Hobble Creek: our first rainy day

April 26, 3.5 miles (0 miles official, 2.5 miles unofficial route)

We started Episode 4 on a misty morning at the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon. We had originally planned to do the entire 8+ miles of this episode in one shot, but we had to cut it short, and I’m glad we did because it would have been miserable in this weather.

The segment we did travel today, east of Spring Canyon, is heavily used, and I’ll bet 90% of the users you ask think it’s official, but it’s not. The first segment is part of the state-owned Hobble Creek Wildlife Management Area, and local residents are working to get the BST completed here. We explored it today with Chris Morrill, a Springville resident who is the driving force behind this effort. He is working with the Division of Wildlife Resources, Hobble Creek Bicycle Association, and Springville City on a grand vision of trails in and around the canyon. Part of the plan is to reroute this trail to a higher route that avoids the houses in the area, although it still has to cross private property. We climbed up to the bench where Chris wants to put the trail, which looked very promising, but it will be a lot of work. I have no doubt he will get it done.

We resumed the traditional route along a double track road, then subdivision streets, then another dirt road. This last stretch is on private property, with locked gates, but they have built “pass-through” gaps next to them that are just wide enough to walk through (sorry bikers), so I’m wondering if the land owners are officially allowing public non-motorized access.

Next up: our first steps on officially designated Bonneville Shoreline Trail!

Mapleton North: An Unfortunate Mess

April 17, 3 mile hike: 0 miles official trail, 1.5 miles unofficial BST route

Today we were fortunate to come to Maple Canyon on the first day the canyon (along with the trailhead at its mouth) was open for the season. It saved us some road walking. First was a short exploration of the old (and future) trail west of the trailhead that will eventually connect to the trail to the south where we were the other day, through the Clegg Canyon Subdivision that is just beginning construction below us. Then we headed east long the existing Maple Canyon Trail to where a trail heads onto the bench to the north.

This trail, known as the “Broken BST” in Trailforks, this stretch of unofficial trail on Forest Service property has always been a bit rough, especially a steep initial climb onto the bench, and a couple steep ravine crossings. Then in September 2020, the Ether Fire (one of several Utah County fires that were started last year by shooting), burned Ether Peak above us. The trail corridor was apparently the most convenient location for the firebreak, so the entire length of it was cleared. Then after the fire, to discourage motorized travel, the Forest Service plowed up the path into hummocks. Unfortunately, nothing was left of the trail. Since then, hikers, bikers, and horses have somewhat reestablished a path, but today, a few days after a major rainstorm, the whole thing was a muddy mess, especially in the north-facing slopes of the ravine crossings.

The trail ends at a fence, where the landowner does not intend to allow public trail access any time soon. Circumventing this ranch would require a climb of several hundred feet over a ridge, so the current BST plan of Mapleton City is to not use this segment at all, but rather to descend from the Maple Canyon trailhead down to follow paved paths along current and future city streets, connecting to the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon in Springville. I suppose that is the most practical solution for the near future, but it would be nice to use the bench some time in the future.

Our First Trail Signs!

Your generous donations at work! Our initial project is to install several signs in Utah County. We have received permission from Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to install signs on some confusing stretches of the trail on US Forest Service property. These first two were installed Thursday near the Dry Canyon trailhead in Lindon. We are using an experimental all-steel sign design that is not quite as natural looking as wood posts, but is significantly less expensive and so far, appears to be more durable and more difficult for vandals to remove (and much cheaper to replace if they do). Your donation of $25 pays for one of these signs, as well as about 15 seconds of one of our documentary episodes.

Next up, as part of Episode 4 in Springville and South Provo, which currently has several markers in good shape, we will be installing a couple more at some turns.

Mapleton: Perfect, but…

APRIL 12: 6 MILES (0 miles official BST, 4.2 miles unofficial open route)

Today’s trek was across the face of Spanish Fork Peak above Mapleton. This is an unbroken stretch of over 4 miles, most of which could be made official tomorrow, but for one minor problem: access.

We started at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. The Mapleton trail master plan has the BST climbing from a highway underpass 250 feet up a reasonable slope. Unfortunately, this hill is behind a 10ft fence until this property is developed; a huge planned development here called Harmony Ridge has been on the table for 15 years, but has changed owners a couple times since the recession. In the meantime, we had to find an alternative route, which climbed very steep power line access tracks up to the shoreline level. This route could be made reasonable with a lot of work, but there is no highway crossing here, so it is probably just better to wait.

Once at the shoreline, almost the entire route is a relatively level doubletrack or road, much of which serves multiple roles as firebreak, power line access, and the Mapleton water mains coming down from their main tank buried just above the trail. Other than the initial climb, and one other hill, this was definitely the easiest walk we’ve had yet.

The southern portion follows a large area of Bonneville-level (5,100ft) bench almost as large as the one across the canyon in Spanish Fork. To understand these benches better, we had our first virtual guest, Dr. Charles “Jack” Oviatt, a retired geologist from Kansas State University who knows more about Lake Bonneville than anyone else (like any good 21st century expert, he wrote the Wikipedia page on it). Jack now lives in New Mexico, and while we hope that at some point along our journey he can join us to do some “field research,” today it had to be over the Internet.

We had a great conversation about the Lake, how it formed and how it rose to its highest level about 18,000 years ago during the height of the last ice age before catastrophically flooding into the Snake River in Idaho. We also discussed how the rivers that flow out of these canyons into the lake, such as the Spanish Fork, formed these massive shoreline deltas as the lake rose or stood still, then eroded into them as the lake fell, producing the multiple benches and valleys on which so many of us live along the Wasatch Front.

