Optimism is running high about the future of the proposed Great Western Trail, even though much of the multiple-use trail, which would stretch from Mexico to Canada through Utah, is still in the planning stages.
State and federal representatives and volunteers from four states met Wednesday in Salt Lake City to discuss their pursuit of the continuous five-state trail, which would traverse some of the most spectacular scenery in the West."It's gonna happen," said George Olson, intermountain director of recreation and lands for the Forest Service. "Most responsible people see it as a good thing."
Monroe Gallier said he first got the idea for the project years ago during a horseback trip from Provo to Page, Ariz. The Utah volunteer coordinator said it wasn't until last January that he became sure the trail was feasible.
Plans for the trail include sections for snowmobilers, cross country skiers, off-highway vehicles and horseback riders in addition to hikers. There would be parallel trails in some areas to promote multiple use.
The part of the trail that winds through Arizona has already been built. The route through Utah has been determined, and 90 percent of the trail is in existence. Officials from both states met in March and are already in agreement about the trail. Representatives from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are now becoming involved in the project. Utah and Arizona officials are hoping to persuade them to participate more fully.
Support for the trail appears to be coming in steadily. Arizona already was building its own trail when ideas for the bigger trail began flowing. Idaho officials have also been heavily involved in a cross-state trail that may become the Idaho portion of the Great Western Trail.
"It goes right along with what we've been doing," said Yvonne Ferrell, director of Idaho Parks and Recreation, concerning the construction of the state's Centennial Trail.
"I think it's great that two things completely separate from each other can come together like this," she said.
Even though Wyoming and Idaho representatives said they came to Wednesday's meeting to "listen and learn," they appear confident their states will participate in the trail system.
"Personally, I'm enthused about the concept. There's a great deal of potential in Wyoming," said John Turner, president of the Wyoming Senate.
"We need to expand tourism outside of Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, and this concept gives us an opportunity to do that." However, Turner added he expects to deal with some conflicts before the trail is approved and completed.
"Obviously a lot of dialogue needs to take place first," he said.
Volunteers and officials say they expect the trail would provide increased tourism to the West and a large number of recreation opportunities.
In Utah, the trail would provide access to Bear Lake, Wasatch Mountain State Park, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, the Timpanogos and Mount Nebo wilderness areas and Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks.
Brian Stout, forest supervisor for the Bridger Teton National Forest in Wyoming, said even though he has only known about the proposed trail for a few days, he believes it would be very beneficial to the five western states.
"The trail could very easily tie in with existing trails at Bridger Teton with very little work," he said.
Olson said the success of the Great Western Trail will depend on the support the public is willing to give. He said the project will rely on volunteer efforts since federal funds will not be sought.
"If we started looking for federal funds, we'd kill it," he said. "If the government just provides (or the project), then appreciation is not built." If citizens feel like they own the trail, they will take more pride in it, he said.