When Tooele County government installed a tollbooth and gate at the mouth of Settlement Canyon nearly 20 years ago, grumblings were expectedly heard from residents who were accustomed to free, uninhibited access to the canyon. But after the tollbooth and gate were installed, it didn’t take long for the benefits of that change to become visible.
Open dumping and crime in the canyon plummeted, and the canyon’s campsites, pavilion and other venues — better protected and managed because of the tollbooth and gate — grew in popularity. Today, Settlement Canyon, in terms of providing a safer and cleaner environment for developed camping and related recreation, is a success story. Its campsites and facilities are typically sold out every weekend from spring through fall, and aren’t routinely damaged or destroyed by vandals.
Which is why Tooele County officials’ announcement last week that a similar initiative will begin this spring for Middle Canyon is enthusiastically welcomed. As reported in last Thursday’s story, “County to start new $10 fee for canyon campers,” the initiative’s primary intent is to push squatters out of the canyon and provide funding for canyon facility maintenance. The announcement includes Ophir Canyon, but it is Middle Canyon that benefits most from this decision.
As reported in the story, the $10 per day campsite fee is to reclaim Middle Canyon for recreational users and to improve maintenance of the canyon’s 42 campsites. According to Dave Brown, Tooele County trails and canyons coordinator, around 80 people lived full-time in the canyon last year, some of who reportedly harassed residents and families trying to camp or use the canyon for recreation.
In addition, the canyon’s discreet locale has become a popular place for drug deals and other illicit activity. “We want to take back the canyons and make them a safe place for people to camp and enjoy,” said Brown. The trails and canyon coordinator previously described the situation in Middle Canyon as the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”
Because of Middle Canyon’s immediate proximity to Tooele City’s 32,000 residents, and having an asphalt road that provides convenient access, periodic patrolling and recreation/land-use management of the canyon has evidently brought things to a head. Further complicating the situation is the canyon’s accessibility from Salt Lake Valley via Butterfield Pass.
However, the $10 per day campsite fee, and daily enforcement by Brown, Tooele County Citizens Patrol and sheriff deputies, should help clean up Middle Canyon and make it more attractive — and safer — for residents and visitors to enjoy. What will also help is enforcement of the county’s seven-night camping limit.
But as Brown pointed out, the daily campsite fee is only a start. To produce comparable results to Settlement Canyon, a tollbooth and control gate will need to be installed at the mouth of Middle Canyon and likely at Butterfield Pass, too. In addition, a daily access fee, as required at Settlement Canyon, will also need to be charged.
Regrettably, unrestricted and unmanaged access to many of our popular canyons is no longer in the public interest and is evidently required to provide better land-use stewardship. The $10 daily campsite fee is a step in the right direction, and will hopefully lead to safer and cleaner days ahead for Middle Canyon.