As a pair of mountain bikers turned onto a trail branching off from the main path in the Timpanogos Wildlife Management Area, a member of the Utah Valley Trail Alliance remarked that it would be the last time they would be on that particular portion of trail.
He and dozens of volunteers representing hunters, bikers and members of state and federal groups like the U.S. Forest Service and the Utah Department of Natural Resources were in the area specifically to shut down certain portions of unauthorized trails Saturday, while formalizing other portions of the trail with maps and kiosks.
The Timpanogos Wildlife Management Area, accessible above the Orem Cemetery, provides critical habitat for big game, said Shane Hill, a habitat biologist with Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources. Deer and elk rely on the area for winter habitat and for raising their young, Hill said, and excessive human use can put extra stress on the animals.
“They’re losing winter range all around the valley to development,” Hill said. “It’s important that we maintain an area that they can not be stressed out in the winter and when they’re raising their young. It’s important for them to have somewhere they can be stress-free.”
Over years and years of use, the wildlife management area has become criss-crossed with roughly 40 miles of trail. While the DNR didn’t want to shut down all the trails, it was important to find a balance that worked for both wildlife and trail users.
While some trails are being decommissioned, the “official” trail network in Utah Valley will actually be expanded, said Dan Jensen, communications subcommittee chair for the Utah Valley Trails Alliance.
“Some people are concerned that the unofficial trails are going to gradually be closed down, but the thing is we are going, in this area, from something like three official trails and 40 unofficial trials to having about 18 official trails,” Jensen said.
Keith Payne, president of the Utah Valley Trails Alliance, said the recently-formed group has seen more and more trails get developed in Utah County as the population grows. UVTA is now working on a complete master plan for trails up and down the valley, with the goal to eventually grow the group into a nonprofit that has the resources to maintain trails itself. For now, without its own funding or equipment, the group works with partners like the DWR.
This particular project is one of the first the group has taken on, because the approval process was faster through the DNR than through the U.S. Forest Service, Payne said.
Popular trail systems like Corner Canyon don’t get rogue trails built, Payne said, and when they do, they are shut down quickly because the maps and kiosks designate official trails. Payne encouraged people who want to see more trails in the valley to either join an organized group like UVTA, or work closely with the landowner to make it happen. People should not be creating their own trails, no matter how well-intended.
Hill stressed how cool he thought it was that people from so many different user groups were helping with the project. If the DWR couldn’t accomplish what they need to with the property for wildlife, they might have to close down more trails or put more restrictions on them.
“I don’t think that will ever happen with the cooperation of these user groups,” Hill said. “We don’t want to close it off here, we just want to make it sustainable.”
On Saturday, the group worked for several hours closing off some switchbacks, breaking up the soil to help vegetation grow back in, and placing signage to direct people onto what will be the formalized trails. The project wasn’t completed Saturday, and likely won’t be completed in its entirety until at least next year. By the time it’s done, though, the total trail mileage will go from approximately 40 miles to 20.
“Hopefully in the end, it will be better for both wildlife and recreationists,” Hill said.