“Our goal is to get it open by Easter, and then we’ll have a dedication with the governor May 4.” Utah State Parks southeast region manager Tim Smith said. “The trail’s soft right now, and we’re going to be working real hard… to get it in shape for Easter.”
Trail Mix trail coordinator Jeff Van Horn has put in more than 100 hours on the ground on the trail, and he said “curing” the trail is a high priority. “Currently it’s really soft out there. It has no cure to it; it’s fresh trail,” he said, adding that while the tread needs some work, the route is complete. “There’s plenty of it, with beautiful vistas. There aren’t any ledges; everything is contoured. There are some nice little ramps and short uphills that are steep enough. Overall, it’s rolling terrain.”
Crews recently went out with a roller to help pack the trail. Much of the soft soil is frost-heaved, which Van Horn notes is a good indicator, since it suggests clay in the soil, which will pack into firm trail. Other sections are sandier, and the wind on the mesa moves blow sand in constantly.
“There’s a couple of sandy stretches where we’ve got to do some more intensive stuff, probably haul some material in there and spray some magnesium chloride to harden those up,” Van Horn said. He also acknowledged there will be ongoing maintenance as far as the sand is concerned. “I can’t tell you how many swimming pools worth of sand I’ve shoveled out of there.”
With the challenges, the project is ambitious, but it is also well-backed. “We’ve had five groups come in, professional crews of upwards of ten people,” Van Horn said. “They’ve had a pretty good budget—the park wants to see it succeed.”
The nine miles of custom-built trail in Dead Horse State Park will cost $40,000, park officials said. Half of that money came in the form of a donation from Intrepid Potash.
For their contribution, Intrepid gets their name on the trail system. Since the name “Intrepid” also represents a good quality for people heading out under their own power, it’s a good fit for the trail system. It also provides a connection to the view below, as the trail’s viewpoints look down on the Potash processing plant as well as the evaporation ponds.
The viewpoints along the trail are at specific spots, otherwise the trail is in from the rim a bit due to raptor nesting concerns. Most particularly, there is a nesting pair of Mexican spotted owls below the trail. Biologists will closely monitor their response to the increased activity, officials said.
“Because of the spotted owl, we’re under a year of monitoring, which we’re committed to, but I’m very optimistic that we’re going to show no significant impact from that monitoring,” Smith said. “And that the spotted owl will still be there; golden eagles will still be nesting on the rim.”
If there is no significant impact, Smith hopes to see the system grow. “Then we can look at expanding stuff. I would see crossing over to the other side of the highway, and then we’re not constrained to the same degree, over on that rim, of the Shafer basin,” he said.
Smith said he may try to arrange with some local bike shops or outfitters to get more tires on the trail in the coming weeks, especially if it gets some moisture, to help pack it out. Otherwise, he hopes use after the Easter opening will help pack the trail for the grand opening May 4.