The Pony Express and California trails - both of which cross Utah - should be marked and developed as national historic trails, the Interior Department recommends.

Department officials sent Congress a recommendation that the trails should be developed, with new construction costing about $6.4 million and yearly operating expenses of $466,000.Most of the money would come from state and private contributions, says a feasibility study and environmental assessment given to Congress. The federal government would provide $711,000 capital expenses and $166,000 yearly operating costs.

Visitor centers would be set up at trail starting and ending points as well as several places in between. Interpretive exhibits and trail heads would be part of the project, too.

"The centers would provide information and interpretation about the complete trails, and all would be roughly equivalent in size and scope," says the study. The federal government would give technical assistance, but wouldn't provide the exhibits or give other direct aid for the centers.

The routes would be marked with signs, and the National Park Service would produce a general information brochure for each trail. Private companies are expected to market detailed auto tour maps.

The California Trail linked the Missouri River (and Oregon) with the California gold fields during the gold rush that started in 1849. It crossed parts of Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and California.

After Utah's settlement, a spur reached from Fort Bridger, Wyo., to Salt Lake City, then back to rejoin the trail in southern Idaho.

The Pony Express carried letters between St. Joseph, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif., starting on April 3, 1860. Mail originally cost $5 an ounce, later dropping to $1 an ounce (plus the charge of 10 cents for U.S. postage). Each direction of the route took 10 days.

Pony Express riders galloped from Missouri into Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado (only a short distance), back into Nebraska, then to Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.

When the telegraph was completed across the continent on Oct. 26, 1861, linking up in Salt Lake City, the Pony Express was put out of business by technology.

In the 18 months the Pony Express operated, riders made more than 150 round trips and covered 600,000 miles. They carried 35,000 pieces of mail. One horse died of exhaustion, one mail shipment was lost, and one rider was killed by Indians.

Apparently all the paper work for the Interior Department's recommendation _ except for the transmittal to Congress - was completed in August 1987. But the project was then hung up until the Bush administration took office.

Congressional action is necessary if the trails are to be designated.

The department sent copies of the report to Vice President Dan Quayle, as president of the Senate, and House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas.

In August 1987, the National Park System Advisory Board found that the trails were of national significance and therefore eligible for addition to the National Trails System.

"We recommend that the bill be referred to the appropriate committee for consideration, and we recommend its enactment," say cover letters from the Interior Department to Quayle and Wright.

The National Park Service, lead agency in the study, chose as its preferred alternative one that would designate the original Pony Express Trail and the more valuable portions of the California Trail.

Under the preferred alternative, responsibility for managing the federal portions of the trails would be in the hands of the National Park Service. Outside federal areas, states, local governments and "private authorities" would be responsible.

For private land within federal tracts, protection of the trails' resources would be arranged through cooperative agreements with the owners. The federal government would acquire private land "only where this approach failed or where high-value resources were severely threatened."

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Trail plan

The proposal to develop the California and Pony Express trails includes these features:

-Visitor centers: five (shared by both trails).

-New roadside stations: six (shared).

-Improved existing interpretive facilities: six (shared).

-New trail heads: California Trail, 15; Pony Express, 15.

-Sites needing historic resource protection: California Trail, 124; Pony Express Trail, 60.

-Needing new signs: California trail, 1,000 miles; Pony Express Trail, 620 miles.

-Length proposed for designation: California Trail, 3,821 miles; Pony Express Trail, 1,833 miles.