cycles’ / motorized vehicles and bans unauthorized use of motorized vehicles in SLC parks and open spaces. This restriction does not necessarily extend across jurisdictions, and the Foothills include lands owned by Utah State Parks, the US Forest Service, the University of Utah, and various private owners. Currently, law enforcement officers do not patrol the Foothill Trails System and capacity for enforcement is limited. SLC Public Lands is working to develop clear signage for trailhead kiosks that is consistent with restrictions in City Ordinance.

How will the City evaluate the work done so far? Will an impartial party be brought in to correlate the City's intentions to their actions?

Public Lands is evaluating the hiring of a professional consultant or consultants not involved in the previous Foothill trails planning or construction effort, with appropriate professional expertise, to review actions taken by the City to implement the Foothills Trail System Plan and evaluate instances where actions did not serve to advance the goals of the Plan. The process would include collaboration with diverse stakeholders and collection of public feedback, to produce policy guidance that improves management practices for the Foothills Natural Area and Foothills trail system.

How are the trails designed and built? Do the trail builders each have their own style?

For recent Foothill trail construction (2020-2021), trail builders were provided with planning-level alignments, indented use designations, a narrative description of the intended function of the proposed trail, trail construction standards, and requirements for trail construction techniques. Trail builders were required to then survey and analyze the terrain and provide a precise recommended alignment, with GPS coordinates and survey markers on the ground. The route was then reviewed by SLC Public Lands staff ecologists, resource managers, and recreation staff. Revisions to the alignment were sometimes requested to address conflicts with desirable native plants, proximity to social trails, and other concerns. Once and revisions were made, the contractor was approved to proceed with a specific alignment, with regular check-ins with a Public Lands project manager. While trail specifications are constrained by required standards, each trail builder does have their own style, which is generally more noticeable in the design of bike-specific trails. In the case of the 19th Avenue bike trail, Public Lands staff worked extensively with the builder to evaluate the style, difficulty, and experience of the trail, with the intent of achieving a trail that would be enjoyable and desirable for the largest number of users.

What changes were there in Phase I between the alignments found in the Foothills Trail System Plan and what were actually built? How were these changes communicated to the community?

Trails constructed between 2020 and 2021 are consistent with the functional recommendations of the Foothills Trail System Plan, and alignments roughly follow the plan-level recommendations shown in the trails plan document. Final alignment decisions were based on these recommendations and modified following the on-ground recommendations of professional trail builders hired by the City, based on what these contractors believed would best meet the City’s objectives and the realities of the terrain. Final decisions on trail alignments were made by the Public Lands staff, and ware informed by plan recommendations and public feedback, information provided by natural resources staff, consultants and contractors, legally imposed requirements, and conditions on the ground. Moving forward with future phases of trail construction, SLC is working to modify its process so that specific trail alignments are identified well in advance of the hiring of a trail contractor, so that the segments can be reviewed in detail by resource specialists and stakeholders to identify any issues and address them through changes to the proposed trail alignment and/or proposed management designation.

What is the City doing to increase trail user safety and minimize collisions?

The recommendations of the Foothills Trail System Plan include separated uses for foot traffic and mountain bikes, especially in critical locations where many users are accessing the Foothills trail system. As the recommendations are implemented, they are expected to increase separation of user groups to minimize collisions and increase trail user safety. Additionally, SLC Public Lands is working to expand regulatory signage and initiate a trail etiquette campaign with the support of volunteer Trail Stewards. Public Lands is also pursuing funding for a Trail Ranger program to enforce posted rules and regulations and increase trail user safety.

What are best practices for trail building regarding using trail excavator machines vs. hand-building? What does the USFS and National Parks recommend?

Most federal guidance on natural-surface trail building standards, specifications and techniques comes from the USFS. The USFS National Technology & Development Program has produced guidance for both machine-built trails and hand-built trails, and most of these documents are available online. The USFS does not generally recommend one form as preferential or superior to another, but USFS guidance on mechanized trail building equipment notes pros and cons. Generally, the same standards for trail design apply regardless of construction technique.

