Work on a new 100-mile trail system designed to draw off-highway vehicles and their users’ wallets into Tooele County will begin soon.
After 19 years of discussions, a committee representing three Utah counties, two federal agencies, and two state agencies, is ready to start marking the proposed Prospector Trail System near Vernon.
However, the installation of information and directional signs on federal land will have to wait until a cultural survey is completed, according to Beckee Hotze, manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Salt Lake Field Office.
A cultural survey is a field study completed by a qualified professional that results in the documentation of archaeological, historical, cultural and traditional places, including human uses of the land through both historic and prehistoric times.
“Designating roads and marking them as part of a trail system is considered a change of use,” Hotze said. “Federal regulations require us to do a cultural survey of the roads when their use is changed.”
Tooele County Commissioner Jerry Hurst doesn’t want to wait for the BLM.
“The trails are all on county roads,” he said. “Many of them we are currently maintaining. We should be able to put signs on our roads.”
The system makes use of existing roads to loop around the Sheeprock Mountains west of Vernon. The system also includes excursions on existing roads into adjacent canyons, with side routes on roads to the north and south of the Sheeprocks.
The trail traverses BLM, U.S. Forest Service and state School and Institutional Trust Lands administration property.
There is confusion among county and BLM officials over how long the cultural survey will cost and how long it will take.
Hurst and Dave Brown, Tooele County trails and canyon coordinator, who represents the county on an inter-agency committee that is planning the trail system, said it is their understanding the study will cost $200,000 and may take two and one half years to complete.
Hotze, however, told the Transcript-Bulletin that the study will be less expensive and may be completed in far less time.
“We have an archeologist on our staff that can do the survey at an average rate of around four miles per day,” she said. “Or we could use interns who earn $15,000 to $18,000 per season to complete the survey in probably one season.”
But with tight funding and other priorities, it will be a year or more before BLM staff or interns will be able to start the survey, according to Hotze.
“If the state or the counties involved want to discuss speeding up the study by paying the costs, we can talk about that,” she said. “BLM is very supportive of the Prospector Trail and we want to see it completed.”
Hotze said it is the BLM’s hope that once the Prospector Trail System is formalized with signs and maps, people that use the area will know the rules and will stay on approved routes.
“Until the cultural survey is completed, we cannot issue a special use permit for signs.” she said. “They could start with signs on state and forest service land.”
The Forest Service has completed the cultural survey for its land within the trail system, Hotze noted.
But Hurst insists that the roads in the system are county roads, and the county can and will put up signs on its roads.
“These are our roads,” he said. “We maintain them. People are already out there driving their ATVs on them. We just want to put up signs so they will know the rules and where they can and can’t go.”
The county’s right-of-way and use of roads around the Sheeprock Mountain are part of a legal battle between the State of Utah and the federal government.
In 2012 the Utah State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior on behalf of Utah’s counties to reclaim thousands of roads claimed by the state under federal revised statute 2477.
RS2477, which dates back to 1866, granted blanket rights-of-way to construct roads across public lands. It was repealed in 1976, but states and counties were granted the right-of-way to previously existing roads.
“The RS2477 case is in the hands of the courts,” said Hotze. “Until it is settled, we have to follow existing procedures for special use permits.”
Hurst is anxious to get the Prospector Trail System designated, not only to provide recreational opportunities and protect public lands, but he also sees an economic factor in potential tourism.
“The people that use this trail system will drive right through Lake Point, Tooele, and Vernon,” said Hurst. “Hopefully they will drop some money at our gas stations, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores.”
The state is footing the bill for most of the development of the trail system through OHV registration fees. Chris Haller, OHV program coordinator for Utah State Parks and Recreation, agrees that the Prospector Trail System has the potential to attract a large number of users.
“There are lot of OHV users in Salt Lake County and not a lot of trails nearby,” he said. “A trail system 40 to 45 minutes away would be very attractive.”
The Prospector Trail System’s 100 miles of marked trails, which include three trailheads with restrooms, would be a part of Utah Park and Recreation’s intricate OHV trail system. That trail system has more than 80,000 miles of trails winding through different areas of the state, Haller said.
The Prospector Trail System is the combined effort of Tooele, Juab, and Utah counties, the BLM, the Forest Service, state School and Institutional Trust Land Administration, and the Utah Parks and Recreation OHV trail program.
Trailheads are planned for near the Lookout Pass Dog Cemetery, Cherry Creek at the south end of the Sheeprock Mountains, and off state Route 36 south of Vernon.
Haller anticipates it will be 12 to 15 months before an interactive map of the trail system will be available online, with a hard copy to follow.