Keeping an abandoned railroad corridor near Park City intact for future public recreation use is the first Utah attempt to take advantage of federal regulations intended to preserve such corridors for future transportation needs.
Myles Rademan, Park City planning director, heads the effort, which has drawn support from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation.At issue is a Union Pacific line running 32 miles from Echo Junction in Summit County to the Phoston Mill, just south of Park City in Wasatch County. U.P. has started abandoning the corridor in preparation to sell the land.
Rademan wants the corridor kept intact and converted for recreational uses such as bicycling, hiking, cross country skiing or even a light-rail tourist train or tram.
The federal Rail Banking Act provides local groups or government agencies the means to acquire abandoned railroad corridors and use the land for public recreational use. The act states, however, that future transportation uses take precedence over recreation.
That's fine with Rademan and state officials, who see the act as a way to protect rights of way for future needs.
Terry Green, coordinator of comprehensive planning for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, said the state is supporting all efforts to protect railroad corridors. He said the state tried to acquire the Thistle rail line after the 1983 landslide made the spur unusable but that effort failed. The state is taking a more aggressive approach now, and is supporting any group interested in preserving abandoned corridors.
Proposals for a light-rail system along the Wasatch Front to relieve congestion on the interstate system underscores the importance of preserving railroad rights of way.
Davis and Weber county officials have already talked with Denver and Rio Grande Railroad officials concerning a corridor running from Ogden to Salt Lake City between I-15 and the Great Salt Lake. Rio Grande officials say that while the line is presently unused, they intend to keep the corridor intact. County officials are keeping an eye on the situation.
The Rio Grande corridor is considered a prime route for the proposed West Davis Highway, which officials hope one day will connect similar projects in Salt Lake and Weber counties - providing a major freeway route west of I-15.
Green said a recreation group in Salt Lake County is actively looking at rail spur rights of way that are either being abandoned or are experiencing minimal use. He said this group wants to develop a major trail and bike route system within the county, away from streets where heavy traffic poses a hazard for bike riders and hikers.
Rademan foresees using the U.P. corridor east of the Wasatch range to link recreational facilities at Echo Reservoir, Rockport Reservoir and the proposed Jordanelle Reservoir. He said a tram or light-rail system would be ideal and could be developed while still providing a hiking or bicycle trail and a cross country ski route. The line could also eventually be tied to the Mormon Trail, the Great Western Trail and other existing historic and recreation sites running through the area.
Long-range efforts could include links with the Heber Creeper that runs from Heber City to Bridal Veil Falls and possibly from Echo into the Ogden area, said Rademan.
For now, however, just getting the 32-mile corridor is the primary objective and Rademan thinks the possibilities are good. He said no significant opposition has surfaced and the project has good support locally and nationally.
Similar efforts have been successful around the country and an Iowa court ruling says government granted rights of way can be ordered turned to local groups. The same ruling also says that portions of the rights of way containing reversionary clauses to the adjacent property owners can be condemned and purchased at fair market values determined by the court.
Officials hope that ruling will provide sufficient incentive for U.P. representatives to negotiate and turn the land over for recreational uses.