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Basin Rec data shows rumors of a Wasatch Front trail invasion are unfounded

Basin Recreation
A new Snyderville Basin Recreation District report suggests that local trail usage has increased in recent years while the amount of visitors using the trails has decreased, contributing to an overall reduction in trail usage since 2019.

Even though it might not feel like it, new data from Basin Rec shows that trail usage has actually gone down since 2019. And the growth in users is mostly Summit County locals, not visitors.

That car taking up the last spot at the trailhead on a Tuesday morning last year? Even though it might have seemed like an interloper from the Wasatch Front drove it there, it was more likely a Summit County local.

That’s according to a new report from the Snyderville Basin Recreation District. Basin Rec used a year’s worth of trail-counter data — as well as cellphone-based location data — to analyze crowding on the area’s trails.

The report estimates there were about 431,000 trail visits in 2021, a number that only includes Basin Rec trails and not popular Park City spots like Round Valley.

But the story the data tells counters the popular narrative, which is that the pandemic inspired Salt Lake Valley residents to drive up to Summit County to hike and bike in droves.

County Council Chair Chris Robinson said the location data was particularly compelling.

“We don't have the luxury of blaming outsiders as much for our woes as we might have thought,” Robinson said. “That's kind of what I get as a takeaway.”

Matt Wagoner, Basin Rec’s trails and open space manager, presented the data to the County Council last week.

“The trend seems very clear that regional use is decreasing, with a big drop between 2019 and 2020. And then local usage is increasing,” he said.

That’s not to say that trails haven’t felt more crowded. Wagoner said the data shows there was a spike in usage just after lockdown measures were put in place, but that dissipated relatively quickly.

One trend that continued was that trail users visited locations at different times than they used to. Wagoner said Rob’s Trail in the Sunpeak neighborhood, for instance, was particularly busy on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

For those looking for a quick hike on a weekday morning, a full trailhead might make it appear that the trails are crowded all the time. And Wagoner said the periods of highest usage remained just about as popular as ever.

“We’re seeing a pretty clear reduction in usage from outside of the district — that didn't necessarily mean less peak usage,” he said. “It seems as if this increase in local usage was enough to fill up many of the trailheads because they have such low capacity. It's only seven stalls at the Parkview trailhead. So filling that up doesn't take many avid users from around the area at all.”

Wagoner suggested another factor that might contribute to the perception that trails are overcrowded is that locals are apt to notice breaches in etiquette that new trail users might commit more often.

The district plans to hire a second trail ranger to enforce parking rules and educate about the right way to use the trails. Basin Rec Director Dana Jones said the district is also talking with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office about paying deputies to patrol and write citations if problematic behavior warrants it.

One thing Jones said the district is not considering is charging users from outside Summit County to use the trails.

“We could not charge enough to even cover the cost of a program of providing and enforcing the permits. I mean, we would be lucky to pay the cost of the program,” Jones said. “So the reason for the program then would be to try to limit use, which I think that if people want to use the trails, they're going to be willing to pay it either way.”

Jones pointed out that county residents also travel elsewhere to use trails. And, she added, trails should be open to everybody.