What was the City’s environmental analysis of prevention the spread of noxious weeds and protection of wildlife during nesting season and did the City comply with its own findings? Has there been any analysis of impacts on wildlife of the construction and use of the new trails?

Salt Lake City engaged a reputable environmental resources firm to conduct an extensive survey in spring 2020 prior to initiation of trail construction. The analysis found no indication of sensitive ecological resources that would be disrupted by trail construction. The City also consulted with the Salt Lake County Health Department’s Weed Control Program, which required cleaning protocols for all equipment used for trail construction. These requirements were included in the contracts with trail builders and were adhered to throughout construction. Salt Lake City Public Lands is enlisting the help of environmental partners to study wildlife usage within the Foothills Natural Area and evaluate the impacts that trail-based recreation in the Foothills may have on wildlife species, with a particular focus on the habitat study areas proposed in the Foothills Trail System Plan. The results of this research will help inform future trail construction and management. Public Lands is also evaluating the possibility of restricting trail construction activities to within a narrower seasonal window to support wildlife security during denning and nesting periods.

Instead of closing the ridge trail with ditches and fences, why didn’t the City reconstruct this trail to make it sustainable?

The management challenges presented by the ridge trail above Terrace Hills were related both to the steepness of sections of this route, and to the fact that the trail – like many ridgeline trails – was not constrained by topography and had become wide and braided, with vegetation denuded to an average width of 30’ – 40’. Attempting to constrain the trail to a narrower width with logs or boulders would have been more costly than reconstructing the trail to contour below the ridgetop, and possibly ineffective. The trail was therefore reconstructed a short distance downslope, consistent with Plan recommendations for grade, drainage, and trail width. The ridgetop trail was closed with fencing and trenches to prevent access and allow revegetation to occur.

Why did the city continue to work on the BST – East City Creek trail (on Bonneville Blvd across from the “Salt Dome” after the pause in construction was in place?

This was an error on the part of Public Lands, resulting from a misunderstanding of the extent of the stop work request from City Council. Public Lands regrets the frustration this caused for residents and Council.

Why should carefully planned trails need adjustments during construction?

Challenges while digging trail tread, such as discovering areas of bedrock below the surface, do occur periodically and necessitate adjustments during construction. Challenges identified by the trail contractor during construction, and solutions, were reviewed, discussed, and approved in consultation with Public Lands staff. Most trails constructed between 2020 and 2021 were not adjusted during the construction process, after a final alignment had been approved.

What analysis has the City done in projecting the changes in quantity and type of users once new trails are built?

SLC has assumed that there will be a steady increase in the number of trail users in the Foothills, due to population growth and the growing popularity of outdoor recreation on trails. New trail construction was anticipated to change use patterns in the Foothills, decreasing overall usage of some pre-existing multi-use trails while some trail users selected user-specific trails for either hiking/running or biking. The City is currently investigating whether new trail construction resulted in unintentional changes in use on multi-use trails and/or increases in user conflicts at some locations. The new trail above Terrace Hills Drive has been frequently identified as a trail segment of concern due to several reports of increases in trail user conflicts.

Is the City prepared to continue to pause the construction past October to evaluate its work in Phase I and to reevaluate how to proceed in Phases II and III?

Yes, the City is prepared to continue the pause to allow the necessary time for evaluation, data collection and additional planning and engagement.

There used to never be that many bikes in the Foothills. Why is there so much emphasis on bike trails?

The sport of mountain biking has seen considerable growth over the past few decades. It continues to increase in popularity, and in Utah, the recent phenomenon of high school mountain biking teams introduces many more young people to mountain biking each year. The Foothills Trail System Plan recognizes that mountain biking is a significant, pre-existing, and legitimate use of trails in the Foothills Natural Area and seeks to provide enjoyable trail experiences for users on mountain bikes as well as trail users on foot. The Foothills Trail System Plan recommendations also seek to reduce trail user conflict by adding separate user-specific trails to the system, and to reduce the prevalence of off-trail riding and hiking by providing quality trails that meet the needs of users.

