Northern Utah Trail System (NUTS), aka Shoshone Trail
Off-road vehicle promoters and land managers in northern Utah are currently in
the process of establishing a 500-mile ORV mega-trail, depicted on the map at
right. The project was originally dubbed the Northern Utah Trail System (NUTS),
then renamed the Shoshone Trail, to invite comparisons to southern Utah's
Paiute ATV mega-trail. Currently the project doesn't seem to have an official
name, so we'll take the liberty of simply calling it NUTS.
Draft map of NUTS (aka Shoshone Trail) dated 14 February 2003, prepared by the
Utah Division of Parks and Recreation. "Phase 1" routes
are in red; "potential trails" are in orange. Click on the image for a larger version.
Talking about NUTS is tricky, because it's a moving target: The plan
has been revised almost continuously over the last two years, and there is currently
no official statement of what the final extent of the trail system will be.
A 200-mile core system of relatively uncontroversial "Phase 1" routes has already been
established, while the ultimate goal is a much more extensive motorized
trail system stretching from Brigham City to Bear Lake.
Even Phase 1 of NUTS could be problematic, for several reasons. It is centered on a
critical wildlife migration corridor in the Bear River and Monte Cristo mountain ranges,
where the effects of ORV use on wildlife have never been assessed. Many of the Phase 1
routes are actually improved dirt roads that are used by standard passenger vehicles,
so increased ORV use here could result more crowding,
accidents, and fatalities. (In Utah, children as young as 8 years old may legally
ride off-road vehicles.)
Whereas current use of these routes is mostly by local
residents, one purpose of NUTS is to make northern Utah a destination for ORV users from
a much wider geographical area. This type of use will create a demand for additional
trailhead facilities and campsites. The experience of the Paiute Trail shows that
these locations will become ATV play areas, with severe damage to
the surrounding land.
Clearly, however, NUTS promoters intend to expand the system far beyond Phase 1, onto many
routes that are highly controversial. Expansion will require crossing
wide stretches of private land, as well as permitting motorized use of a number of routes on
public land that are currently nonmotorized. Efforts to legally open these closed routes are
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that all of the planning of NUTS has taken place behind
closed doors. There have been no official announcements of the project
and no requests for public comments. NUTS promoters, including the Forest Service and
the BLM, have adopted a strategy of "piecemealing" the project: establishing the trail
system in small increments, in order to divert attention from the cumulative effects of the
project as a whole. If NUTS is as good an idea as they seem to think it is, why are they
keeping such a low profile?
Photos of NUTS
This photo essay illustrates many
of the closed routes that the Ogden Ranger District is currently proposing to open; most of
these have either been proposed as NUTS trails or would connect to potential
NUTS trails. For more photos, see this
older photo essay on the Shoshone
Trail (but be aware that much of the text is now out of date).
History of NUTS
The history of NUTS, though brief, has been extremely convoluted. Here are some highlights
of how NUTS got to where it is today:
May 2001. The Wasatch-Cache National Forest, within which most of NUTS would be located,
issues its draft revised management plan and invites public comments through November 1.
The draft plan makes no mention of NUTS or any similar motorized mega-trail system, and
states that site-specific travel management decisions are not within the scope of the
current planning process.
Fall 2001. Congressman Jim Hansen proposes NUTS to the Utah State Parks Department as a
"legacy project" to honor himself and his soon-to-end 22-year tenure in office. Off-road
vehicle advocates at the Parks Department have apparently dreamed of such a system
for some time, and agree to coordinate the project.
Winter 2001-02. NUTS is planned in secret by the State Parks Department, with cooperation
from the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Utah School and
Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
March 4-7, 2002. State Parks officials hold a series of secret meetings to brief
county and local government leaders, and select others, on the NUTS project.
March 9, 2002. The Tribal Council of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation
passes a resolution endorsing the use of the name "Shoshone Trail" for what they
understand to be "a trails complex
in Northern Utah that will accomodate hikers, off-road vehicles, and bicycles."
March 12, 2002. Congressman Hansen introduces a bill to establish the Shoshone Trail.
original version of the bill stipulates that the trail is to be managed primarily
for motorized use, with nonmotorized use "allowed to the extent that such use is compatible
with motorized use." No official map of the Shoshone system yet exists, but within a few
weeks, the State Parks Department provides environmental groups with a copy of its draft map
showing more than 500 miles of routes to be included.
April 16, 2002. The House Resources Committee, chaired by Hansen, holds its only hearing on the Shoshone Trail bill. As of this date the Ogden Standard-Examiner has not even mentioned the
NUTS/Shoshone project. (This isn't the newspaper's fault--they didn't even know about the
project until the Sierra Club informed them on April 12.)
April 19, 2002. The Standard-Examiner publishes a lengthy news article on the
Shoshone Trail bill.
The article quotes Forest Service staff urging the public not to criticize the proposal
because "nothing firm has been decided yet." In fact, the
map that would become part of the
bill had already been finalized on April 5.
