Friday , April 07, 2017 - 5:00 AM
OGDEN — In 1994, the 27-mile Centennial Trail that would one day serve as a multicity exercise loop throughout Weber County was little more than a dream.
While key components existed, linking those segments into something safe, cohesive and natural would require immense teamwork, many thousands of dollars and more than two decades to accomplish.
Mark Benigni, executive director of the nonprofit Weber Pathways, presented details of TrailFest 2017 recently to members of the Weber Area Council of Governments. He said the aim of the upcoming June 24 event is to celebrate the completed connection of the Centennial Trail and to help people “get active, play, connect and discover these trails.”
“It’s a long (bicycle) ride,” Benigni said of the loop that starts at the mouth of Ogden Canyon, travels west along the Ogden River Parkway, south along the Weber River Parkway, then heads east through South Weber and Uintah along 6600 South, climbing to the Washington Heights Church at 1770 E. 6200 South in Ogden. The trail then crosses under U.S. 89 using a tunnel recently constructed with WACOG funds. Recreationists can then use the recently completed Skyline Drive to connect to the Beus Canyon Trail, which connects to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and returns to the mouth of Ogden Canyon.
Ogden resident Jay Hudson was among the founding members of Weber County’s Centennial Legacy Project steering committee, which first met June 6, 1994, to consider such a grand loop in honor of Utah’s first statehood centennial in 1996.
“It was a pretty daunting task, with so many different property owners, government jurisdictions, bridges, tunnels, and so forth,” Hudson said. “But we kept chipping away at it.”
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Ogden resident Scott Parkinson, another founding member, acknowledged being “pretty skeptical” at the beginning, but “over time you can do a lot of things.” After all, there were multiple rights of way to acquire and that process could — and did — take years.
“I was really excited about the idea and supported it . . . and am really glad that it’s come to fruition,” said Parkinson, who has long been considered a driving force for economic development in and around Ogden. He credited easy access to urban trails, plus a robust arts community as two powerful tools for recruiting businesses.
Scott and his wife, Pam Parkinson, said they hit the trails on foot or by bicycle whenever possible.
“You feel like you’re in nature right in the city,” Pam said. And while anyone can enjoy the pathways at no charge, she pointed to volunteer labor and cash contributions still needed to fuel continued maintenance and upgrades. “This wonderful, free stuff we have for everyone to do is not really free — so donate, donate, donate.”
Ogden resident Sandy Crosland, a retired attorney and longtime Weber Pathways board member, described right-of-way and property acquisition as “pearls on a string.”
“We’ve been lucky and were able to pick up pieces as we went along. Some pieces, we had to negotiate for more than a decade,” Crosland said, and those purchases had to be financed with private donations.
“If you want a trail across private property, you have to get an easement or buy it — and they’re really expensive,” Crosland said. “We got the low-hanging fruit when we first started, but now you have to negotiate for big bucks and we don’t get a deal. We have to pay the going rate.”
Although the loop is usable now, Crosland said extra motivation is needed to make all of the connections. Surface streets link trail segments in a few areas, but the plan is to make the entire route totally off-road in the future.
Ron Thornburg, a retired Standard-Examiner editor who now sits on both the Weber Pathways and Ogden Ttrails Network boards, wrote a coffee-table book called “Secrets of the Ogden Trails.” Thornburg remembers that initial meeting in 1994, held at the Standard-Examiner, to launch the Centennial Trail project, and he applauded its progress.
“There are still segments where land must be acquired so that people don’t have to use streets to make the connection. But the tunnel under U.S. 89, and the work the county did to extend Skyline Drive made it possible to complete the loop,” Thornburg said. “People in Ogden really love the trails, and they take good care of them.”
But so much took root with Jay Hudson and a pair of hedge clippers.
“He was the guy who really started trail building in Ogden,” Thornburg said. “He started with the Indian Trail and things took off from there.”
As Hudson tells it, around 1983 he read an article in the Standard-Examiner about the old Indian Trail, which American Indians had used to get down the canyon.
“I went up and started carrying a tool” to find and clear that path, Hudson said. “People began asking if they could help, so I started carrying two tools.” And by the time the Indian Trail was finished, Hudson said, he worked out deals with seven property owners along the way.
TrailFest 2017 details
TrailFest 2017 is the first event of its kind, Thornburg said, scheduled to coincide with this year’s opening day of the Ogden Farmers Market — Saturday, June 24.
The celebration revolves around two venues and two time slots: the Centennial Trail venue from 8 a.m. until noon, and the “Expo” venue at the downtown Ogden Amphitheater from noon until 3 p.m.
According to Benigni, the public will be encouraged to enjoy the 27-mile loop by using a checkpoint passport. People can start and finish wherever they choose, but must go through at least one of 24 checkpoints to acquire a stamp on their passport. That stamp provides entry into a free raffle that takes place at the afternoon Expo. The Expo will feature live music, food trucks, a beer garden and booths for businesses that support outdoor activities and healthy lifestyles.
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