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Snow Canyon Trail,
St. George, Utah

The Snow Canyon Trail, a recreational trail north of the city of St. George, Utah, is a real roller coaster. Grades range up to 20%, much too steep for inline skaters and wheelchair users. Only bicyclists with strong legs and low gears can climb the grades, and only those skilled in use of the brakes can descend without risk of pitching themselves over the handlebars. This trail is wildly in violation of ADA standards, and of AASHTO guidelines for bicycle facilities.

Snow Canyon Trail along Route 18, north of St. George, Utah

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I can only speculate that the trail project began as an abstract concept to connect the City of St George with Snow Canyon State Park for non-motorized users. The Route 18 highway corridor was conveniently available, avoiding the need to purchase additional land. But placing the trail adjacent to the highway in the graded cuts and fills would have spoiled its scenic qualities. Grading a trail farther from the highway would have made it much longer, with switchbacks, and would have taken it outside the highway corridor -- or else would have required a very large expense for additional cuts and fills.

There was nobody, apparently, who was willing to blow the whistle and say that this project was impractical and should be scrapped. The St. George municipal Web site has a page listing a large number of trails, many of which are alongside roadways. Though national guidelines strongly discourage sidepaths, there is apparently someone in the local government who is convinced that they are a good idea, and there is a source of funding for them.

A detailed description of this trail appears on a Utah mountain biking site. It includes this wording:

The Snow Canyon Loop Trail is a paved double-track bike, hiking, and rollerblading trail that loops through Snow Canyon from the outskirts of St. George. Although the trail is smooth and paved, there are some steep spots that will spook (or injure) youngsters who are just learning to ride.

There is another page on the same site with a link to a video promoting the trail for family riding, and which does not warn about the steep slopes.

As the trail enters the built-up part of the city, it goes from the near right to the far left in the photo below, crossing two legs of the intersection with Snow Canyon Parkway . Some of the crosswalks were unmarked when I viewed the trail in 2003. If you clook closely, you can two bicyclists riding in the roadway, on the closer side of the car waiting at the right.That car's driver is evidently preparing to turn right, and the bicyclists have correctly positioned themselves to its left to avoid a "right hook" conflict.

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The trail continues into town along the east side of Route 18 as a sidepath, with sight line problems including those shown in the photo below. Other parts of the trail parallel the highway  through undeveloped land, but any sidepath is subject to increasing numbers of turning and crossing conflicts as development places more streets and driveways across it. 

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What should have been done and what might still be done? 

Less would have been better. The compulsion to "do something" need not always be followed. There was no way to build an acceptably safe multi-use trail here at any reasonable cost. When there's no way to do it, don't try. A hiking trail with a dirt surface would have been acceptably safe for its users, and would not have been subject to the ADA and bicycle facility requirements which the present trail violates.

There is also no compelling transportation reason for the trail. It leads to a recreational area which is also served by roads. As shown in the photo below, the shoulders could be wider and better paved. There is also access to the park from another road to the west of the highway.

What's to do now? This trail is so extremely hazardous to inline skaters and wheelchair users that they should be prohibited from using it. Signs should also warn novice bicyclists.

Such warnings would constitute an admission of wrongdoing, and perhaps of misuse of funding, and so they may be difficult to achieve politically.

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The trail extends into the park away from the highway. The video I mentioned shows segments inside the park. The scenery is spectacular.  I did not have the opportunity to examine the part inside the park, so I don't know whether it includes steep slopes --  though.there might be more freedom in choosing an alignment where the trail does not follow the highway corridor.

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