May 22, 2002. The House Resources Committee passes a
revised version of the Shoshone Trail
bill, incorporating some of the improvements sought by environmental groups
and appropriately renaming the project the "James V. Hansen Shoshone National Trail." However, this
version of the bill references a map of the trail system,
dated April 5, that still includes several
miles of routes that are closed to motorized use under current regulations (contradicting
claims made by Hansen and other supporters). The map omits most of the longer routes
crossing private land, leaving the trail system severely fragmented.
June 13, 2002. The Logan Herald-Journal prints an editorial opposing the Shoshone Trail
June 17, 2002. The U.S. House of Representatives passes the Shoshone Trail bill. In his
testimony in favor of the bill, Congressman Hansen claims that it would designate only
trails that are "already open to motorized OHV use," in contradiction to the
map that the bill includes. Hansen also states
that the eventual intent is to expand the trail system to include approximately 500
miles of routes.
November 2002. The Shoshone Trail bill dies in the U.S. Senate, after being removed
from a package of other legislation by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
March 2003. The Wasatch-Cache National Forest issues its completed Revised Management Plan,
which includes a newly added "objective" of establishing the Shoshone Trail system. There had
been no mention of such an objective in the draft Plan, and no public hint until now that
such an objective would be added. The
accompanying Environmental Impact Statement contains no analysis of the likely impacts
of this objective. The map reproduced above, which divides the Shoshone Trail system into
"Phase 1" and "potential" routes, is displayed in public at one of the meetings held in April to
unveil the Plan.
May 14, 2003. The Ogden Standard-Examiner prints an editorial titled "Shine the light on
OHV trail planning," insisting that "the public must be involved" in the planning and
development of the Shoshone Trail.
June 3, 2003. At a meeting of the Box Elder County Commission, landowners and ranchers
express opposition to the Shoshone Trail, while Ogden District Ranger Chip Sibbernsen
defends the project and offers to "work with landowners to find people willing to allow
a right of way across their property" (as reported the next day in the Standard-Examiner).
June 27, 2003. The Ogden Sierra Club, joined by six other environmental organizations,
files an appeal of the Shoshone Trail provision in the WCNF
revised management plan. The appeal asks the Chief of the Forest Service to suspend all
work on the Shoshone Trail project until after it has undergone the required environmental
analysis with opportunity for public input.
(As of this writing, Chief Dale Bosworth has not
yet made a ruling on the appeal.)
July 2003. The Ogden Ranger District of the WCNF issues a scoping document in which it
add approximately 25 miles of roads and trails to its system of routes that are open to
motorized travel. Among these routes are most of the "potential" Shoshone Trail segments
that lie within the District. The scoping document does not mention the Shoshone Trail.
August 22, 2003. The Ogden Sierra Club, joined by The Wilderness Society and Save Our
Canyons, submits comments on the Ogden District's
proposal. These comments point out that NEPA regulations (and recent court decisions)
require the Forest Service to document and analyze the Shoshone Trail project as a whole,
not in small increments such as those currently being proposed. Our comments also outline
a Citizens' Alternative that
would accomodate most of the desires of ORV users while protecting roadless areas from
August 29, 2003. The WCNF Supervisor's Office signs a Challenge Cost-Share Agreement
with the State Parks Department, for the purpose of "joint cooperation in the development,
operation, and maintenance of a trail system known as the Shoshone OHV Trail System."
The agreement outlines how the State Parks Department will pay the Forest Service for
work related to the Shoshone Trail, with no hint that this financial arrangment might
put any bias on future Forest Service decisions.
The agreement also states that each year by April 1, the two parties
will develop an Annual Operating and Financial Plan for the trail system.
However, no such plan was ever developed for the 2003 season.
September 2003. The State Parks Department prints 1000 copies of a map depicting the
Phase 1 NUTS routes, while Parks employees install signs marking these routes. Neither
the signs nor the maps mention the name "Shoshone," apparently because public officials wish
to avoid controversy for the time being. Officials begin distributing the maps through local
ATV dealers. The maps include no information on ORV regulations or restrictions.
January 14, 2004. The Standard-Examiner reports that Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth,
in an interview the previous day, stated that he wants to see more "trail systems such as
the Shoshone Trail developed."
February 26, 2004. WCNF Supervisor Tom Tidwell signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the BLM,
State Parks Department, State Division of Wildlife Resources, and Rich and Cache Counties,
for the purpose of "joint cooperation in the development, operation, and maintenance of a trail
system known as the Shoshone OHV Trail System." The MOU was drafted nearly a year earlier
and had already been signed by the other parties. Curiously, the Utah School and Institutional
Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) is not a party to the agreement, even though quite a few
sections of SITLA land are crossed by segments of the trail system.
April 1, 2004. Deadline for the Forest Service and State Parks Department to develop the
NUTS "Annual Operating and Financial Plan" for 2004. The Sierra Club requested a copy
of the plan from the Ogden District Ranger on this date, but he had not responded as of
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Last modified on 11 April 2004.