LAYTON — The ever-popular Adams Canyon trail on Layton’s east bench is slated for some major improvements over the next two years.
The work, which will be done to address safety and ease of passage at a few tricky spots on the trail and cost $49,000, mostly in labor, is scheduled to begin this summer and continue in summer 2021, according to the US Forest Service.
That work on the trail coincides with a major overhaul of the trailhead area, a separate project newly underway by Layton City and the Utah Department of Transportation.
Trail improvement plans, which are set in two phases — a lower trail phase and an upper trail phase — may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting public health protocols.
“The plan really exists due to the time, energy and passion from a number of local volunteers from the Farmington Trails Committee,” Matthew Hales, trail crews foreman for the US Forest Service’s Salt Lake Ranger District, wrote in an email to the Standard-Examiner. “Over the last few years, the group organized volunteer days to fix problems on the trail, went on scouting hikes with me, helped us measure slopes and take pictures, and in general provided enthusiasm, advice and support.”
Hales wrote that trail crews will work on small sections of the trail at a time and that the Forest Service will try and minimize closure impacts.
Most of the time, hikers will either be able to hike around the working crews or wait for a short time for crews to finish the immediate work at hand.
“For major work, we may have to close the trail for a day, but we do not see this happening more than one or two days,” Hales said.
There’s no hard data kept by Layton City or the US Forest Service on how many hikers use the trail.
Anecdotally, most everyone, including Hales and Layton City Parks Planner JoEllen Grandy, says the trail’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.
Erik Bornemeier, first vice commander with Davis County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, says the number of search and rescue calls at Adams Canyon has noticeably gone up within the last eight years, and that the trail is where the SAR team gets the most calls from overall.
“Davis County’s population has increased drastically and so, by sheer nature of populous ... percentage-wise, our call volume will increase. And then popularity of the trail, it definitely sees the most action in regards to a pedestrian trail. It’s easy to get to and it’s a good solid hike with really good scenery, the destination obviously is the waterfall,” said Bornemeier, who’s been with SAR for 17 years.
On a handful of days in March and April, the Standard-Examiner observed a full trailhead parking lot as well as several cars parked on North Eastside Drive, the frontage road between the trailhead parking lot and U.S. Highway 89.
Previous Standard-Examiner reporting indicates that congregating at trailheads as well as crowded trails may be a norm this spring in spite of health protocols and guidelines.
The trail’s popularity comes at a cost.
On one end, more hikers on the trail means more people are spending time outdoors. In a normal world, outdoor recreation can boost some parts of local economies and promote better individual health.
On the other end, the trail’s high use has helped accelerate wear and tear, contributing to a few hot spots that attract a lot of search and rescue calls and tricky conditions.
The 3.8-mile round trip trail starts with a series of exposed switchbacks along the foothills of the bench.
One of the switchbacks includes a large, carved boulder placed in the ground a few years ago as an Eagle Scout project that tells the brief history of Elias Adams, who settled Layton’s east bench in the 1850s.
At the top of the switchbacks, hikers can get a good view of the U.S. Highway 89 project in the Oak Hills Drive vicinity. That project includes revamping the Adams Canyon trailhead parking lot area, the terrain for which Bornemeier likened to the “backside of the moon.”
The trail heads east and into a shaded canyon along the north fork of Holmes Creek. Hikers gain 1,900 feet of elevation from start to finish, according to the US Forest Service.
The end reward is a tall, roaring and misty waterfall flanked by high and jagged rock walls, which give the appearance of medieval castle towers on either side of a castle drawbridge.
But there’s some spots that make it a little tricky to get there.
Several parts of the trail are sloped towards the creek, with exposed tree roots that are slick and smooth from the many people who have grabbed on to them for support.
In other places, it’s easier for hikers to walk in the creek, which is an entirely different proposition once spring snowmelt comes down the canyon.
Some steep embankments, especially on the latter half of the trail, have become almost vertical.
“Our work is not a total rebuild of the trail, rather, we are focusing on a few ‘problem areas’ and trying to make passage through them easier and a bit safer,” Hales wrote.
Crews from the Salt Lake Ranger District, as well as volunteers from different organizations, will work on four specific sections of side hill and build retaining walls and causeways, according to Hales.
Other improvements will include building a water feature that will deal with some seepage before the bridge that crosses the creek, installing rock stairs to deal with about 40 yards of steep incline, building a hardened creek crossing at the waterfall, and installing three new directional signs — two of which will be at intersections between the Adams Canyon trail and Bonneville Shoreline trail.
As beautiful as the trail’s scenery is, hikers have to navigate tough terrain to get to the waterfall.
Once hikers cross the creek by way of a wooden bridge, they have to go up a steep embankment, take a hard left and then go up several more steep, rocky sections of the trail.
Local search and rescue crews know the trail well, for better or for worse.
SEARCH AND RESCUE
Every year, there are around 8-10 calls for search and rescue assistance in Adams Canyon, Bornemeier said.
When search and rescue first responds to the trailhead for a call — most of the time it’s a dual response with Layton Fire Department — they send up a “hasty team” of two people who are the fastest hikers and most medically trained.
The hasty team assesses the situation while the rest of the team packs in the gear needed to get the injured hiker out safely.
Bornemeier says at least eight people are needed to get somebody out because there’s a lot of rope systems to set up, and it’s taxing to carry someone on a trail.
“Usually, depending on the weather, if we have to extricate somebody who’s not ambulatory, it could take anywhere between four to seven hours to pull somebody off the mountain from the top of Adams Canyon,” he said.
There are several spots that attract most of the search and rescue calls, he said. Most of them are in the final quarter of the trail, which gets steeper, rockier and a little hairy at times.
One such spot is what Bornemeier referred to as “the traverse,” about three-quarters of the way up the trail past the creek bridge.
“It’s a large granite slab that completely bisects the trail. So you can either go up and over it on dirt, or you can go around on the slab. And if it’s wet, it gets pretty slick,” Bornemeier said.
The trail is known well to many in the area and it’s only expected to get more popular in the coming years.
The improvements are expected to ease access for many parts of the trail as well as make it safer. In turn, that’s expected to help hikers and search and rescue crews.
“It’s those areas that typically will cause the call out. And so (the improvements) definitely will mitigate the slips and falls and such. We welcome those improvements wholeheartedly,” Bornemeier said.