Where can I find more information about the Foothills Trail System Plan?

You can view the Foothills Trail System Plan here. Construction updates and additional information about the Trail System are available here.

I’m excited about the new trails in the Foothills. How can I stay informed and get more involved?

You can sign up to receive updates via the Salt Lake City Trails & Natural Lands Newsletter email list by clicking here.. You can also follow us on social media at facebook.com/SLCPPL, and @SLCPPL on Instagram and Twitter. Look for the hashtag #SLCTRAILS.

I would like to make a donation to support the Foothills Natural Area and/or the Foothills Trail System. How can I contribute?

Please contact Katie Riser here. for information on how to make a donation to support the Foothills Natural Area.

Where can I find a trail map for the Foothills Natural Area?

A Foothills Natural Area Trails Map is currently in development. Please check back here for a link in the near future.

Soil and rocks have been falling onto some of the new trails. Were these trails constructed properly?

As new trails are cut across sometimes-steep side slopes, rocks and soil on the uphill side of the trail cut will often slough down onto the trail surface as the recently disturbed soil returns to its natural angle-of-repose. For the first one (or several) seasons, this can create the appearance that a trail is unstable but is actually an expected and normal occurrence. All new trails in the Foothills adhere to best practices for sustainable construction and are expected to prove to be extremely stable over time, requiring relatively low maintenance after the first few seasons.

Are the new trails preferentially designed to support hikers or mountain bikers?

Until this past year, all trails in the Foothills lacked management designations. Implementation of the Foothills Trail System Plan is now creating management designations for new and existing trails. Many trails will remain open to all user types, while some new and existing trails are being designated as open to hikers only, to mountain bikers only, or to a special combination of uses like hikers plus uphill-bound mountain bikers. The result of these management designations will be to provide more options for trail users to choose their desired experience, reduce trail user conflicts, and improve trail quality and safety.

Why have uses been restricted on some existing trails?

In several key locations, the Foothills Trail System Plan proposes separated-use options for downhill mountain bikes separate from pedestrians and uphill-bound mountain bikes, in order to mitigate common trail user conflicts and improve trail user experiences. As new trails are constructed and management controls implemented, trail users will be directed to use specific trails to get from Point A to Point B, including up and down Dry Creek, and between Bonneville Boulevard and Morris Meadows. Just above City Creek, a new trail has been constructed for hikers and uphill-going mountain bikers only. With this new trail, the old Bonneville Shoreline Trail was changed from multi-use to downhill biking only. This allows segregation of uses for improved trail experiences and trail safety. A similar trail alignment in Dry Creek is also underway and will benefit all users. We will not change the designation of a multiuse trail until a nearby trail alternative is open for use. Recently completed and currently in-progress trail construction adds trails with various management designations so there are fun, safe, and sustainable options for as many types of users as possible.

A section of trail was just closed. Why was it necessary to close it?

Trails that have been used in the past may be popular, but it does not mean they were designed well. A key element of the Foothills Trail System Plan is addressing the nearly 100 miles of informal social trails that exist within the SLC Foothills Natural Area. Many of these informal trails present long-term management challenges. Gully-bottom trails and trails along steep pipeline easements and old 4×4 tracks tend to capture all surface runoff during snowmelt and rainstorms, leading to worsening erosion that becomes increasingly severe as trail use grows. Ridgeline and ‘fall-line’ trails (those that follow the most direct route up- and down-slope) are not constrained by topography and tend to become braided and very wide. Many such popular social trails in the SLC foothills are 40 or even 60 feet wide, compared to the 3-4 feet that would be considered normal for a non-motorized recreational trail, and can result in visible scarring and extensive denudation of foothill vegetation. Trail ‘decommissioning’ allows the City to move trail users onto trails designed and constructed to follow the natural contours of the terrain, allows plants to revegetate and slow erosion of old trail scars, and helps reduce long-term maintenance needs.

