This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For Ann Tylutki, Mill Creek Canyon's Rattlesnake Gulch and its Pipeline Trail are crucial to Salt Lake City's livability, providing access to public land that allows everyone to enjoy nature and beautiful views of the Wasatch Mountains.
"It's where I come to fill my cup, fill my soul. It's my detox," the Millcreek resident said while hiking Friday on the trail along a historic flume bed. Tylutki, who travels the canyon's trails three times a week, cherishes Mill Creek so much that she recently scattered ashes of her dog off the Desolation Trail.
These trails cross private land old mining claims owned for decades by the Boy Scouts of America. Under a deal that has been in the works for five years, 848 acres of the Scouts' holdings will be transferred next week to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
The transaction has been financed with $3.2 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the successful but embattled federal program that acquires inholdings private parcels within public lands that are valuable for recreation and conservation.
The deal will ensure permanent public access and help stitch together a proposed 27-mile extension of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail south from Parleys Canyon to Sandy, according to Paul Maynard, a project manager with the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL).
"These are the places that are favorite hiking destinations for people and they don't realize there are segments that are private land. They take for granted there will always be access, but that can change overnight," Maynard said. "It's close-to-home recreation for so many people and it will be more important the more the city grows."
TPL brokered the deal and tied up $2 million of its own money while waiting for the federal dollars to materialize. The deal is now approaching the finish line, and Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch is expected to attend a commemoration at the Boy Scouts' Camp Tracy next Saturday, which is National Trails Day.
The Scouts' Great Salt Lake Council will unload most of its canyon holdings outside the famous youth camp, which has operated on the canyon floor for more than century. This patchwork of mining claims includes pieces in Church Fork and Thaynes Canyon. It also features a 20-acre rectangle in Rattlesnake Gulch that extends from a potentially buildable flat area above the popular trailhead up to the Pipeline Trail, where Tylutki and her friend Andi Hernandez paused on their hike to speak with Maynard.
"When you make it up here and see the [Salt Lake] valley on a clear day, talk about gratitude," said Hernandez, savoring the view.
These parcels wound up in private hands in the 1800s after miners patented claims on them. Mining never took hold in Mill Creek Canyon, and the land was eventually acquired by a philanthropist who donated it to develop youth camps. When the Great Salt Lake Council acquired the camps years ago, the mining claims came with them.
In 2011, the council reached agreements with TPL to sell land not needed for the camps, but the money was not readily available. TPL bought the first 600 acres to keep the deal alive while the Forest Service worked on getting the full $3.2 million purchase price from federal sources.
The council "could have put [the parcels] on the open market. They could have gotten more and done it faster," Maynard said. "Some could argue that nothing will happen to these properties, but there are examples up and down the canyons that show otherwise. These properties are difficult to build, but they are desirable. Circumstances can change. Just because the current landowner is sympathetic [to public access] doesn't meant the next landowner will be."
Underscoring the urgency, the council sold a parcel it owned at the mouth of the canyon. Because it was just outside the national forest boundary, buying this parcel was not eligible for funding under the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This is the program Utah Rep. Rob Bishop has tried to defund as part of a campaign to prevent more land ending up in federal hands.
Meanwhile, Utah Congresswoman Mia Love and local political leaders submitted letters of support for the Mill Creek Canyon deal, which the Forest Service pegged as its third-highest land-acquisition priority because of the popularity of these trails.
"It's absolutely critical to have access to the Rattlesnake trailhead. That's the key access to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in Mill Creek Canyon," said Dave Roth of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Coalition. The group is spearheading development of the trail, which would follow the contours of the ancient Lake Bonneville shoreline from the Idaho line to Santaquin.
The coalition hopes to incorporate the Pipeline and Rattlesnake Gulch trails into its trail, which would cross Mill Creek at the Rattlesnake trailhead, climb the opposing canyon wall and turn south and east in Neffs Canyon.
"This is a drop in the bucket, but it's progress and it's only going to get harder," Maynard said.
Much work remains before the dream of a continuous trail is achieved, and Roth's all-volunteer group is focusing on the easier sections that don't implicate much private land. The lands on either side of Mill Creek are challenging because homes have been built above the shoreline bench, especially in Neffs Canyon, the neighborhood between Mill Creek and Mount Olympus.
"It's tough. The backyards in Olympus Cove go far up the hillsides. We have made offers," Maynard said. "Future segments will require these contortions above these homes. It's not ideal because the idea is to follow the shoreline. A lot of these folks don't like the trail looking down on their property."
Meanwhile, trail users can lend a hand on National Trails Day next Saturday. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail Coalition is hoping more than 100 people turn out to help build a segment leading south from the Mount Olympus trailhead.