CEDAR CITY — Water flows down the trail, rerouted from its usual channel. Just past the sagebrush meadows, picnic tables are nestled in the shade. And about 100 yards further, altered by this summer’s flash flooding, eroded cliffs reflect nature’s impact.
This once family-friendly hike is much more challenging now.
The Hidden Haven Trail, located on state Route 143 was washed out by this summer’s heavy rains, Mike Saemisch, who runs the “Life of Brian Head, Utah” Facebook page, said in a late-August post.
Saemisch said he was drone-surveying the area and found that much of the previous restoration work on the trail fire had been “erased.”
“It is definitely not the same family-friendly or even a recommended hike,” he said.
At high risk
Benson Creek flows through the property, and its head features steep terrain with “high surface runoff potential,” Bezzant said. Since the 2017 Brian Head fire, the runoff potential and volume of periodic flash floods have increased.
The fire burned more than 70,000 acres, said Ron Roth, a volunteer who has worked to restore the Hidden Haven Trail, which he’s been hiking for 30 years.
Because much of the vegetation above the trail was wiped out by flames, the area experienced severe flooding in the years following the fire, Roth said. He began volunteering to restore Hidden Haven in 2018 and applied for a $1,500 grant to continue improving the area.
“We’ve been slowly restoring it, and we had it back in really good shape,” he said. “And I just got a grant from the state to do more work.”
They were planning to do the work in two parts, first some minor repairs and later “some big, major changes,” Roth said. The grant was meant to install signs and straighten out ” some rough areas.”
“But now we need to make structural changes on that trail and maybe direct it a little bit higher so that if it floods again, the water is not going to come down the trail,” he said.
The most recent flash floods rerouted the creek directly onto the trail, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource’s Southern Region Habitat Manager Gary Bezzant said. It was deeply eroded in some sections, and large rocks, trees and other debris were deposited, increasing the trail’s difficulty.
Past the sagebrush meadow, about 100 yards from the picnic tables, the water created steep cliffs, so reaching the trail’s end and seeing the waterfall would be more difficult and dangerous, Roth said.
Brian Head Town manager Bret Howser said that the clarion slopes above the trail have not been re-vegetating well, so when the rain hits, the water runs down them at high speed.
“It’s just moving boulders,” he said. “It’s just really moving debris. And it just knocks the creek right out of its course and sends it down the trail and it’ll erode three feet down.”
While some vegetation has regrown, Howser said it could be a few more years before there is enough plant life to slow the water’s flow.
Hydrologic experts suggested that an uptick in flash flooding could occur for three to 10 years following the fire, Bezzant said.
“And it is looking like this area is going to be on the higher end of that scale,” he said.
In response to the recent damage, DWR posted signs to warn hikers of the risks associated with the trail.
“We urge caution especially when rain is in the forecast,” Bezzant said.
DWR plans to complete small-hand work to move the stream back into its channel. However, Bezzant said at the moment, they are “being patient” and may need to wait for the risk of flash floods to decrease before implementing serious trail improvements.
On Sept. 29, representatives from various organizations, including Parowan, Brian Head and Utah’s Patchwork Parkway’s Byway Committee met to discuss the trail’s future.
Utah’s Patchwork Parkway was designated a National Scenic Byway in 2009, Byway Coordinator Nancy Dalton said.
The nonprofit committee works with its members to promote, develop and maintain the byway’s intrinsic qualities and “enhance the visitor’s experience,” she said.
Because Hidden Haven was damaged structurally, Dalton said the new scope of work would need the Utah Department of Natural Resources’s and the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation’s approvals to receive the previously awarded grant funds.
The grant was submitted by Utah’s Patchwork Parkway for just over $1,500, with 50% of the funds coming from the Office of Outdoor Recreation. The remaining will come from the Byway, either through cash or an in-kind match, where contributions like materials and services are counted toward the total.
The DWR already has started work on the trail, which Dalton said will cover a portion of the match.
“We still have a small budget, which means we’re not going to go in and do major renovation work at this point,” she said. “We’re going to go in and do that safety renovation work.”
The group plans to clear debris from the trail to increase safety and will likely wrap a chain around a tree near the cliffs to provide a handhold and safer route to the creek bed, which leads to the waterfall, Roth said.
Because the area is still at risk for flooding, the group plans to move the trail in some sections about 10 feet away from the creek bed, Dalton said.
Over the next few weeks, Roth said they would need to get the grant approved, price and order supplies and round up volunteers. At that point, the group will create more definite plans for the trail’s restoration.
In the meantime, Roth suggests that people walk the connected loop trail that is also available at the Hidden Haven site, where visitors go by the scenic overlook. There are signs on the trail that will point interested hikers in the right direction.
Those interested in volunteering can call Dalton at 435-463-3735 to learn more.
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