Morgan is now officially home of the state’s newest scenic byway. The Morgan-Parleys Scenic Byway is Utah’s 28th official following a Dec. 11 Utah State Scenic Byways Committee vote. History buffs are saying the designation may help uncover the county’s historical “diamond in the rough.”
“It recognizes this as a unique, scenic, rural, historic corridor,” said Steve Lyon, Morgan County economic development director.
Stretching from Interstate 84 in Morgan along State Route 66, the 32.9-mile byway runs through Richville and Porterville before skirting East Canyon Reservoir. 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.
This area was well known to Utahans of the past who traveled the Mormon, California and Pony Express trails.
“I am excited about the designation from a history point of view. I hope this designation will help people, and especially the residents of Morgan County, learn about the importance Morgan County played in the Westward movement. Morgan County has a very rich heritage that has gone unappreciated for a long time,” said Morgan County Historian Linda H. Smith. “History was made in our backyard. You don’t need to go too far to walk sections of the trail used by so many of our ancestors.”
Many historic highlights along this route 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.
“It is well known that when families travel, they visit historic sites,” Smith said. “A Scenic Byway will let the public know that Morgan County has some great historic sites and thus bring tourism into the county.”
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.
“Designating this road as a Scenic Byway provides an opportunity for the public to travel where history was made that affected our entire country. Without leaving Utah to go to Wyoming, the public can experience a part of the West’s legacy close to the Wasatch Front,” said Smith, noting that visitors can walk portions of the trail in Morgan County that are “still rough,” and look like they did over 150 years ago.
The route will now be published on a myriad of state maps, leading to a potential boon for tourism. Already, that stretch of scenic byway is popular to bicyclists and runners, as some 36 races and other such events take place there annually.
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.
This summer, signage pointing to the scenic byway designation will be installed by UDOT, Lyon said.
The designation encourages preservation and scenic view protection while preventing billboards. The designation could also lead to future funding for road widening.
Overseeing the byway will be a local byway committee made up of Morgan and Salt Lake County officials as well as representatives from Morgan City, Utah Office of Tourism, State Parks and Morgan Area Chamber of Commerce. The committee will meet bi-annually to ensure that preservation goals are being met, Lyon said.