NORTH OGDEN — At the same time trail use is surging due the COVID-19 pandemic and the arrival of spring, small boulders are popping up at dangerous points on multi-use trails near North Ogden.
Shawn Peeler, an avid mountain biker from Taylor, heard about rocks being placed on trails last fall, but he hadn’t seen it himself until he encountered a small boulder Tuesday on a trail near the North Ogden Divide.
“I was riding with another guy who was ahead of me. He came around the corner and saw it and was able to veer off the trail, and he hollered at me, and I stopped,” Peeler said.
There was no way the rock fell and just happened to land in that location, Peeler said. It seemed deliberately placed in an area that would be difficult for a biker to see.
How someone managed to place it there is a mystery, though, considering its size.
“It took all we had to get it rolled off the trail,” Peeler said.
Sightings of small boulders on trails around North Ogden have been reported by mountain bikers on social media over the last few days, according to local mountain biking groups, but this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.
Rocks that seemed to be deliberately placed on trails first started appearing last fall, according to Peeler and several other bikers.
Zach Maughan, district trails manager for the Ogden Ranger District, part of the U.S. Forest Service, said his organization received a handful of complaints in September and October 2019 about rocks that appeared on a stretch of Bonneville Shoreline Trail between the North Ogden Divide and the Nature Center North Trail Head, which is near 1100 North and Mountain Road.
The district looked into the issue in collaboration with Ogden Trails Network and the Trails Foundation of Northern Utah, Maughan said. The group of organizations was not able to determine who was placing rocks, but they did install signs about the issue at trailheads, he said.
It was not always clear if the rocks were placed by someone, Maughan said, but there were instances when it was apparent the rocks didn’t get there on their own.
“In the cases where it appeared deliberate, the rocks were placed in a row that was clearly done by a person,” Maughan said. “In other cases, there were individual rocks in the trail that looked like they could have fallen into that place by natural forces or someone accidentally dislodging a rock ... or they could have been placed there by someone.”
However, the district has not received new complaints since that time, he said.
In the fall, the reports made to the Trails Foundation of Northern Utah were about groups of smaller rocks placed at the corners of switchback trails, perhaps to slow bikers down, said Aric Manning, executive director of foundation.
When rocks first started appearing in the fall, “Some people thought, ‘Oh, someone’s doing this ... for safety reasons,’ because there are so many families that hike and bikes get going too fast, so (they might have thought), ‘If we put things out there, it could slow them down to help protect families,’” Manning said. “But obviously, that’s not the right way to go about it.”
Based on his own experience, Peeler says the recent rocks are so big — and so strategically placed — that it’s hard not to think that the intent is to injure mountain bikers.
From his perspective, “it should be attempted manslaughter,” he said.
The small boulders are appearing in a similar area to where rocks appeared last year — around the Coldwater Canyon area and North Ogden Divide.
David Boren, a mountain biker from Ogden, said he removed more than 20 rocks from berms and blind corners on the trail in Coldwater Canyon last fall — and that was during only one ride.
“Whoever has been putting them up there takes their time doing it,” he said in a message. “Really sad to know somebody hates us mountain bikers that much.”
In addition, the trail in Coldwater Canyon is lined by steep terrain, so if a rock sent a biker over that side of the trail, they’d roll for a while, potentially leading to serious injuries beyond the initial impact, Peeler said.
Peeler said he’d also heard last year of rocks being placed in the landing area of jumps in the Ogden Bike Park, and Manning confirmed that he’d also heard this occurred, though it was not reported to the foundation at the time. Bikers wouldn’t see these rocks until they were in the air, Peeler said, so there would be no time to react.
Jason Stratton, a mountain biker from Davis County, said he encountered smaller rocks on Saturday that appeared to have been placed but were easily avoidable. On Tuesday, he saw much larger rocks, like Peeler encountered, on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail between Coldwater Canyon and the Ogden Nature Center North Trailhead.
This is a difficult issue to address because it has happened on trails managed by different entities, Manning said.
However, if people do see rocks placed on trails, which bikers suspect is happening in the early morning, Manning said that this can be reported to the foundation.
As a nonprofit, the foundation is not a law enforcement agency, but because its work spans many areas, the foundation has the right contacts to report problems to appropriate entities — and to track the problem’s scope.
Maughan also encouraged all trail users — whether or not they’re mountain bikers — to contact the Ogden Ranger District Office at 801-625-5112 if they have concerns about any trail issues, like fallen trees or rocks.
Placing rocks on trails is considered modifying a trail without a permit, Maughan said. This is a violation that can carry penalties like restitution for damage and fines.
If a trail user sees someone placing rocks on a trail, it’s helpful if they can document the occurrence with photos, a GPS location, clear descriptions of what occurred and the license plate of a vehicle, Maughan said. However, he advised that trail users prioritize their own safety above gathering any of this information.
“We ask that whoever is placing rocks on the trail to please stop,” Maughan said. “These actions endanger the health and safety of a variety of user groups.”
Maughan also advised all trail users to be aware of appropriate trail etiquette. For example, equestrian users have the right of way over other users, he said, while those on bikes should yield to all other users.
This etiquette is what makes it possible for everyone to enjoy the trails, Maughan said. It’s a sentiment that was shared by several sources who were interviewed for this story.
“We certainly wouldn’t want to see the trail close as a result of this ... because it’s such a beautiful trail and so many people use it,” said Stratton, the Davis County mountain biker. “But this really does need to stop before someone does get hurt.”