Mapleton is in a unique circumstance with regards to the BST. Almost the entire trail on which we hiked today is public land, mostly owned by the city, thanks to their Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, one of the first such programs in Utah when enacted in 1998, and almost certainly the most successful at acquiring large areas of critical environmental land in public hands. A TDR works by allowing private land owners to trade away development rights in designated preservation areas in exchange for higher allowed densities in developable areas. Mapleton has had almost 400 of these transactions.

The primary challenge with this program of working with developers is that the city has to wait for them to develop close enough to the Bonneville bench to build access trails to its BST. Currently, this is a 4 mile official city trail with no official access. According to the city and our exploration, one or two routes in the middle of the trail appear likely to be usable in the near future.

The most obvious access, from the Forest Service trailhead at the mouth of Maple Canyon which is already at the shoreline level, was used for decades but has been closed for 20 years during the heated (bordering on legendary) dispute between the city, landowner Wendell Gibby (who wants to build a subdivision on the wide segment of bench that he owns), and several local citizens who want to prevent it. After multiple offers and counteroffers, court cases, referenda, compromises that have fallen through, and even a 2008 state law that has tied the hands of cities all along the BST (by eliminating the ability to use eminent domain for trails), it appears an agreement is finally in place for Maple Bench Estates [sorry, the linked plat is not the most recent version]. If this compromise holds, the BST will descend off the Bonneville Bench, partially along neighborhood streets, but at least it will be connected. It will have to wait until a couple phases are built, so we had to find another way down, where a narrow corridor of city property connects to 1600 South.

Spanish Fork: Coming Home

April 10: 6 miles total hike, 2 miles unofficial BST route

I’m sure many of you have your own “personal trail,” a path close to home that is your go-to when you only have a free hour or two, and which you spend time here and there to help maintain it just because you want it to be nice. This section is mine. In fact, we are building a house next door to one of the trailheads. It’s another section of unofficial trail, but generally open to the public.

We started atop Red Knoll, which is a hundred feet or so above the actual shoreline, because the Spanish Fork Gun Club occupies the entire bench. Maybe the trail could go along the back of the parking lot, but it isn’t likely. West of here, the trail could be extended a couple miles. There is a half-mile gap that would require construction through dense oak brush along a sometimes steep slope, but at least it is on public (city & state) property. Beyond that is a mile or more of good-quality trail on mostly public property that has been built by adjacent property owners, but is inaccessible to the public. Maybe my personal cause in 2022?

Spanish Fork has a significant block of property in these wooded foothills, which they have turned into a massive outdoor recreation area. In addition to the gun club, there is the Spanish Oaks Reservoir where we get our pressurized irrigation water, with its sandy beach and good fishing; a popular campground; a network of hiking/biking trails, and two brand new downhill mountain biking luge runs that had a lot of riders this Spring Saturday. These were built using funds from the Utah Recreation, Arts, and Parks (RAP) sales tax surcharge, which other cities have used to improve the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. We weaved our way through the maze of nice trails, which are all official, but not yet designated as BST; no reason to do that just yet until a longer stretch can be established.

Crossing Snell Canyon, we entered an oddly isolated parcel owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation (BLM). Here an old 4WD road follows a wide bench, which is one of the largest Bonneville-level benches that has not yet been developed. It very well could be, mostly being private property (Strawberry Canal Company), but it is basically impossible to get utilities and roads up here; maybe we can convince them to set it aside as public open space. It has a rather unique geologic feature, a large (10 acres?) 30-foot deep depression at the base of the mountains, which appears to have been a lagoon in the corner of the Spanish Fork River delta at the highest level of Lake Bonneville, 18,000 years ago.

This bench has unique close-up views of the massive wind turbines below, and looks up at the 1981 cross that commemorates the 1776 Dominguez & Escalante expedition searching for a route between New Mexico and California. How did they get clear up here; were they lost? Well, mainly it was because they were avoiding the legendary cliffs and canyons of the Colorado Plateau, and because one of their guides was originally from here and said they had to see the lake and valley, which the fathers called Our Lady of Mercy of the Timpanogotzis. The river they called the Aguas Calientes (due to the several hot springs in the canyon) was eventually renamed the Spanish Fork in their honor.

The trail currently ends where the bench disappears at the mouth of the canyon, with a great view of this “working-class” canyon. I think it is beautiful, but not as spectacular as some of the alpine canyons we’ll see further north. It sure gets a workout though: the Strawberry irrigation pipeline, a busy railroad, the main highway to Moab and Denver, and several powerlines. Crossing this busy corridor with BST is going to be a real nightmare. At some point, probably at least 10 years from now, the Utah Department of Transportation plans to widen the highway to 4 lanes, which will probably be as expensive as the similar project in Provo Canyon was, but will be a good opportunity to build in a trail crossing, likely connecting to a paved trail extending Spanish Fork’s river trail up the canyon.

Episode 2 Drops!

Our first full episode is finally out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHkf_OE4kX4

It took us a while to get our website and everything up and running as well as filming this, but we are hoping to have an episode out every couple weeks. Our goal has been to have each episode be about 15 minutes long, so this one is longer than we’d like, but we hope you find it interesting. We appreciate your feedback on what we’re doing right and how we can improve in future segments.

Special thanks to our guest Matt Bekker for coming to talk about the natural hazards we see along the Bonneville shoreline; I’m excited for the guest we have lined up for our next episode, to talk about the history and geology of Lake Bonneville.