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Spring 2019 WBA Update

Hello Wasatch Backcountry Alliance members!

We hope that you have continued to enjoy our bountiful snows this season as much as we have.  It’s winters like this that reinforce why we live here!  Though it’s now officially spring and the sun wreaks havoc a little faster, we are still hoping for some further spring snow.  

We wanted to give you an update on what’s been happening and provide you with a couple of opportunities for action. 

1. UDOT EIS Comment Period and Open House:

As we mentioned in the February update, UDOT has been putting the money allocated to them for Little Cottonwood Canyon projects to good use with some temporary modifications that will likely become permanent and are also working on bigger, longer-term solutions.  Recently the comment period for the EIS has opened up, and it’s clear from our conversations with UDOT that they are genuinely keen for feedback from the public.

As we all know, getting people up our steep canyons en masse on storm days and weekends is a complex, multi-faceted challenge. There is no one magical solution, so UDOT is looking at lots of different options and would like to hear from you what your impressions are. 

With that in mind, when WBA got out for a tour with the US Forest Service folks last month, we asked them “what types of comments in these ‘comment periods’ are worthy?” And they emphasized that – not surprisingly – they don’t have too much regard for people who simply complain. 

Wasatch Backcountry Alliance hikes Grizzly Gulch with Uinta/Wasatch/Cache National Forest District Supervisor Dave Whittekiend, deputy Chad Hudson, and trails/dispersed rec. specialist Renee Flanagan.

Yes, USFS and UDOT employees are experts and they also hire consultants who have even more expertise, and we the public are not experts, but we are the ones who are impacted and our opinion counts, as long as we take the time to make well-thought-out, reasonable comments. 

The ability to make educated comments comes from education, and there’s a great opportunity to learn about the many options and the plusses-minuses:

  • UDOT Open House
    • Tuesday, April 9 from 4-8 p.m.
    • Cottonwood Heights City Hall (2277 E Bengal Boulevard)

All of the major players will be there to answer questions about both LCC and BCC (it’s important to keep in mind dispersed use; ie if there’s mass transit, are places like White Pine and Butler trailheads addressed?), and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the challenges they face and the potential transit options they’ve identified.  In addition, here’s an article that ran in Friday’s Salt Lake Tribune about the process:  https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2019/04/04/gondolas-tolls-trains/

2. CWC and Alta Ski Lifts:

And speaking of complicated processes, the Central Wasatch Commission has continued to work with Alta Ski Lifts (ASL) in an attempt to keep ASL in the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Act. To date, ASL has rejected multiple proposals to find a solution to their insistence on developing not only Grizzly Gulch, but also reserving the right to change their special use permit for avalanche control only on Patsy Marley so they can develop that as well, AND they hope to put a connecting chairlift to Solitude Mountain Resort on the land ASL owns on the backside of the Honeycomb cliffs.  Yes, ASL is working hard to create a canyon-to-canyon connection.  

There has been a lot of talk this season about parking at the head of LCC.  To be clear:  Yes, state highway 210 is a public road, and under their special use permit, ASL does have management control of the Grizzly Gulch parking area.  ASL has attempted to make a claim that non-revenue-generating people are taking up ASL customers’ parking and have made noise about trying to restrict non-ski area patron parking, but we have worked with the Forest Service to clarify that despite ASL’s management of the parking area, they do not have the right to deny or restrict the public from accessing public lands.  So while we should be thankful for ASL’s plowing efforts and respectful of their parking challenges by limiting our single-occupancy-vehicle use and parking efficiently, the backcountry community does indeed have the right to park in the ASL-managed zone at the top of the canyon.  

Note: Grizzly Gulch will be closed on Sunday and Monday, April 7-8 for rescue practice.

And speaking of accessing public lands, many of us received a message on Friday morning that Grizzly Gulch will be closed on Sunday and Monday, April 7-8 for rescue practice.  Yes, ASL owns a lot of land in Grizzly Gulch, but it’s important to know that there has been 40+ years of continued public access-use through that area and the Patsy Marley area (above the cat track), Silver Fork, and even parcels within ASL’s land in Grizzly are public land. It is not at all clear to WBA if ASL can in fact impose this kind of restriction on Grizzly, so stay tuned for an update on this critical issue.

Pray for more snow and less wind (and sun)!  

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Thank you for your service and leadership, Mark Menlove! Mark is the former director of Winter Wildlands Alliance and is fondly referred to as The Godfather of Wasatch Backcountry Alliance for his role in starting our grassroots organization.

Thank you for your leadership and service Mark Menlove

Finally, we want to close with a quick note to thank one of our founding members:  Mark Menlove.  Mark was the Executive Director of the Winter Wildlands Alliance for 14 years, and really was the spark that initially fired up the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance (which in turn spawned other like-minded groups around the country). Mark’s perspective and experience both as the former director of Ski Utah and as a national backcountry advocate has been invaluable to the continued success and impact of WBA. Mark recently left WWA to turn his considerable skills to a new role as the Idaho director of the Nature Conservancy, and we wish him the best.  

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