2023 Fall Update

6 minutes


Hello Wasatch Backcountry Alliance supporters!

Well, it’s been another long hot summer, but finally the temps are starting to moderate a bit, the leaves will start changing soon, and winter is at least starting to loom in the distance!  As always, however, activism for public lands never sleeps, even for wintertime access, and a few things have been happening over the summer that we wanted you to be aware of. 

The Wasatch Backcountry Alliance is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and some changes are afoot.  After seven years of steady guidance and consistently elevating our presence among the many Wasatch stakeholders, our president Chris Adams is stepping down from that role.

Aaron London came to WBA a few years ago and immediately had an impact in volunteering to fill in at important meetings, help run the wintertime trail counting program, and coordinate various volunteer events — and is keen to continue the legacy that Chris carried on from Jamie Kent, our original president.

Additionally, it seemed appropriate for Tom Diegel to give the reins of vice president to Jayson Erickson, who is our newest member but has already made a great impact with his passion and enthusiasm. His first task was hosting a spring picnic of gratitude for the UDOT plow drivers and UTA bus drivers who worked tirelessly in some very tense situations during the unprecedented late-season avalanche cycles. We are excited about the new energy Aaron and Jay will bring to our team.  

Additionally, it has become apparent for some years now that WBA could use a staffer to help us keep abreast of the many little — and big — events, meetings, and developments that affect our mission of maintaining the existing balance of resort and backcountry terrain.  We have a great candidate ready to fill this role and are excited to make a formal announcement about this in the near future.  

Cardiff Fork

As many of you know, Cardiff Fork has been the site of some controversy over the last few years. Last year the land owners association declined to renew their special use permit with the Forest Service, which allowed them to access their land via motorized means in exchange for allowing public access through their property. By allowing the permit to expire, this has created confusion about how the public can access the public lands in Cardiff. Additionally, the gate just above the summer parking area for Donut Falls has been locked by the Forest Service this summer for the first time in many years.

Recently, the Forest Service sent in a few surveyors to re-establish forest boundaries in the greater Cardiff Fork area to begin the long process of creating accuracy in property boundaries, which will help with clarification of private vs public lands and access.  We will continue to monitor this situation closely and provide updates as the snow begins to fall.

Mill Creek Canyon

The Mill Creek Canyon road improvement project continues to march along. There was an open house associated with an updated road design in June and a public comment period that was intended to be associated with only environmental impacts as per NEPA.

Though that comment period closed in early July, the Federal Highway Administration has assured us that they can still receive formal comments on other aspects of the road design, which at this point creates 10-foot striped lanes and a four-foot bike lane to Elbow Fork, then no bike lane from Elbow Fork to the Big Water lot, which will change the character of the upper canyon considerably 

If you’d like to comment, send an email to millcreekroad@slco.org. Also, if you’ve been up MCC lately you may have noticed “For Sale” signs on both sides of the road above the fee kiosk. That is a private landowner who is selling land he bought from the Boy Scouts some years ago, and while he’s interested in selling the land for a lot of money, he’s also interested in some sort of conservation of the land if there’s a “deal.” There is work being done on this front.  

Little Cottonwood Canyon Gondola

As you no doubt are aware, UDOT released their Record Of Decision (ROD) to move forward with their plans for the world’s longest — and most expensive — gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon despite widespread criticism of the idea.

However, they did hedge a bit and are intending to move forward with a phased approach including enhanced bus service, snow sheds in avalanche paths, and tolling for vehicles, with the gondola scheduled to begin construction far down the road, so to speak. 

The Wasatch Front Regional Council has added verbiage stating that phase 3 needs to be evaluated based on the success of phase 1 and 2. We are actively working with elected officials to get the quantitative metrics that will define “success” so we have an understanding of how this will be measured.   

Ski Area Parking

As we all know, backcountry touring many times begins at or near the ski resorts, and there are some big changes to the parking programs at each resort that will undoubtedly affect backcountry users as well. Below is a summary:

Alta – no changes from last year, with paid parking Friday-Sunday and holidays, and free parking other days. There will still be a charge to park from 6 a.m.-8 a.m. for dawn patrol.

Snowbird – no changes from last year, with mostly first-come, first-serve parking everyday except for some limited reserved parking

Brighton – implementing reserved parking for $20 per day and $25 on holidays

Solitude – implementing reserved parking, with the same fee structure as last year based on number of people in your vehicle and peak days

Given how Alta’s paid parking reservation system has worked out, we are cautiously optimistic about Brighton and Solitude finally recognizing the need to manage traffic in the canyons. We still have concerns how road parking will be affected for those that tour USA Bowl and Willow Heights, but the reduction in morning traffic on weekends should greatly benefit our Backcountry Shuttle.

Central Wasatch Commission (CWC)

WBA has been represented at the CWC’s Stakeholder Council level since its inception along with many of the other major players in the Wasatch. Recognizing the enthusiasm and potentially different perspectives of younger Wasatch lovers, the CWC is initiating a “Youth Council” for people from ages 16-30. This could be a great opportunity for aspiring activists. Visit their website for more info before the end of the month. 

While we like to think that the WBA member meetings, our Powder Parties, and the Backcountry Film Festival are the snow-related events of the year, the truth is that the annual Utah Avalanche Center party on the Black Diamond Equipment campus is always a great time for a great cause. This year’s celebration is Thursday, September 14.  

As always, thanks very much for your support, and as per our earnest governor, start praying now for another season like the last one!  

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