The Fallen Peace Officer Trail is 14 miles long.
Each mile will honor one of fourteen Utah officers who lost their life while serving the public during the Fallen Peace Officer Trail Ride this Saturday.
Since 1853, 133 Utah officers have died in the line of duty.
Clif Koontz, director of Ride with Respect, had been working on the trail crossing state lands. Ride with Respect is a non-profit that builds off-road multi-use trails, as well as provides education for ethical land use.
When Utah Park ranger Brody Young was shot nine times near the Poison Spider trailhead north of Moab on Nov. 19, 2010, it made Koontz realize how much he and the recreating public rely on law enforcement, particularly state park rangers, to protect both the people and the place.
“I felt in debt to him,” Koontz said. “He obviously had the skills to survive and recover miraculously. To this today he has a very positive attitude. I didn’t think any one would be more deserving to have the trail named after him.
When Koontz talked with Young about naming the trail after him, he pointed out the officers who didn’t recover.
“He suggested the name Fallen Peace Officer Trail,” Koontz said.
The Utah Peace Officer Association, which represents law enforcement agencies across the state, embraced the idea.
The association holds a street bike ride from Lindon to Salt Lake in the fall to raise funds to maintain the Fallen Peace Officers’ memorial on the State Capitol grounds.
“They said they’d love to make an off-road vehicle ride the complements the street bike ride in the fall,” Koontz said.
The proceeds from this Saturday’s event will be used to maintain the memorial at the State Capitol, at the trailhead and benefit the families of fallen officers.
An Honor Corridor Solemnity Walk will be held near the memorial site for pedestrians only between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“The Solemnity Walk is like a compressed version of the ride, for people who won’t be doing the ride,” Koontz said.
A representative from each of the fallen officers’ agencies will be present. This year fallen officers honored will be from Utah Highway Patrol, Division of Wildlife Resources, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Corrections, four county sheriffs offices, and four city police departments.
Lloyd Larsen, a Moab police officer that was killed in the line of duty in 1961 will be honored this year.
Memorials for each of the 14 officers will be available to view.
The Fallen Peace Officer Trail is a fourteen-mile loop of primitive roads from Hwy 191 to the border of Arches National Park.
Koontz said that the road is of intermediate difficulty.
“Most of it had been considered a double track road, probably made by uranium miners a half century ago,” Koontz said. “It feels like a trail, even though it is considered a road by the county,” Koontz said. “Most fully capable stock vehicle can make it with a driver who has some experience. There are a few rock steps to negotiate, but we’re hoping it will be accessible to anyone, especially if they are related to any of these 14 officers.”
The road crosses the Morrison Formation, which is known for both dinosaur bones and tracks. The trail connects through a wash that is named Young Canyon, in honor of Brody Young.
“It is in an area most people have overlooked, in between Sovereign Trail and Klondike Bluffs,” Koontz said. “It just a stone’s throw from Tower Arch and it accesses a nice view of Arches National Park.”
The trail also offers a dramatic view of the La Sal Mountains and passes the remains of a 1967 western film set for “Blue” that starred Terrence Stamp, Joanna Pettet and Ricardo Montalban.
On April 20 the trail will be limited to side-by-sides, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles.
“We figure with a few hundred people on the trail, there will be room to pass one another,” Koontz said. “Every other day of the year, it will be open to all kind of use to accommodate a jeep.”
Robert Kirby, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, will be at the dedication.
“I got to be there,” Kirby said. “I’ve spent my life searching for these guys.”
Kirby made the leap from law enforcement to journalism in 1989.
He thought he closed the chapter on law enforcement as he began his new career, but in 1992 he found the story of William Strong, a Provo police officer who was murdered by a hobo in 1899.
That set him on the path to become a historian and update the list of officers who had been killed in the line of duty. Through his research he was able to double the known number of officers that had been killed in the line of duty and wrote the book “End of Watch” to document the deaths of Utah officers between 1858 and 2004.
When the state capitol in Salt Lake City was having seismic renovations done, a small memorial honoring fallen officers in the rotunda was to be removed.
“They gave us a piece of ground on the west side of the capitol,” Kirby said. “We realized fairly quickly we’d need to fundraise to build a bigger and better memorial.
The Utah Peace Officers Association was able to raise $1 million in three years and was able to dedicate a memorial in 2008. The Fallen Peace Officer Trail Ride, which the Utah Peace Officers Association hopes to become an annual event, will be one of those fundraisers to maintain the memorial in Salt Lake and at the Fallen Peace Officer Trailhead.
Annual memorials have been held since 2008. The next memorial will be held at 11 a.m., May 2 at the Fallen Peace Officers’ Memorial at the State Capitol.
“We began the process of remembering our fallen in a more obvious manner,” Kirby said. “The memorial has an open ended casualty list. There will always be more officers added to it. We know that when we have these memorials that the next guy to be on it may be standing in the crowd.”