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.

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