More traffic on local trails as residents seek escapeJun 15, 2020 10:14AM ● By Josh Wood
By Joshua Wood | [email protected]
Salt Lake County’s trails have afforded residents a nearby escape from COVID-19 restrictions. While crowded routes have added waste and social distancing concerns, they have also helped grow community appreciation of local trails.
Mitt Stewart and members of the Wasatch Trail Run Series still hold out hope for some form of in-person running events later in the summer. Meanwhile, they have taken their popular series online (www.wasatchepic.com/trail-running). Stewart has worked on developing an online feature that will enable people to find challenges and trail routes to run, log their times, and compete with others.
“The whole reason for doing this is to offer people some connection while we’re not connected,” Stewart said. “We’ll be running virtual races.”
To do that, people can look up the race route and take it on individually. They can then submit verification of their effort using their favorite fitness app. Stewart hopes to help people connect as a running and biking community while they maintain a safe distance.
Keeping that distance has been a challenge with increased trail usage.
“Any increase in trail or usage is anecdotal, but it is clear that our public spaces have been a place of refuge during this time,” said Clayton J. Scrivner of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation. “Last month we launched our ‘Be Park Smart, Stay Apart’ campaign that is designed to educate users of our public spaces on responsible use according to current health guidelines.”
Stewart has noticed the increased traffic on the trails as well. While more people on the trails can create problems, it also gives people throughout the community a healthy outdoor activity.
“A big reason to go out is to have solitude, so that’s been a bit of a buzzkill,” Stewart said. “On the flipside, it’s healthy and good for people.”
Stewart likes the idea of people connecting by sharing their appreciation of local trails and their achievements on them. He also thinks measures could be taken to help vulnerable members of the community enjoy the trails. More signage at trailheads instructing people on trail etiquette and social distancing could help, he said. Stewart would also like to see special hours set aside for the elderly to enjoy trails without the crowds.
Those crowds have plenty to enjoy, though. “Salt Lake County maintains over 100 miles of trails and pathways,” Scrivner said. “Jordan Parkway, Dimple Dell, Rose and Yellow Fork Canyons, Parley’s, and Utah and Salt Lake Canal trails are the most extensive.”
While increased trail use has produced things like more garbage and animal waste bags left behind, it has also helped the community through unprecedented times.
“People need to get out and exercise,” Stewart said. “It’s a great way to keep people motivated.”