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Weber River Corridor project to connect Peoa to Uintas with trails

Connor Thomas
The Franson Trail is one of Oakley's preexisting trails that city leaders hope can be connected with one another and other to other county trails, like the one along state Route 32 between Oakley and Kamas.

Oakley City leaders have been working for nearly two decades to conserve the banks of the Weber River with a trail system.

The Weber River runs right through the middle of Oakley. Locals like City Councilmember Tom Smart say it's what makes the town of about 1,500 unique.

Smart’s part of a coalition slowly realizing a big idea: connecting Peoa to Oakley to the Uinta Mountains with at least 7 miles of trails near and along the Weber River.

The Oakley City Council greenlit the latest trail easement agreements with two property owners at its meeting March 8. Smart and others immediately got to work clearing a riverside trail connecting the Franson Trail to New Lane, near the campground and rodeo grounds.

Trails boosters like South Summit Trails Foundation President Corey Dutton say it’s a race against the clock.

“Particularly over the last 10 years, a lot of people have moved from out of state, and they're buying up those ranch properties along the river,” Dutton said. “And many of them have literally put barbed wire on the river.”

But the riverside trail idea dates back even farther.

Smart says it was the vision of Doug Evans back in the mid-1990s. Evans is a former city planning commissioner, former mayor, former city councilmember and current city planning commissioner, among other things.

Even though the Weber Corridor Project has become a trails project, Evans says it began as a way to keep the river public and pure.

Smart and Evans say a lot of people didn’t see what the big deal was with development back in the 1990s. But for Evans, some of the preparatory early work has paid off.

“It became even more concerning to me that we need to protect the Weber River from development, because that's what most of this county is drinking now,” Evans said.

Back then, Oakley City added a provision to its code saying every new masterplanned development must include trails that, if possible, link with an existing trail.

That provision all but guarantees the development underway in city center will become part of the trail network.

That covers future landowners or developers, but Smart has had to bring current landowners along the river on board, too.

“When we started this project, we met with every landowner—probably 20 different landowners—with the Summit Land Conservancy, trying to find different ways to accomplish this goal of getting through the corridor,” he said.

Some landowners were immediately eager to contribute land to the city for trails. Others were hesitant, but trail easements can be a persuasive tool.

Oakley’s trail easements promise two extra units of density in exchange for land. Extra density can mean big money in an area with steadily rising property values.

The Summit Land Conservancy has been involved to educate landowners about the environmental and tax advantages of putting a conservation easement on their land. After they’re awarded extra density, landowners are free to build, subdivide and/or sell if they want.

Connor Thomas
Oakley City Councilmember Tom Smart points toward where the Franson Trail will connect with a new trail leading toward New Lane.

David and Judi Victor live near New Lane and struck a trail easement deal with the city for the Franson Trail connector currently under construction.

They’re happy because extra density helps their property value. They don’t have plans to build any time soon.

“I think that's going to be up to our children and grandchildren, or whoever ends up with the property. We love it,” David Victor said. “It's 20 acres, and we love it just the way it is.”

However, where private property is concerned, things can become contentious. There are landowners who don’t want trails going through their backyard but trails boosters say they are a vocal minority.

Common concerns range from privacy to dogs, which are known to mess with livestock.

“If you want to make a landowner mad, you just let the dogs go in their cattle, which, by the way, they have a right to shoot that dog if they do,” Smart said. “So a really important element of our trail systems, probably as much as trails, has been fencing.”

And where fencing and density can’t win over a landowner, the trail has been able to meander around them. And sometimes formerly disgruntled landowners will end up lending a hand, or a bulldozer, to help clear the new trail.

Connor Thomas
Brush and barbed wire like these near the Franson Trail require a little elbow grease.

The hard work of clearing trails has taken lots of volunteer manpower, including from the South Summit Mountain Bike team. Other times Oakley has paid for the work.

Smart says everything so far has been financed, in full, by grants or county funding.

“It's a gift to the city and the future generations,” Judi Victor said. “But part of that comes with a responsibility of keeping care of it and making sure that it's not taken advantage of or harmed in any way.”

People who want to get involved with the project can contact the South Summit Trails Foundation at southsummittrails@gmail.com.

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