As word that novel coronavirus spread more effectively indoors, swaths of people took to nature as refuge from stress and safe excursions throughout the pandemic.
The Utah Department of Natural Resources reports that from May to August of 2020, there were 1.7 million more visitors to state parks compared to the same period of time in 2019 — a 36% increase. And it was the same story for state parks like Hyrum Reservoir and other outdoor recreation sites in Cache Valley.
In some cases, the pandemic led to an “exponential” increase in use, according to Carly Lansche, the regional trail coordinator for Cache County.
“On some trails, there’s been a 400% increase during peak hours and then others, there’s almost a 700% increase,” she said, “which is just astounding.”
Lansche said outdoor recreation is something locals have always been passionate about, but the rates of use this year were “unprecedented.”
Wear and tear
The Green Canyon trail in North Logan and the Logan River Trail on the west side of Logan are two of the most-frequented trails in the area and tracked with trail counters, but there are some areas that haven’t been monitored, like the Wind Caves in Logan Canyon.
“We don’t have counts for that trail, but you can just imagine,” she said. “I mean, we all saw the traffic kind of in that area and the congestion in that part of the canyon from all the usage. There’s definitely, definitely wear-and-tear from all the use and visitors.”
Though the full extent of the work needed to maintain the trail for future use won’t be assessed until after spring runoff, Lansche said more erosion and subtle surface changes to the terrain are to be expected with the increased usage throughout the pandemic.
The city of Logan has also purchased trail counters, and Lansche hopes to relocate some of the county’s to other areas, like the Wind Caves or up Providence Canyon, where there was a massive uptick of littering this year.
In a presentation to the Cache County Council on Nov. 10, Lansche said at least 300 pounds of garbage were removed from public lands, trails and waterways during the “Pack It Out” event from Oct. 31 through Nov. 8. The Utah State University Extension-led program was the first statewide cleanup in Utah.
“With more wear and tear on our trails, it’s important that we work together to give back to them and maintain them,” she said.
Looking to the future
One way the county is looking to address the maintenance is to start an adopt-a-trail program to foster stewardship and teach locals how to perform routine maintenance on the areas they love, as the U.S. Forest Service has done in the past.
“We’re hoping to increase participation and just make it easy for folks to be able to possibly rent tools from us, and get out on the trails kind of safely and then report back for the work that they do,” Lansche said, “because without them being maintained, they can become unusable.”
Lansche, who is also helping the county as it prepares to update its general plan, said increased accessibility and growing local trail systems are some of the things planners have heard about the most so far.
“It just kind of speaks to the importance of planning and having a long-range vision for a place,” she said. “A lot of places are primarily designed for our transportation infrastructure, so for vehicles, and then the pedestrian or bike access is kind of secondary. So then you wind up with facilities that follow the roads, or they’re not really connected or well thought out.”
By adding a focus on a regional trail network, Lansche said Cache County is “trying to get ahead of development,” and multiple municipalities are working together to achieve the vision because there are economic benefits — such as housing and property values — as well as health benefits to increased options for recreation.
The county is working with Logan to develop what could be the first “blue trail” of waterways in the area by incorporating the Logan River as part of the trail system.
At an open house in January to discuss the opportunities, Frank Howe — the chair of the Logan River Taskforce — said “there are a lot of places around the west where cities and counties have really recognized the value of the river system to the community at large.”
“I would say for 150 years or so, Logan really hasn’t treated the river like an amenity,” he said. “But within the last 10 years or so, we’ve really started to recognize some of the value of the river, both the ecological value of the river, the value of the river for fish and wildlife, but also the value of the river for the people that live here — the social value of the river.”
Lansche told the County Council in November a survey of the river has been completed and areas with hazards — such as rebar or cars in and along the river originally meant to stabilize its banks — had been identified and Logan has set aside some funding to address them in the next year.