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This is the second installment in a series on the trail modernization taking place at Corner Canyon Trails in Draper, Utah. 

By Lucy Higgins • April 11, 2023

At the intersection of Utah’s Traverse and Wasatch Ranges sits Draper, a city of roughly 50,000 and home to the Corner Canyon Trail network. The trail network and its surrounding conserved area now covers approximately 4,000 acres, an undertaking first started 10 years ago. The dedication and expansion of the system of trails was a collaborative effort, in large part due to the public’s interest in the land, the city of Draper, and the work of the Corner Canyon Trails Foundation, founded by Bill Becker. We caught up with Becker to learn more about the history of the Corner Canyon Trails and the Foundation’s role in its creation, maintenance, and modernization. —Lucy Higgins

Lucy Higgins: It sounds like Corner Canyon is really starting to gain popularity, given its location and trail access and proximity to town. It’s not a hike to get out of town and onto the trails. 

Bill Becker: I’m sure it’s the most popular place to go in Salt Lake City. It’s probably the most popular destination. It’s an urban trail system; it’s not like you have to drive an hour, hour and a half to get to the trails. Most people are probably 20-25 minutes. 

It’s called Corner Canyon because if you’re looking at a map, you’ll see the Wasatch Mountain Range, which is kind of north/south, but in that same area, you’ll see a smaller, lower mountain range [Traverse Range] that pops out about 6,000 feet and heads east/west. If you held your right hand up, where your index finger and your thumb come together is where it is, it’s at the corner of the Traverse and Wasatch.

It’s kind of hard to mountain bike on something that’s vertical like a lot of the Wasatch Range is. So that’s why it’s a desirable place to cycle. The benefit is the grade is pretty desirable. It’s somewhere around 4,000 acres of land that’s in a conservation easement, so that means it’s always going to be there. 

Photo Courtesy Corner Canyon Foundation

LH: You mentioned how great the grade is there—is there a broad range of folks who come and use those trails? Or are the trails catered to specific skill levels? 

BB: A lot of our trails are multi-purpose. We have one really long trail that basically covers hikers, trail runners, and equestrians. That’s a real accomplishment because it creates less conflict. That’s been a really good trail for us. Of all those three user groups, it’s not like a ton of them would be on the trail at the same time, where mountain biking would be the predominant use of most multi-use trails. 

This is the secret for any city looking to have trails: they pressured the city council to get it on the ballot. They got it on the ballot, and it got approved…it was the public that generated the drive to acquire this land.

– Bill Becker

LH: Do you guys have any particular projects coming up, or that are newly underway?

BB: We have four trails that were done by Gravity Logic, which are downhill trails. One of them we’re going to be working to improve upon. Those kinds of downhill trails are more maintenance heavy, and this one trail needs realigning so it will get better usage, to spread out the traffic a little more. So that’s the first project we’re going to be working on this year. 

There’s another new trail that we might be working on, but we haven’t fine tuned that yet. Since we’ve gotten so much snow, usually I’d have everything lined up, but I’m sure we’re going to be running behind. It’s going to take awhile for the dirt to get to a point where you can work with it. In years past, we’ve been working on trail by now. But our first big project is just going to be working over one of the downhill trails. It’s pricey–they definitely require more maintenance. 

LH: It sounds like it must be an ongoing process.

BB: Yea. A lot of times we’ll use a machine; it’s not uncommon that we’ll have to dig through rock. And the city organizes a lot of trail maintenance where we’ll have volunteer groups, maybe some weed abatement things. Normal trail maintenance can be done by hand, but sometimes, depending on terrain, it’s easier to have a machine run through. I would say we allocate a third [of our budget] to reconstructing downhill trail or improving a multipurpose trail. Getting the drainage set back, those kinds of things to improve the integrity of the trail. Overall, we stay pretty on top of that—it’s not an easy ask given the amount of trails that we have. 

LH: Tell me more about your work with the foundation. You allocate funds toward maintenance; what other projects do you take on? 

BB: Well sometimes, like a couple years ago, we did a hiking-only trail with the Wasatch Mountain Club. They have quite a history—they just celebrated their 100th anniversary a couple years ago. Although mountain biking is the predominant thing people do, we’re in it for everyone. We’re in it for the equestrian community and the hiking, trail running, communities. Some of it goes hand in hand. When you have hiking-only trails, you’ll see a little more wildlife. On the lower-volume trail you tend to smell the flowers more, see a few more deer, that kind of stuff. 

LH: It seems nice to have a balance of the popular, heavily used trails and the other ones where people can disconnect a bit, or maybe reconnect I should say. What’s your own involvement with Corner Canyon Trails been like? 

BB: I started the foundation ten years ago, and the website the year before that. There was a lot of tension between the city and the users, and part of that was due to lines of communication. The website is an informational website, but it doesn’t play the active role that it did in the beginning. And then we started the nonprofit ten years ago, almost exactly. So we were highly motivated to do whatever we could to help out, and as time went along, we became more efficient and better at taking on bigger projects, and getting funding. We really made an impact. 

LH: Congratulations, that’s super cool to be coming up on ten years. 

BB: We have a good working relationship with the city. I’d imagine it’s a lot harder when you have to deal with multiple agencies. In some ways, it’s just been a blessing that we’re really just dealing with one landowner and we partner with the city. They have really talented people and we really work well together. They’re real assets to Corner Canyon and we think a lot alike. We’ll come up with ideas and solutions to problems and just tackle them together. It’s really been something. 

LH: That’s great. Tell me a little bit more about the beginnings of Corner Canyon and some of that tension between the city and user groups. What was that dynamic? 

BB: You have to go back in time a little bit. Mountain biking 10, 11, 12 years ago was very limited. So the people who had connections to where this property is were mostly equestrians or hikers. Now there are also many fewer horses than there used to be. That area was equestrian-focused in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and then that area developed and you have all of these new homes—as the urban expansion swings outward, now you have a change. Now you have mountain biking, this popular new thing that’s healthy, great exercise, all of these good things. So some of the user conflict in the beginning was over trails that were cut by horses. Now they’re not that many horses around, to cite an example. I think it just took time for some of that to settle down. 

Photo Courtesy Corner Canyon Foundation

LH: That makes sense. An adjustment to some cultural, societal shifts going on. 

BB: From my position, I always work with everyone in mind. I came up with this idea that originally started as an equestrian-only trail, because some horses will get startled just from a bike coming down. Let’s say the biker wasn’t doing anything wrong, but once the horse gets startled in that one spot, every time they go by that spot they get spooked. I would talk with some of these equestrians, and that’s when I came up with the idea of having an equestrian-only trail.

The biggest success story of Corner Canyon has to do with the people who really pushed the city government to acquire the land. That’s the hidden secret. Because the city council didn’t want to acquire this land. I started the foundation with this guy Clark Naylor and another lady Trisha Kelly. The city didn’t want to do it and then [Naylor and Kelly] said, why don’t you just put it up to a vote? And they pressured them enough to get it to a vote. This is the secret for any city looking to have trails: they pressured the city council to get it on the ballot. They got it on the ballot, and it got approved. That’s how they acquired the original 1,400 acres of what is now about 4,000 acres. So that was a huge deal. It was the public that generated the drive to acquire this land.