Last week the big news in Washington was the $1.7 Trillion omnibus appropriations law that was passed at the last second to avoid a government shutdown. There were lots of explainers that listed the major elements of the bill, but the most important part to a few of us was never mentioned. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail Advancement Act (BSTAA), introduced by Utah’s senators and congressmen in both of the last two sessions, was buried in it as Section 303, and thus was passed along with the rest! This bill had passed the House in September, and was on the docket for a last minute Senate vote with likely not enough time to get to it, and then suddenly, it was law.
So what exactly has happened with its passage? When Congressman Curtis and Senator Romney first introduced it in 2017, then reintroduced it in 2021, news coverage often sounded like its passage would suddenly make the BST finished. That is not at all the case. It does not include any funding, it is not a “land grab” of private property, it is not the privatization of public land, nor does it authorize any construction. In fact, there is nothing about trails in the bill at all; it is really just a boundary adjustment for existing federal public land.
In several places, the planned route for the Bonneville Shoreline Trail crossed into designated federal Wilderness Areas within Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. These were first created in 1984, when houses were much further from the Forest, and they did not worry about the exact boundaries very much. While trails are allowed in wilderness areas under the 1964 Wilderness Act, mechanized vehicles (including mountain bikes) are prohibited. This is in conflict with our vision of the BST as a multi-use trail over its entire length. Also, most of these areas are now in people’s back yards, and don’t really have the “wilderness character” that was the original intent of the law.
The BSTAA removes about 300 acres from the Lone Peak, Twin Peaks, and Mt. Olympus Wilderness Areas in about a dozen places to make the BST route part of the “normal” National Forest, then adds the same amount to Mt. Olympus Wilderness in Millcreek Canyon, a parcel recently acquired from the Boy Scouts of America with much more “wilderness character” than the parcels being removed. This enables near-term action in several places:
- On the south face of Mt. Olympus above Holladay, a 1.5 mile section of BST built in 2019 as a pedestrian-only trail can be opened to bikes, although it may require some trail improvements (see Episode 14 of State of the BST, where we discuss the BSTAA with John Knoblock).
- On the south side of Big Cottonwood Canyon, a 1 mile section of BST that is currently under construction (see Episode 13 of State of the BST) can be completed and opened to mountain bikes.
- On the south side of Little Cottonwood Canyon, a 1 mile trail can now be built to connect the Bells Canyon trail system to the park-and-ride lot at the mouth of the canyon (see the end of Episode 12).
- In Alpine, a 3-mile stretch of popular social trail, coincidentally known to the locals as the “LPW” (for Lone Peak Wilderness), can be made legal and officially designated as part of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (see Episode 7, where we also discuss the BSTAA).
- One roadblock is removed for several future stretches of the BST, including in Millcreek Canyon, Neffs Canyon, Cottonwood Heights, and Sandy, but these segments are not likely to be built immediately because they also cross private property, although separate negotiations are progressing with landowners in some of these areas.
- The law also includes a wilderness boundary adjustment in Birch Canyon above Smithfield in Cache County, but this is not part of the BST.
None of these actions is immediate, as each of them will need to go through the standard federal approval process under the National Environmental Protection Act of 1970 (NEPA), but the Forest Service is supportive of these actions, which have been part of its long range plans, and approval is likely to be swift.
All of us who love the BST are excited by this news, and we are very grateful to the people at the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), Trails Utah, Bike Utah, the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Committee who put in countless hours to develop the bill and urge its passage, and to the support of Congressman Curtis and Senator Romney for seeing it through to the finish. Now let’s advance the BST!