Tooele County Commissioner Kendall Thomas said his phone has been lighting up with people complaining about gates that are blocking popular all-terrain vehicle trails on the Jacob City Loop Trail and Ophir Canyon areas.
“The county commission believes that these gates are not legal,” Thomas said. “As a commission we are resolved to open up these trails.”
One of the property owners in the area admits they have erected the gates, but asserts they are on private property and block trails that are not public.
There are a few new gates on private property that the Jacob City Loop Trail runs through but those gates are unlocked, according to a representative of the property owner.
The Leo Ault family owns much of the property north of Ophir Canyon.
Last year the Ault family was successful in getting the 3rd District Court to declare Serviceberry Canyon Road would remain closed to all motorized traffic until the court hears the Ault’s claim that the road is private.
Serviceberry Canyon Trail is popular with ATV riders because it connects the county’s Jacob City Loop Trail with campgrounds in Ophir Canyon. The campgrounds are also near the trailhead for the Lion Hill Loop Trail. An open Serviceberry Canyon gives ATV riders access to both trails from one campground.
The Serviceberry Canyon Road lawsuit may not be heard until August 2020, according to Thomas.
In the meantime, property owners in the Chandler Road area, north of Serviceberry Canyon, have blocked access to Chandler Road. Chandler Road connects Ophir Canyon Road with Sharp Mountain Road, according to Thomas.
Along with the closure of Serviceberry Canyon, the Ault family has also placed unlocked gates on the Jacob City Loop Trail where the trail crosses their property, according to a family spokesperson.
Locked gates have been placed by the Ault family on their private property that block the use of adjacent trails that are not public, the family representative said.
For example, the trail to Hidden Treasure Mine, which the Ault family owns, has been gated.
“The road is private. It leads to the mine that we own,” said the family representative. “The mine area and the dump in front of it have been completely trashed with fire pits and trash. People have cut down trees on our property. The bars that close the mine have been cut to the point that a child could fall to the bottom of the mine. This is a safety issue.”
Roads or trails that have been open to the public for 10 or more continuous years become a public easement according to state law, Thomas said.
Thomas said members of the public who have evidence that any of the gated trails have been used by the public for at least 10 years should email their evidence to him.
The Ault family is aware of the state law, the family representative said. The family contends that the roads or trails that have been gated are not public.
The Ault family is only insisting that the county follow an agreement the family reached with the county in 2009, the family representative said.
After two years of discussion with then County Commissioner Jerry Hurst, an Ault family spokesperson said the family withdrew certain claims to other roads in the area to help the county create a system of trail loops.
At that time the Aults agreed to allow foot and horse traffic only on Serviceberry Canyon Road, according to the family spokesperson.
“This was settled in 2009 by the commissioners,” said Virginia Adamson Ault, during a public hearing on Serviceberry Canyon Road at a county commission meeting in August 2018.
Virginia Ault said members of her family met with all three county commissioners and the sheriff and went up and looked at the Ault’s property in 2009 because ATV riders had been making all kinds of trails on their property.
“It was a done deal in 2009,” she said. “The county put up the horse gate and the signs.”
The 2009 deal has been questioned by some members of the public, including ATV riders and organizations, because the closure of Serviceberry and other roads and trails were not included in the resolution nor the minutes of the county commission meeting when the deal was approved.
Two years later, Hurst had a map recorded that showed the closure of Serviceberry Canyon Road, which he claims should have been included in the original documentation of the agreement with the Ault family.
The county is waiting for an August 2020 court date for the Serviceberry Canyon lawsuit. In the meantime, the county is gathering information to prove that the other gates are on roads that have been traveled on by the public for over 10 years, according to Thomas.
“We don’t want to get blindsided like we did on Serviceberry,” he said. “We want to be able to go to court with our proof that the roads should be open.”