The following article is adapted from the latest episode of the “Trib Talk” podcast.
Millcreek • Sitting at the edge of the stream in Mill Creek Canyon, Angel Vice said one of her favorite things to do when her children were younger was to bring them and the family dog up the canyon where they could all be free to run around.
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“This was such a treasure,” said Vice, a candidate for Millcreek mayor. “I think wild spaces are essential for the soul and a growing mind. And for dogs to be able to learn to come back, not because they’re forced to, actually makes for a better relationship.”
These days, Vice still enjoys visiting the canyon. But she said the experience has changed as more people — and their dogs — take advantage of the canyon’s trails, picnic areas and natural features.
“I try to avoid it on holidays and weekends at this point,” Vice said, “whereas before, that’s where you would go on the holiday or a weekend.”
While dogs are restricted entirely from some of the canyons that surround the Salt Lake Valley, a long-standing policy not only permits dogs in Mill Creek but also allows them to roam off leash on odd-numbered days.
And on even-numbered days, when dogs are leashed, mountain bikes are permitted on Mill Creek’s popular network of higher-altitude trails.
The every-other-day scheduling sets Mill Creek Canyon apart from other hiking and biking destinations in the state, alternately accommodating and restricting trail use in an effort to reduce conflicts.
Martin Jensen, director of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, said the even-odd scheduling policy began “in the early 2000s” in response to the development and popularity of the Wasatch Crest Trail, which runs along the mountain ridge between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Mill Creek Canyon, with trail connections into Park City.
By limiting mountain biking to even-numbered days, Jensen said, canyon managers hoped to maintain access to different users while giving hikers the option of avoiding fast-moving mountain bikes.
“People are coming off the crest and it’s all downhill and there’s some very high speeds,” Jensen said. “We had residents come and talk to us and say, ‘Can you do something?’”
The dog policy came shortly after, Jensen said, and was similarly motivated by community feedback and a desire to accommodate some trail users without unduly inconveniencing others.
“Not everybody wants to be in that atmosphere,” Jensen said. “Not everybody has a dog.”
Jensen acknowledged that some trail users do not follow the rules, and he added that any public space is prone to interpersonal conflicts. But he said the even-odd scheduling, in general, has been good for the canyon and contributed to fewer trail complaints since its implementation.
“From our standpoint,” Jensen said, “it’s successful.”
Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini said there are “constant” conflicts around the even-odd policy, particularly regarding trail users who fail to keep the schedule or to clean up after their pets.
He said it’s important to have places where dogs can go, and that it would be a shame for a few trail users to ruin things for everyone.
“I really wish that dog owners would be responsible and follow those rules,” he said. “Because if they don’t, I’m afraid that the rules may change.”
Millcreek incorporated in 2016, with Silvestrini elected as its first mayor. He is running for a second term, and will face off against Vice in Tuesday’s election.
Vice said she’d like to see dog parks created inside Millcreek to help keep the canyon from being overrun. She said she recently visited the canyon with her husband to see the fall colors and was shocked at the vehicle traffic.
“There is a demand for this,” she said, “and it needs to be managed and cared for so we don’t destroy it.”
Silvestrini, who sits on the Central Wasatch Commission, said there have been ongoing discussions about the increasing congestion in the canyon — which includes a two-lane road that dead-ends after roughly 9 miles and several public parking areas.
He said some of the ideas have merit, like creating a shuttle service and potentially using nearby schools as canyon parking on weekends or during the summer months. But he was skeptical of other options, such as closing the canyon to private vehicle traffic.
“I’m totally opposed to that, just because I think that limits its accessibility,” Silvestrini said. “But we do need to work on some kind of a strategy, particularly with respect to overcrowding on parking.”
Silvestrini said that while he does not currently have a dog, he enjoys how dog-friendly the canyon is and would advocate for keeping it that way. And while he has biked the Mill Creek trails, he prefers to stick to the road for biking or, during the winter months, cross-country skiing.
“The thing I’ve used the most is just the road above the winter gate, cross-country skiing,” Silvestrini said. “I can be there in like 10 minutes and it’s peaceful, it’s exercise, it’s fresh air, and that canyon is just so incredibly beautiful.”