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Fall 2019 Update: Comment Opportunities About Central Wasatch National Conservation Area Act (CWNCRA)

Greetings Wasatch Backcountry Alliance Members.

As the latest heat wave finally cools, issues around our beloved Central Wasatch backcountry are heating up.

Backcountry Skiing the Wasatch

Noah Howell emerging from deep in the Wasatch’s finest.
Photo by Tom Diegel.

This coming Monday, September 9th, from 3-6pm at Cottonwood Heights City Hall, there will be an open house on the CWC’s latest draft proposal for the Central Wasatch National Conservation Area Act (CWNCRA). You can view the latest draft of the CWNCRA here and view a map of the proposed area here.

For Park City and Wasatch back residents, there is a public forum on September 10th, from 6-8pm at the Park City High School.

From the Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow effort of the early 2000’s to the multi-year Mountain Accord process to the Central Wasatch Commission, this could well be the most significantly impactful event for the Wasatch mountains in a generation, so we at the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance want to encourage you to come out and take time to learn about the proposal and speak with representatives about the bill. There will be a comment period during each of the meetings and written comments will be accepted until September 19th. You can send your written comment to comments@cwc.utah.gov or you can submit it here. Make your voice heard, and pass this information to your friends and partners.

Among the many changes, there are some notable modifications to the bill that WBA thinks are important and worth pointing out:

  • The Town of Alta (TOA) and Alta Ski Lifts (ASL), along with the Pasty Marley Avalanche Protection Zone remain excluded from the CWNCRA, based on ASL’s unwillingness to halt expansion possibilities into Grizzly Gulch and up to Patsy Marley’s peak (which is public land).
  • The other 3 Cottonwood resorts (Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton) will participate in the land exchanges. They will not be able to further expand onto public lands and these boundaries will be permanently fixed, which is good news.
  • Inclusion of new, controversial language for a “Mountain Transportation System” used for ‘transporting people year-round between base destinations.” (section 2(a)(7) of the latest draft). Read: potentially building a base-to-base gondola or the like from Alta over the ridgeline to Solitude or Brighton, which could further lead to a loss of backcountry terrain and resort expansion in Grizzly Gulch and upper Big Cottonwood.
  • On a positive note, expansion of the Solitude Ski Area Honeycomb return lift into Silver Fork appears to be off the table, but requires continued vigilance to ensure it does not rear up again in the future.
  • There have been modifications to two wilderness area boundaries that will result in a net gain of wilderness and achieve a continuous Bonneville Shoreline trail.

On the whole, while there is much to be gained from CWNCRA for backcountry users – expanded public land protections, locking in ski area boundaries on public land, as well as an eye towards improving transportation – there are some issues that continue to trouble WBA with the bill in its current form. As is expected with multiple stakeholders, compromise is inevitable and hard choices will have to be made by all participants. By remaining at the table and continuing to be part of the discussion, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance members have the opportunity to have our collective voices heard by all of the major players in this process as we move towards solutions. We encourage you to read the bill, come to one of the upcoming meetings and submit an oral or written comment, which could highlight things such as:

  • I want ski resort boundaries on public lands to be fixed in order to protect existing backcountry areas.
  • I do not support a canyon-to-canyon connection and do not want to see ski area expansion on private lands in Grizzly Gulch and upper Big Cottonwood.
  • I support the adjustment of wilderness areas to create a continuous BST corridor.
  • I want low impact transit enhancements, like improved bus and shuttle service using existing roads rather than a gondola, train or tunnel.

These are just some suggestions as there are many other comments to be made. There are numerous other issues to discuss in the coming weeks/months, so stay tuned as you embark on your dry land fitness regime for the upcoming snow season. WBA will have a table at next week’s 26th annual fall fundraiser for the Utah Avalanche Center and our annual member meeting will be taking place sometime next month, with details TBA as they come together.

And of course: Pray for Snow! (and no facets, and little wind!)

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