New trails are leaving scars on the hillside. How does that protect the environment?

New trail construction associated with the implementation of the Foothills Trail System Plan requires new trails to be built, and this does have temporary impacts on Foothills scenery and vegetation which cannot be avoided. The City is minimizing impact by building desirable, physically sustainable trails and gradually phasing out and reclaiming those trails that are less sustainable and which have a larger impact on vegetation disturbance and scenic views. City staff have worked carefully to align new trails to avoid sensitive plant species that would be significantly harmed by disturbance. In many cases the new trails will cross through groves of Gambel oak. Gambel oak is widespread across our foothills and well-established; it is not particularly sensitive to disturbance, and resprouts rapidly. In some locations, deposition of soil from the trail cut below the trail tread has created a highly visible area of bare soil and makes trails visible from below. While the initial area of disturbance can be visually alarming, this appearance is normal following new trail construction. In the Foothills, it has been the experience of the SLC Trails team that this area of disturbed soil is reclaimed by plants over one to three seasons. At this point, trails that follow the natural contours of the terrain (i.e. all the new trails) will be almost invisible from below, and have minimal visual impact when viewed from above, such that they are actually less visible than the steeper trails they are often replacing.

Why do the new trails have so many switchbacks?

Switchbacks and climbing turns are being used on many new trails in the Foothills to allow the “running grade” (i.e. steepness) of the new trails to remain consistent with modern best practices for sustainable trail construction. Trails that remain within the recommended grade limits are less susceptible to erosion from water running down the trail during rainstorms and snowmelt and tend to last longer and require less maintenance. While reducing steepness adds distance to trails that need to gain or lose a lot of elevation, it also makes them more accessible to a larger number of people, and generally more enjoyable too; on a gradual trail that follows the contours of the terrain, it’s much easier to look around and enjoy the view!

What is the city doing to manage traffic to trail access points?

The City is committed to enhancements of trailhead and trail access infrastructure, as proposed in the Foothills Trail System Plan. The City is currently in the design process for trailhead improvements – including visitor amenities, parking, and traffic safety improvements – at numerous trailhead locations. Construction will follow as funding is available.

Does the trail work in the foothills match exactly what was proposed in the Foothills Trail System Plan?

The Foothills Trail System Plan is intended to serve as an outline for achieving the goals of a trail system that is environmentally sustainable, enjoyable, accessible, safe, and low maintenance. Extensive planning, public and stakeholder input informed the recommendations of the Plan, but the Plan acknowledges that adjustments and modifications may occur as trail alignments move from lines on a map to routes on the ground. Professional trail builders are provided with the intended planning-level alignments, and the builders then scrutinize the terrain, and evaluate how to best meet the desired goals for a particular trail segment in the context of the larger trail system. City staff also continue to collect data on animal habitats, soil and geology, trail user patterns, and feedback from trail users and landowners. In some cases, the ongoing evaluation of this information and incorporation into the construction planning process results in adjustments to trail alignments, with the aim of better achieving plan goals.

What trails have been closed?

A new segment of the BST has been constructed above Terrace Hills creating a more sustainable trail at a more manageable grade. A segment of the old BST on the ridgeline above Terrace Hills, as well as the old jeep track trail that continues on that ridgeline up to the upper Avenues/South City Creek ridgeline, are now closed due to erosion and the widening of these trails. Multiple trenches have been dug across the old jeep track to prevent usage and natural material fencing and signage have been installed soon.

Why is Salt Lake City halting trail construction in the Foothills?

Recently, concerns have been expressed by numerous trail users that trail construction in the Central Foothills completed in 2020 and 2021 may not be meeting the stated objectives of the 2020 Foothills Trail System Plan. Salt Lake City takes these concerns seriously, and has decided to halt the addition of new trails in the Central Foothills until October, while SLC Public Lands conducts a thorough review of whether recent trail work is meeting the objectives of the Foothills Trail System Plan and the needs of Salt Lake City residents. A trail user survey will be conducted in May and June 2021 to understand user perceptions of new trails.

