Morgan County will likely be home to Utah’s newest state scenic byway, a designation that could bring more tourists and their spending into the county.
“Morgan is the only community on the byway,” said Morgan County Economic Development Director Steve Lyon. “We want to stay ahead of the growth by preserving and protecting the scenic and natural beauty of the route.”
Lyon went before the State Scenic Byways Committee of the Utah Office of Tourism in Salt Lake City last week to present the case for the inclusion of the Morgan Parley’s Loop Scenic Byway into the program. Morgan officials applied in August, and due to no negative feedback to date, Lyon anticipates the committee will approve it Dec. 11.
The proposed 32.9-mile loop runs along Highway 66 from Morgan City, through Richville and Porterville before rounding East Canyon Reservoir, where the road is considered Highway 65. The route continues through Jeremy Ranch and crosses the Salt Lake County line south of Big Mountain, passing between Little Mountain and Little Dell Reservoir before terminating at Parley’s Canyon at Interstate 80 near Mountain Dell Reservoir. The loop runs from milepost 107 on Interstate 84 to milepost 314 on Interstate 80.
“It would be a great scenic byway,” Lyon said. “This route has significant historical benefit for the fact that there are three historical trails,” nearby, including the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail and Pony Express.
There are many historic highlights along this route, some of which are noted in the “Emigrant Travel Guide” self-guided auto tour prepared by the Morgan County Historical Society in 2009. The route, portions of which are known as Hastings Cutoff, was used by the Donner-Reed party, the Mormon Vanguard Company, hundreds of Mormon emigrant wagon trains and handcart companies, the YZ Company (precursor to the Pony Express and stage lines), the Pony Express, and the 49ers seeking gold in California.
Early travelers along this route noted buffalo and Indian lodges made of willow boughs. Of particular note is the Mormon Flat Road where Mormon Militia rock fortifications can still be viewed. Kanyon Creek, a camp site of the Donner-Reed party in 1846 as well as Mormons beginning in 1847, is now under the water of East Canyon Reservoir. Taylor Hollow is where John Taylor operated a sawmill in the 1880s.
Lyon said proposed byways must fulfill at least one of six criteria to be officially designated a scenic byway, and Morgan’s loop fulfills several including cultural, scenic, recreational and archeological.
Lyon said the designation could bring Morgan County grants as well as tourist opportunities while preserving the scenic and rural nature of the roads and viewsheds. “In my opinion, the viewshed from the Richville and Porterville section is some of the best views in the state with the best trees and leaves in the fall,” said Lyon, an Eastern U.S. native. “This is worth preserving.”
Morgan City Council, Morgan County Council, Morgan Area Chamber, East Canyon State Parks Manager Chris Haramoto Wasatch Front Regional Council, and Salt Lake County all agree, signing letters of support for the Morgan byway.
Lyon would like to brand the new scenic loop toward Morgan, since that city is the only city on the route. The brand could bring tourists off I-84 in the summer and fall, he said. Grants could help with signage and way finding, but billboards would not be allowed.
The mission of the Utah Office of Tourism, an office within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, is “to improve the quality of life of Utah citizens through revenue and tax relief, by increasing the quality and quantity of tourism visits and spending.”
The Utah Scenic Byway Program active for more than 25 years, according to their website at travel.utah.gov/scenic-byways/scenic-byways. Utah has eight nationally designated scenic byways and 19 state scenic byways that provide travel experience to tourists and residents alike.
The eight national byways in Utah include Logan Canyon, Nebo Loop, Energy Loop: Huntington and Eccles Canyons, Utah’s Patchwork Parkway, All-American Road, Trail of the Ancients, Flaming Gorge-Uintas, and Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway.
Utah scenic byways include Bear Lake, Ogden River, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Great Salt Lake Legacy Parkway, Mirror Lake, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Provo Canyon, Beaver Canyon, Fish Lake, Bicentennial Highway, Capital Reef Country, Cedar Breaks, Dead Horse Mesa, Indian Creek, Kolob Fingers, Markagunt High Plateau, Mount Carmel, Potash-Lower Colorado River, and Zion Park.
The last of Utah’s byways was the Engergy Loop, added almost eight years ago, Lyon said. This loop brings travelers 138 miles through Price, Fairview, the San Rafael Swell, Huntington Reservoir, Stuart Guard Station, Electric Lake, and Arapeen OHV trail. The route passes a working power plant and natural gas wells while visitors can learn of early coal miners and railroaders.
The program serves as a support system to local scenic byway communities, such as Morgan, in their planning endeavors, grant acquisitions and efforts to preserve and promote Utah’s unique roadways that link travelers with tourism destinations, recreational opportunities and public lands.
“While the Utah Scenic Byway program has been active since the mid-1980s, the establishment of the National Scenic Byway Program in 1991 provided a form of national recognition and a dedicated funding stream for planning, enhancing, interpreting and marketing scenic byways throughout the state and the nation,” according to the website. “The National Scenic Byways Program is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration established in Title 23, Section 162 of the United States Code. The program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States.”
Because fund allocation ended in 2014, the state office is seeking “new and creative approaches to funding scenic byway enhancements that encourage the many visitors from around the world or around the state to stay longer and spend more time in our communities.”