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Are permits and fees in Bonanza Flat’s future?

Parking at the Bonanza Flat trailhead.

With recreation in the Park City-owned Bonanza Flat open space growing, the city council is evaluating its options to better manage the property.

Last summer, more than 100,000 people visited Bonanza Flat nestled in between Park City, Wasatch Mountain State Park, and Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Despite its scenic beauty, crowds at trailheads like Bloods Lake have deterred residents from visiting, according to Park City Councilmember Becca Gerber.

“I know a lot of locals that won’t even go up to Bloods Lake, essentially the end of June to the end of August, just because it does feel so overrun, unless they go up at like five in the morning,” Gerber said.

At a meeting in mid-June, the council discussed the future management of the 1,500 acres of open space the city purchased in 2017 thanks to a $25 million bond approved by voters.

Last year, Park City hired trail rangers whose duties include patrolling Bonanza Flat and issuing citations for vehicles parked on the road, rather than at trailheads.

Councilmember Jeremy Rubell said other mountain communities have implemented fees for visitors accessing trailheads, and they have been effective in creating a better experience. He suggested the city look into whether a similar system would work in Bonanza Flat.

“Park City proper pays for this land through the bond,” Rubell said. “Park City proper pays for the trail rangers. There’s a lot of grant money involved, but there’s also supplemental funds. So it just seems that we're giving away free services to folks who aren’t contributing towards what they’re using.”

Gerber, who has spent seven years on the council, said the city has avoided trail permits or fees during past discussions, but it may be time to reconsider.

“I think we’ve had conversations about trail permits at different times over the years as to whether people should have some sort of Mountain Trails tag if they want to use some of our trails, or like a Round Valley dog permit that you had to get,” Gerber said. “We always felt like it was more effort than benefit, but maybe it’s time to take another swing and at least look at what it might look like up there… It is definitely still being overused and over consumed. And maybe it’s a good opportunity to look into what it would take to have some sort of permitted parking, or you can take a shuttle and then some sort of max per day that we might be able to enforce with a person that is paid for by the cost, and of course it has to pencil and work, but I’m not opposed to looking into it.”

Councilmember Max Doilney pushed back, and said such measures to control trail traffic are a slippery slope.

“Before you know it, you’re going to need to get a tattoo before you get to go use any trail that belongs to Park City,” Doilney said. “I’m not saying that that doesn’t work in Colorado. I’m not saying that that’s not something that we might have to get into at some point. I just see it going down a really interesting road, with 400 miles of single track around here… We’re going to need to put gates up around town. Can we fence in the whole community?”

Gerber responded to his concerns saying that an additional level of management could make visiting Bonanza Flat more pleasant, especially for locals.

“This is something that a lot of our Colorado town counterparts are dealing with, in Glenwood Springs and Breckenridge," she said. "Aspen has like permitting on that Maroon Bells trail or something like that now, and required shuttles. Because they are seeing some of their local favorite spots being overused, and you are able to create a better experience for everyone."

Rubell emphasized he merely wants to learn more about the strategies other places have used.

“We might not charge residents, we might charge people who come from Snyderville Basin, we might charge people who come over the mountain, we might not charge anyone,” Rubell said. “The question is to look into it, not necessarily to implement a solution.”

As for this summer, the city recently installed cameras at trailheads in Bonanza Flat so people can check parking ahead of time. The trail cameras can be found here.