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Private landowners in northern Utah are blocking off popular trails

Four "No Trespassing" signs posted to a gate erected in front of a canal trail in North Logan
Clarissa Casper
"No Trespassing" signs posted on a gate block access to a canal trail in North Logan. Landowners have erected barriers in response to concerns about property rights and misuse.

Nathan Hult has been wandering along canals in North Logan since the 90s. After all, the network of paths is prime for people-watching and escaping the bustle of traffic.

But after North Logan landowners put up gates and no-trespassing signs in the middle of the trails he has relied on since moving here, the outdoors enthusiast was forced to find new routes.

The kerfuffle between landowners and trail users in North Logan follows a similar conflict that has simmered just south in Logan, when a landowner built a fence in the middle of a canal trail that serves as a popular hiking, biking, and commuting route for the Island neighborhood.

“It used to be that you could just get on one of these trails and hike from Logan to Smithfield,” Hult said. “It was just great. But in recent years, the landowners that have moved in, they look at their land description when they buy their property, and it extends to the canal, or to the middle of the canal, or to the far side of the canal, and they feel, ‘This is my property, nobody else can use it.’”

North Logan Mayor Lyndsay Peterson said the blocking of canal trail access has been a longstanding issue, with some landowners erecting gates more than a decade ago. There are multiple spots throughout the city where this has occurred, and in many cases, what land is actually privately owned or publicly accessible is still in dispute.

Among the most contentious examples is across the street from Elk Ridge Park, where a landowner has posted four "Do Not Trespass" signs in front of a trail that follows the Logan and Northern Canal. Despite acknowledging the historic use of the canal as a trail, Peterson said the city has taken no legal action to open the path.

The mayor said resident feedback surveys issued by the city indicate access to canal trails is a major concern for those who call North Logan home.

“We’re trying to balance that, especially where those trails have been used for such a long period of time,” she said. “That’s important to our residents, and so it’s important to us. But we haven’t explored asserting those rights forcibly.”

Val Swensen, the landowner who put up the signs across from Elk Ridge Park, said he initially did so because trail users were not respecting his property by leaving trash and stealing. He said he has no plans to reopen the trail, and that the city has not contacted him regarding the closure.

“If people have respect for personal property and not their self, you know, then it might happen,” Swensen said. “But right now, people are just ignorant.”

In Logan, where another popular trail was blocked, multiple negotiations by the city to reopen access have fallen flat. The landowner has not removed the fence they put up, and has no plans to do so.

Paul Rogers, a member of the Cache CountyBicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said blocking trail access has a negative impact on the community as a whole. In a county lacking safe bike and pedestrian corridors, the fence on the trail along Canyon Road in Logan is particularly disruptive, he said, blocking the entire trail system meant to run from Logan Canyon to the southern end of town.

“These canals are something we’ve been looking at for quite a while, strategically,” Rogers said. “How can we incorporate those — and I emphasize — for public use?”

Rogers said it’s important for residents to have equal access to trails, and that blocking the paths is like blocking sidewalks.

“If a dog barks when you walk by on a sidewalk, you can't close off the sidewalk,” he said. “Or if you're annoyed by loud trucks on a road, you can't close the road. Imagine, the police would be there in 10 minutes if I blocked the sidewalk without asking. It's the same principle. It's public land.”

Clarissa Casper is a general reporter at UPR who recently graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Print Journalism and minors in Environmental Studies and English.