Ogden City pushed some popular hiking trails out of the way in order to build the water tanks near Strong’s Canyon in South Ogden, but the map at the 36th Street trailhead offers no indication of who rerouted them.
Dave Stuart, a volunteer on the trails, posted the answer at the 36th and 29th Street trailheads after it was published in the newspaper. It was an obituary for Gilbert “Gib” Wallace, a man who shaped many of the trails in Ogden.
Wallace retired early from a career as a civil engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, during which he worked on both Pineview and Causey dams. When the city of Ogden asked him to improve a trail near Mount Ogden Park, he threw his enthusiasm into full-time volunteer work.
He went out on the trails nearly every day, where his fellow workers struggled to keep up with him, pacemaker and all. Volunteer and cardiologist Richard White remembered being “surprised that a guy with heart trouble could work so hard.”
Stuart, a regular volunteer with the Ogden Trails Network, met Wallace when he wrote to the network to ask for a trail. Over the next 10 years, Wallace taught Stuart everything he now knows about how to plan and build a trail.
Stuart said Wallace helped plan and build most of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. He also laid trails that fed into the Shoreline route, such as the North Polk Trail above 100 North, the Birdsong Trail near Rainbow Gardens, the Ogden Nature Center North trail at 1100 North, and the Paradise Trail at 9th Street, as well as trails on 22nd, 29th, 36th, and Douglas streets.
When the new tanks went in, Stuart said, Gib’s priority was that the trails stay open throughout construction. The tanks sit atop a section of one of the two original trails, so Gib and Dave re-cut that trail to meet the Strong’s Canyon trail further east and at a higher elevation. The two planners also moved the section of the canyon trail on the south side of Strong’s creek to the north side. They built a new permanent trail for mountain bikes, which loops below the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.
To make room for the construction road, the city removed the rust-colored bridge across Strong’s Creek. Exposure had weakened planks in the bridge, and Gib and his volunteers built a new bridge downstream.
Many mountain trails are far from access roads, so work crews build trails using the materials at hand, said Gib’s son Bob Wallace, also an engineer and trail designer. This usually consists of some combination of rock, sand and clay.
Depending on what materials are available, specific engineering challenges arise. Rain washes away sand and softens clay into a treacherous slick, and rocky terrain can require a facelift for the mountain.
Crews may pack in rock, clay or sand to stabilize a trail, or stack boulders along sheer cliffs to build 5 or 6-foot tall ledges, which volunteers cover with sand and gravel.
Civil engineers learn to channel water and prevent erosion, Bob said, and Gib was able to draw on that expertise to lessen damage to the trails. Trail designers like Bob and his father maintained gentle slopes on the trails and angled the outer edge of the trail downward so water would drain downhill at a slow pace.
Water can also wash out trails when it runs down gullies, so Gib invented a way to protect these sections. At a gully near Jump Off Canyon, he and Stuart built a small dike across the ditch, scooped out portions of earth uphill from the block, and built the trail across the dike. Rainwater rushed down the gully, swirled into the widened pool, and met the dam, which slowed it enough that it flowed over the path without eroding it. The dike also halted rocks and gravel loosened by the water, so the debris could not gouge the trail or empty into the canal below.
Some design decisions are more aesthetic than utilitarian, like whether to thread a trail through a grove of scrub oak or cast it across a flat. Gib the engineer preferred clean lines, while Stuart is more likely to meander a trail toward a stand of trees or a striking rocky outcrop.
Their goal was to provide an interesting, appealing, accessible path from one point to another. Accessible means people of different ages and ability levels can use and enjoy a trail, and the percentage of its grade has a great deal to do with how accessible a trail is.
As Gib’s heart trouble worsened, he could not go far without rest, so Stuart placed large rocks in shaded corners along the trails, and a bench on the new bridge to allow hikers to pause near the running water. The trail planners aimed to invite the people of Ogden outside, not frustrate them with strenuous climbs.
The people who worked with Gib carry his memory in different ways, many of which continue his projects on the trails.
Dave and Bob will finish the 36th Street trail, which will stretch to Beus Drive, above the northeast corner of Weber State University. Dave has followed Gib as head of trail design at the Ogden Trails Network, and will set new trail signs and mile markers approved before Gib’s death (these additions may be in place by summer).
Former volunteer Richard White, now the chair of Weber Pathways, hopes Gib’s name will be the first inscribed on a large boulder at the 29th Street trailhead. The city declared Jan. 4 Gib Wallace Day, and renamed the trail that borders the Mount Ogden Golf Course “Gib’s Loop.”
The Northern Utah Trail System hosted the first Gib Wallace Memorial 10-kilometer race on April 9, with proceeds supporting Weber Pathways’ master plan for trails in Weber County.
Joel Hatch, a founder of NUTS, had the idea for the 10K when he went running and saw the sign about Gib Wallace on the trail. Hatch said the new routes had the “certain, distinct feel” of Gib Wallace trails: Not too steep, with rolling hills and aesthetic lines through the trees.
Trail design is a quiet art. Bob and Dave said few people know who created the paths they walk and ride, though Bob said he likes the way community members take ownership of the trails.
At Gib’s funeral, a stranger came up to Bob and said “I love the trail we built.”
Katherine LeCain was born and raised in Ogden. She moved to Fairbanks, Alaska in high school and earned a B.A. in Biology from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Hiking is one of her favorite activities, and Strong’s Canyon is like home.