Most local residents don't realize that areas near Provo Canyon are virtually untouched by man, but Provo City and the National Forest Service plan to show off one such location in October.
In an information meeting with media representatives on Friday, city and forest officials hosted a tour of the South Fork and Big Springs area to preview what they plan to open to the public.As part of those plans, the city will build a campground in South Fork and a multiuse trail that goes from Vivian Park up to Big Springs and then over to the Rock Canyon trail-head in east Provo.
The 14-mile trail will be open to horseback riding, hiking, bicycling and cross country skiing, but will not be open to motorized vehicles.
Monroe Gallier, state coordinator for the Great Western Trail, said most of the trail is already there. Very little new trail must be built, though a few areas are in need of some improvement.
The city is working on the project in conjunction with organizers of the Great Western Trail, which goes from the Mexican border up to the Grand Canyon, through Utah and up to Yellowstone. Plans are also in the works to continue the Great Western Trail up to the Canadian border.
Along with a few deer hunters and hikers, Provo schools' fifth-graders have been among the few to experience camping at Big Springs. Since 1968, the district has used the area for three weeks during the summer as a fifth-grade camp.
"The Great Western Trail is such a great concept. We are glad to be a part of it," said Mayor Joe Jenkins.
The trail, including markings, will be completed by October. Backpackers will also be able to camp overnight at sites along the trail. The city plans to finish the South Fork Campground next spring and install rest-rooms and a sprinkling system at the present picnic site above the campground.
LeRoy Dennis, director of Parks and Recreation for Provo City, said the proposed campground is not a trailer park and will be built similar to Forest Service campgrounds.
Phase one of the campground, which includes 47 overnight units, will be built below the existing picnic site in South Fork. It will have electrical and water hook-ups, but no dump stations.
Dennis said the campground is designed to accommodate group camping.
A full-time seasonal camp attendant will remain at the campground and there will be a fee to use the facilities. Jenkins said the city will not run the campground, but will take bids from those interested in managing the facility. He said that may include trailer park owners in the area.
He said there are no areas in the canyon available for group camping, and the new campground would provide a place to hold family reunions and Scout outings.
The city owns about 2,000 acres in the South Fork area. Most of that land was purchased to protect the city's culinary water line.
"We have really kept the area closed to protect our watershed, but now we will open it," Jenkins said. "I think we ought to enjoy it. The city has owned the land for 30 or 40 years and never used it.
"We need to protect our watershed, but we can develop this area and still not impact the water line at all. We want to keep it as natural as possible."
The city will use stainless steel self-contained units for restrooms to preserve the watershed.
Jenkins said there has been some concern from Vivian Park residents who would rather not have the area disturbed, but the city believes the canyon needs to be open to the public.
"As proposed, we won't be going across any private land," Gallier said. In areas that are not owned by the city or U.S. Forest Service (about a mile all together), the trail will be routed along the road.
The first six miles of the trail "is a fairly easy hiking trail with a 2 or 3 percent grade through meadow and wooded areas," said Steve Winslow, recreation manager at the Uintah National Forest Pleasant Grove Ranger District.
The remaining eight miles is a little tough, with a 12 to 20 percent grade when hiking into Rock Canyon and coming down, he said.
Dennis said the trail and campground will be funded through a federal matching grant of $50,000 through the Land and Water Conservation Fund administered by the State Outdoor Recreation Director. The city will match that and bring total funds to $100,000.
Most of the work on the trails will be done by the Forest Service and community volunteers, he said.
"This site will rival any Forest Service campground because it is so close and convenient," Winslow said.