Salt Lake City, Utah

Passage of a Historic Congressional Bill Unblocks Completion of Utah's Bonneville Shoreline Trail


, by Greg Heil

Photo courtesy of IMBA

About 13,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville covered about 19,800 square miles across the modern states of Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. The wave action in this ancient lake carved a shelf into the mountainside that forms the eastern boundary of the present-day Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Humans have been discovering shells and other signs of the ancient lake along this shelf for generations—from the native peoples who first populated this verdant valley to the present-day inhabitants.

This unique formation created natural paths along the mountainsides, which have been traveled for thousands of years. The paths have become much more heavily used as the population along the Wasatch Front increased. In 1990, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail was officially created in response to inappropriate motor vehicle use on the trail, which was destroying the natural surface and ruining the experience for hikers and mountain bikers. (Source)

The Bonneville Shoreline Trail, or BST for short, was conceived as a 280-mile continuous trail running from the Utah/Idaho border in the north to the community of Nephi in the south. Today, just shy of 100 miles of the 280 miles have been completed, but the remaining miles are the most challenging to build.

The Bonneville Shoreline Trail, with downtown Salt Lake City in the background. Photo: Greg Heil

One of the major barriers to completing the continuous trail were Wilderness areas that abut the suburbs of the Salt Lake Valley and overlapped some sections of the trail. Since mountain biking is not permitted in congressionally designated Wilderness, local advocates had to devise a unique solution to this problem.

A host of advocacy groups came together to create a solution. The Government Affairs team from the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) led the efforts in partnership with the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Committee, Trails Utah, Trust for Public Land, the congressional sponsors of Representative John Curtis (R-UT) and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), as well as many local government officials to create and advocate for a congressional bill to solve the problem.

"To allow multi-use access to key sections of the trail, the legislation included a 1-for-1 swap of 326 acres of Wilderness across 20 locations in the trail corridor with 326 acres of new, contiguous Wilderness in nearby Mill Creek Canyon," writes IMBA. This is a technique that IMBA has successfully used in the past to promote mountain bike access while simultaneously supporting the preservation and protection of these Wilderness areas. It's a win-win situation. The Wilderness area remains the same size, but mountain bikers gain access to key sections of the trail to create world-class mountain bike rides that otherwise would be off-limits.

RELATED: 5 Key Ingredients for Creating an Unforgettable Mountain Bike Getaway

Getting Congress to pass any sort of legislation is a challenging feat, but in December 2022, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Advancement Act (BSTAA) was unanimously passed by the 435-member House of Representatives and signed into law. This bill marks a landmark win for mountain bike and recreation advocates.

But the BST is about so much more than mountain biking. This incredible point-to-point trail reaches an astounding 75% of Utah residents, providing easy access to millions of hikers, runners, and mountain bikers—right from their back doors (or within a few minutes' drive).

"If we get out of the house and away from the screens, we look at the trees, we look at the water, we see the mountains, the valleys, and it helps us remember what's important in life," said Senator Mitt Romney when reflecting on his work on the BSTAA. "It's the people we're walking with, the beauty of nature. I think it just allows us to be more connected with the land and more connected with one another."

The importance of this point-to-point epic is about so much more than the BST itself. This trail provides connectivity between Utah's robust trail systems that line the Wasatch Front, connecting many hundreds of miles of additional trails and trail systems into a massive network. Once the full 280-mile trail is completed, it will effectively connect thousands of miles of human-powered singletrack trails into one massive trail system.

Next up for the BST is perhaps its most difficult challenge: purchasing private parcels of land that are currently blocking trail development. Thankfully, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) has partnered with the project and is actively working on the problem. Since 1972, this incredible organization "has protected more than 4 million acres of public land, created more than 5,364 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, and raised $93 billion in public funding for parks and public lands." The TPL has been working on the BST since the year 2000, and since that time they've "acquired and transferred 25 parcels of land along the trail corridor into public ownership, representing 2,000 acres of new public land," according to IMBA.

Despite these hard-won battles, both in Congress and through land purchases, much more work needs to be done to complete this visionary trail. If you live in Utah, you can get involved by supporting the ongoing local and legal efforts to turn this trail into a reality. And for even more information, be sure to watch the film above and visit

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