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Salt Lake County officials to warn public of trail dangers, due to increasing amount of rescues

SANDY — Members of the Unified Police Department and Sandy Fire Department handed bottles of ice-cold water to thirsty hikers Friday on the Bells Canyon Trail.

Salt Lake County and Sandy officials held a news conference at the trailhead, 3450 E. Little Cottonwood Road, in an attempt to educate people about hiking safety, as well as hazards specific to the popular Bells Canyon Trail — the site of two required rescues in the past two weeks.

"As you can see, cars are lined up and we need more parking so more people can use it," Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said, motioning toward several cars parked on the side of the road near the trail. "Actually, we had no idea the popularity this canyon would have when we made it available."

The moderately strenuous hike, which features views of the city's reservoir and a three-tiered, 80-foot waterfall, is nearly 6 miles roundtrip and is fairly popular among locals and visitors. Over Labor Day weekend, 1,650 people used the trail, Dolan said.

Alan Bergstrom, commander of Salt Lake County Search and Rescue, said the ability to use the wilderness surrounding the city is a paradox because accessibility often leads people to hike unprepared on a whim.

Several members of the county's volunteer search and rescue team said they have seen visitors attempting the hike without water and wearing inadequate footwear such as flip-flops.

"I want people to enjoy the scenery and the hike, but I want them to be prepared for the worst case," Sandy Fire Chief Bruce Cline said.

Cline suggests that hikers have with them proper footwear, a backpack, water, food and anything they may need if they get stranded on the mountain. He also said hikers should have a partner or tell others about their whereabouts, and to bring a charged cellphone in case of an emergency.

Some hikers, despite being adequately prepared, have needed to be rescued because of poor decision-making on the Bells Canyon Trail — most often near a creek-like area at top of the waterfall, officials said.

Many hikers underestimate the speed of the current and jump from rocks on one side to rocks on the opposite side. However, the rocks are usually slippery from melted snow and mist from the waterfall, officials said, causing hikers to fall and descend the rocky waterfall.

"We are concerned," Dolan said. "We want people to realize that they have to be extra careful and be diligent to how they move across that creek and how they use themselves in the canyon."

At the bottom of the trail, there are several signs warning hikers not to jump across the creek, and officials are working to eventually place warning signs near the dangerous trail region.

"When you get to the creek area, all of a sudden, things do not appear as dangerous, but they really are. That's basically what happened to me," explained Mansour Ariazand, 63, who attempted to make the dangerous leap and slipped off the rocks into the creek, causing him to descend the icy waterfall on Father's Day in 2010. "My inner voice told me no. I went to jump it three times. The first two times I backed off."

Ariazand was adequately prepared with a backpack containing water, rain gear, and food.

He sustained multiple injuries, including displaced limbs and many bruises, during his decent down the waterfall and survived because he got caught on a tree.

It took rescue crews five hours to get Ariazand off the mountain. They were unable to use the aid of a helicopter because of high winds that day.

"Lives are at risk during rescues. They are manpower intensive," Bergstrom said. "Even though you may be an hour up there, it will take longer than an hour to get you down. It takes up to 20 people to rescue someone off the mountain in perfect situation."

Email: chansen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: curlybrunette13