Will any new trail work happen before October 2021?

Per the recommendations of the Foothills Trail System Plan, many Phase II additions to the trail system must first be mapped on the ground, and undergo a detailed environmental and cultural impact analysis, including close collaboration with the US Forest Service and other agency partners, before the proposed trails can be cleared for construction. In the Central Foothills, no additional trail construction is expected to occur before October 2021. Planned extensions of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in the North Foothills and above the East Bench (South Foothills) have already undergone environmental analysis, and that work may continue as early as summer 2021. In addition, trail users can expect to see regular trail maintenance activities occurring on trails throughout the Foothills Natural Area.

I’m seeing a lot of pink and orange survey flags in the Foothills. What’s going on?

Planned environmental and cultural analysis of proposed Phase II additions to the trail system include on-the-ground surveys to evaluate the impacts that new trail construction will have. This requires flagging the proposed routes of new trails to support the survey work, which is happening with the assistance of trail professionals and environmental consultants. Flagging does not indicate that construction is imminent, and in many cases, construction of a flagged alignment may not occur until 2023 or 2024. Some flagged trails may be substantially realigned or may not be constructed at all, pending the results of the impact analysis.

Will there be additional opportunities for the public to weigh in on the Foothills Trail System Plan?

The Foothills Trail System Plan was adopted by Salt Lake City Council in March, 2020 and the recommendations of the plan stem from extensive public engagement conducted between 2016 and 2020. While the planning process itself has concluded, the Plan is intended to serve as a guide, not a blueprint, and the City recognizes the importance of collecting public feedback throughout the implementation process to understand whether Plan recommendations are functioning effectively to meet the primary objectives, and adjusting implementation strategies and adapting management accordingly. Salt Lake City will be soliciting public feedback in May – June 2021 through a trail user survey which will be used to analyze trail user perceptions of Phase 1 trails.

I heard that the Avenues Twin Peaks might be a sacred site to Native Americans. Is this true, and how does proposed trail construction impact this site?

Salt Lake City engaged a reputable environmental and cultural resources firm to conduct an extensive survey of the proposed Twin Peaks Trail in spring 2020. The analysis found no indication of physical cultural, archaeological or paleological resources that would be disrupted by trail construction. In May 2021, prior to completion of the Twin Peaks Trail, a local advocacy organization highlighted the potential significance of the site to Native American tribes. While SLC received no response to inquiries sent to tribal officials in spring of 2020, the City has delayed completion of the Twin Peaks trail while it makes additional efforts to engage and consult tribal representatives. The Twin Peaks trail will remain closed to public use at least until October 2021. The City thanks trail users for being patient and respectful of the trail closure.

Will all the new trails increase the spread of noxious weeds in the Foothills?

Travel along trail corridors by all trail users, including hikers, mountain bikers, dogs, and even wildlife, is known to facilitate the spread of noxious weed seeds. Weeds like cheatgrass, Yellow Star Thistle, puncturevine and others that are damaging to both ecosystems and to recreation, employ seed transport mechanisms that benefit from becoming stuck in shoes, tires and fur. In order to mitigate the spread and expansion of noxious weed populations in the Foothills, ongoing, targeted weed control must be an integral part of ongoing land management. Mayor Mendenhall has recommended providing dedicated, ongoing funds specifically for noxious weed control along the Foothills Trail System as part of her administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal. It is equally important that trail users be conscious of their role in combating noxious weeds. Trail users should check their shoes, clothing, equipment, and dogs’ fur carefully for weed seeds (and remove any they find) before starting out on a Foothill trail. Moreover, trail users can help avoid spreading weeds by keeping their feet, their dogs’ feet, and/or their wheels on trail surfaces and not off-trail, where it is easy to accidentally pick up noxious weed seeds and spread them along trails.