Green Trails, Greenways, and an Ecosystem of Trails
The third and final part of a series on Utah’s Bonneville Shoreline Trail
In parts one and two of this series, we took a look at the progress made on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST) and some of the Trail Champions that make it all possible. In this final installment, we explore how land acquisition and a piece of legislation are helping clear hurdles in the completion of the BST.
Public lands closer to home
With the momentum around the BST and numerous shovel-ready projects slated for 2022, it’s tempting to think the end of this trail journey is just around the next switchback. However, according to Carrie Kasnicka, Project Manager at the Trust for Public Land (TPL), there remains some 1,500 unbuilt parcels on about 200 miles of the BST that are critical to the completion of the trail.
The work of the TPL is centered around land acquisition. Several segments of the proposed BST cross private property and are a challenge to trail continuity. TPL is currently pursuing 31 parcels of land identified as high-priority by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and engaging with landowners who may be interested in selling their land to the USFS. Factors assessing parcels include equity, public safety, management, and connectivity.
Kasnicka is currently working on three parcels which are critical to the trail. Acquisitions will be made through federal and state funding mechanisms such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the state-wide Utah Outdoor Recreation (UORG) funding.
When asked how trail communities can engage in land acquisition to open up access to public land, Kasnicka said there is not a single blueprint. But, public education, knowledge of funding agents, and a willing landowner are always helpful. She added that the TPL can certainly help in any of those steps.
To date, the TPL has closed 25 land acquisition projects on the BST and in the Mt. Zion National Park, bringing public lands closer to home for the one million Utah residents who consider the BST their neighborhood trail.
Legislation for land access
Private land is not the only hurdle in the completion of the BST. Land management boundaries and small segments of overlapping Wilderness designation currently prohibit biking on parts of the BST. IMBA has been working on legislation that adjusts land management boundaries to open access to these areas and create connectivity.
In July 2020, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Advancement Act (BSTAA) was introduced in Congress, in the House by Rep. John Curtis and in the Senate by Sen. Mitt Romney. The bill was later reintroduced in March 2021 with statements of support from more than 30 individuals, businesses, and organizations, including IMBA and TPL.
The BSTAA adjusts land management boundaries to create connectivity for multi-use trails and to allow completion of all 280 miles of the BST. The legislation releases 326 acres of Wilderness divided over more than 20 locations, to accommodate trail connections and sustainable trail development near population centers.
It is not the first time the Bonneville Shoreline has been part of proposed legislation. However, the BSTAA as a standalone bill has helped garner the trail unprecedented attention and support. With growing mileage of trail built and an increasing demand for outdoor recreation, the BSTAA coupled with land acquisition could be the missing piece that helps complete this world-class, long distance trail.
IMBA has taken the lead on the BSTAA. Although it takes knowledge of legislature and experience in advocacy to get a bill drafted and passed, IMBA Policy Manager Aaron Clark attributes the BSTAA’s success thus far to the relationships built by the IMBA’s Government Affairs team over the years.
“In 2014, IMBA was working closely with Congressman Curtis’ office on an omnibus package that was included in the Utah public lands package, and I was on the phone with Curtis regularly to vet mountain bike aspects in the legislation. When we were finished with all the things related to the package, one of Curtis’ staffers asked, ‘Is there anything else we can do for you for mountain biking? We really like working with you.’ And that is how we got started on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail,” shared Clark.
He added, “It really is about relationship building. We have also worked closely with the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Committee and Trails Utah, organizations that have strong ties with the locals who champion these neighborhood trails, as well as numerous other groups. For other trail communities around the country that want to do the same thing, I would tell them to keep building relationships, even when you think you don’t need them.”
Getting trails on the ground may seem like a daunting task. But the good thing about singletrack not magically appearing in woods is that there is a place for you in the process. Whether you are a mountain biker, community organizer, outdoor advocate, landowner, or a member of a trail community, you can help turn dirt to trails.
Bonneville Shoreline is an example of what is possible for long-distance trails across the country. Through this series, we’ve found that the elements that have contributed to the BST’s success so far can be found or cultivated in every trail community. As for communities that are just about to begin the long journey, Clark says the first step is to dream big.
“Communities around the country can look at the BST and say, if they can do it in Utah, maybe we should look at our landscape a little differently,” said Clark. “If they’ve always just looked at a piece of land as something that can’t be accessed, perhaps they can look at how legislation can open doors—how working with land management agencies can provide access. Dreaming big changes how you go about your work and where your advocacy gets applied.”