We really thought it would be great to have something in town to encourage people to stay a little longer. —Sarah Siefken
MOAB — Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are in the works for a couple of Utah's newest paved trails, the latest in a splurge of new hiking and biking trails across the state in recent years.
"This trail system? This is beautiful," said Richie Castro, of Denver, as he paused his bike to chat on one of the paved trails near Moab. "It's going through God's country. You can't beat it."
A ribbon-cutting and community celebration is planned for May 31 for Moab's new transit hub and for the city's newest paved pathway along the Colorado River. A separate ceremony will be held the same day in the Salt Lake Valley for a ribbon-cutting on a new bridge for the Jordan River Parkway. It's part of a mostly-complete trail system that roughly parallels I-15 and stretches about 75 miles through four counties along the Wasatch Front.
The trail building trend is partly fueled by the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program administered by the National Park Service. The agency provides planning and grant application assistance, even for projects that aren't directly associated with a national park. The program has helped spur a bit of a fad — building trails that connect communities to the great outdoors.
The program has also helped stimulate a long-term project on the Utah-Idaho border, a 54-mile hiking and biking path that will eventually encircle Bear Lake.
The new trails don't necessarily require the kind of rugged riding that made Moab a mountain biking mecca in recent decades. Many of Moab's new trails are paved to be suitable for casual walkers, skateboarders or parents leading biking expeditions with young children.
"Maybe their children are just learning how to ride a bicycle, and they can come out here, and it's safe and it's beautiful," said Kimberly Schappert, executive director of the Moab Trails Alliance.
"And who wouldn't want to be in this canyon? It's so gorgeous," Schappert said as she took in the view from Moab's newest paved trail in the Colorado River canyon.
Since 2010, Moab trail planners have added more than 75 miles of new dirt trails and 15 miles of paved pathways.
Pavement links bikers from Moab to Arches National Park. It also connects them to wide, paved shoulders on state Route 313 that are designated as bike lanes. Bicyclists can safely pedal dozens of miles, all the way from downtown Moab to Dead Horse Point State Park and to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.
Castro, a veteran mountain biker, said he's considering bringing his nephews along with him next time.
"One of my nephews has Down syndrome," he explained. "His name is Vinnie, and he loves to ride bikes."
The crème de la crème of Moab's paved pathways is an elaborate, expensive bike trail connecting the city to a popular hiking trail in Negro Bill Canyon.
Just completed at a cost of $9 million, the 2 ½-mile trail parallels state Route 128 on its meandering route through the Colorado River canyon. Long bridges or causeways had to be built to hold the paved path next to the highway. That's because the roadway is hemmed in by a towering cliff on one side and a sharp dropoff to the river on the other side.
"The reason we had to do it is because there was no room to attach (the paved pathway) to the road," Schappert said, "and we couldn't blast the canyon walls."
Another $800,000 was spent on a new riverside transit hub that connects the town to the bike trails.
"It's fantastic," Schappert said. "If I had thought we would be this far along 12 years ago, I would have been amazed."
Fifty miles away in Green River, Emery County, planners and biking enthusiasts are hoping to create a similar network. Right now, Green River bikers have to use city streets, highways and a few rough trails in the countryside. With assistance from the National Park Service, a planning process is underway aimed at making the area more bike-friendly.
"We really thought it would be great to have something in town to encourage people to stay a little longer," said Sarah Siefken, manager of Green River State Park.
They're planning trails to connect local points of interest — such as historic buildings and a growing collection of outdoor modern-art sculptures — to the great scenery along the Green River.
"Definitely, it's beautiful," said Steph Crabtree of the nonprofit group The Epicenter.
Crabtree said she would like to see one leg of the trail system constructed along the Green River. Gazing at the place where the river emerges from the soaring Book Cliffs, Crabtree said the trail would not be just for bikers but for everyone.
"One of the original words we came up with was 'riverwalk,'" she said.