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While Summit County's elected officials have started exploring the idea of improving the utilization of the historic Rail Trail to make it connect better with the communities adjacent to it, a trails advocate is encouraging them to rethink funding a $100,000 study of the trail.
County Council members have discussed paying for a study that could help determine what improvements could be made to the 26-mile trail as part of their conversations about the county's 2019 budget. Officials say the study could provide the information that the county needs to create an implementation plan.
But, Charlie Sturgis, executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, said the organization may be the "best line of defense" against spending a significant amount of money on a plan that doesn't include any physical improvements.
"We talk about how this is an incredible community amenity, but it is not being heavily utilized in Coalville or Wanship," he said at the County Council's Dec. 5 meeting. "Before spending money on a study, that money could easily be spent on some of the improvements or programming you could do on the Rail Trail. The $100,000 could be used to help that cause."
Community Development Director Pat Putt's department has spent several years considering how to make the Rail Trail a better amenity for the communities in the eastern end of the county to spur economic development.
Sturgis proposed the county start by gaining the support and participation of the residents in the communities on the East Side. He added, "It really comes down to creating a community citizen's group and the contractors, in particular, to make things happen."
He suggested creating a citizen's advisory committee comprised of North and South Summit residents and then appointing a county staffer to act as a liaison among contractors, representatives of Utah State Parks and the committee.
"I think you are right that this is an excellent amenity that is super underutilized," he said. "It is going to be your staff and Council taking the bull by the horns and asking state parks to step up to the plate."
Sturgis said the $100,000 could be better spent on improvement such as mountain biking parks adjacent to the trail or benches with exercise stations. He also mentioned how paving the trail could help improve its utilization. But, when Mountain Trails Foundation paved a nearly one mile section of a trail in Park City more than five years ago, it cost roughly $80,000.
"Paving is not the easiest one to swallow budget-wise," he said. "But, certainly, you can development some community excitement by just getting a plan going so people embrace it more than it is being embraced. People use it to go to work and for recreation in Park City in the summer and winter. The East Side of county has same opportunity."
When the topic was discussed at a recent County Council meeting, most of the panel was supportive of funding the study. County Councilor Roger Armstrong was not in favor of allocating that much money toward it, but he was very receptive to Sturgis' suggestions.
"We want to create those kinds of community amenities where people could stop and actually interact with each other," he said.
This article first appeared on www.parkrecord.com
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