West Bountiful • A little more than four years after opening, the Legacy Parkway remains an anomaly among Wasatch Front freeways.
It has a slow 55-mile-per hour speed limit, a nice trail system and wonderful views mostly free of billboards. In the late afternoon on a warm mid-December day, the wetlands to the west glisten with dozens of shades of golden browns and tans.
The highway provides an interesting mix of urban and wild, of civilization encroaching on nature and of a difficult and controversial attempt to build a highway that provides for the needs of both people and wildlife.
A parking area offers benches, a trail to the Legacy Nature Preserve and an interpretive sign about the Great Salt Lake and birds such as avocets, stilts, curlews and phalaropes.
A man sat quietly smoking a cigarette on one of the cement benches. Others viewed the scene from the comfort of their vehicles. Two horses fed in a nearby field. There was graffiti on one wall, radio towers and a full garbage can, not far from cows in a field. A landfill and sewer plant are located not far from this site.
The 14-mile trail that wanders next to the highway, with its mix of benches, parks and a few subdivisions, was anything but crowded. But, even in December, it was used. A few bicyclists rode the paved path next to the highway. A woman walked two dogs on leashes. A pair of kids played basketball on a driveway next to the trail system.
I marveled at the mix of sounds. Different kinds of birds, especially the quacking ducks and noisy swans on the Bountiful Ponds urban fishery, competed with the noise of cars and airplanes. A lone woman walked next to the trail. Other folks could be seen fishing. I thought I even saw a man preparing to fly his model airplane.
Despite the fact that faster speeds limits on Interstate 15 might save a few minutes except at the height of rush hour, I take Legacy whenever possible if I need to head north from my Taylorsville home. It seems less crowded. I find myself relaxing a little more. The display on my Prius tells me the lower speed limit is saving me some gas.
This proved to be a contentious and expensive highway to build. Environmentalists sued to stop its original route because it destroyed too many wetlands. The groups involved eventually compromised. The parkway was moved farther east, land was purchased for a nature preserve and numerous park-like features were included in the design.
The Utah Department of Transportation website calls the highway the first of its kind in the United States. It touts the stone gateways at each end of Legacy, the meandering design, unique landscaping, trail system, greenways and lack of big trucks (except in emergencies) as items that make the highway special.
As plans are made to move the highway north, the conflicts and debates will remain.
What is more important, preserving homes and subdivisions or taking care of the important and unique wetlands ecosystem on the edge of the Great Salt Lake? Meeting the needs of a growing population for more highways or preserving the many values that wetlands and open space offer?
The guess here is that, like the Legacy Parkway, groups are going to have to compromise. As the highway expands, the never-ending debate between people and wildlife and between meeting urban needs and preserving wildlife habitat that has hemispheric importance will continue.
We could do worse than continuing the concepts of the Legacy Parkway.