Action Alert: Tri-Canyon Trails Draft Plan

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Wasatch Backcountry Alliance has reviewed the Tri-Canyon Trails Draft Plan and attended stakeholder meetings with the Forest Service, Watershed, Save Our Canyons, and the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, and we’re very excited about the long-term opportunities for winter recreation in the Tri-Canyons, i.e., Millcreek Canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon, and Little Cottonwood Canyon. WBA has identified five key winter recreation strategies to help protect and support dispersed users’ access to public lands. WBA is requesting the Forest Service and Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation to include these five recreation strategies in their final plan. Please help advocate for improved winter recreation opportunities as well as any other important improvements by submitting your comments before May 31st.

The Tri-Canyon Trails Master Plan is a six-year project that started in 2020. The project’s mission is to provide a roadmap for addressing trailheads, trail network improvements, and recreation strategies, as well as to strengthen ecosystem health by implementing protections to mitigate detrimental impacts upon water, wildlife, vegetation, scenery, and natural landscapes. In the early stage of the project, the FS prioritized gathering information – this included walking all user-created trails and collecting usage data on existing trails. To help the FS with this mission, WBA, in 2021, provided trail counters to the FS so they could track visitor numbers at selected trailheads. The WBA and FS continue to partner and support each other by running separate but coordinated trail counter programs. WBA’s program focuses on winter backcountry trailheads and the FS’s program focuses on spring, summer, and fall trailhead recreation, some of which overlap. 

1. Designate an official winter trailhead in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon

Wasatch Backcountry Alliance (WBA) would like to propose an official Forest Service trailhead in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon near the Emma Tunnel (see image below). This trail is called the “Alta-Brighton” Trail and is known by others as the “Twin Lakes” trail.  Currently, the Forest Service (FS) does not identify this trail as an official Trailhead in their site inventory. The public has a long history of accessing prime high-elevation terrain in Upper Little Cottonwood Canyon, so we believe this new, permanent trailhead would formalize the public’s access in an area that has faced encroachment from private ownership. We strongly feel it’s important to protect access for all user groups rather than just resort users. 

Designate an official winter trailhead in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon. Comment on the “Alta (Grizzly Gulch)” primitive trail in the interactive map.

2. Implement a standardized uphill travel policy for all Central Wasatch ski resorts that operate on public lands

WBA is requesting that the FS require all Central Wasatch resorts adopt a standard uphill travel policy that designates at least one uphill route to be open during operating hours. WBA is proposing a standardized uphill travel policy because it promotes an alternative method for the public to safely enjoy their public lands. Uphill travel, a.k.a. Resort Uphilling, is often more inclusive for those of all income levels, such as a population of taxpayers who cannot afford the high price of a lift ticket. Uphill travel also offers a lower-cost alternative for families to recreate. Resorts such as Snowbasin require uphill skiers and riders to sign a waiver and pick up a free uphill pass from their ticket office. WBA would support a formal process similar to Snowbasin’s, or a less formal process that did not require registration. WBA would support uphill travel access at the Central Wasatch resorts regardless if the access was provided at no cost (preferred) or for a small fee. Currently, Brighton is the only Tri-Canyon ski area that allows uphill travel during operating hours, although, uphill travel is sometimes not permitted if the resort determines that the avalanche hazard is too high. Solitude only permits uphill travel outside of operating hours, and no uphill travel is permitted at Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts during the winter season.

3. Increase strategic glading

WBA is excited to hear the Forest Service mention glading. We believe there is a huge opportunity to improve forest health, mitigate wildfire risks, and improve winter recreation opportunities with strategic glading. WBA would like to see areas prioritized that are both heavily used by dispersed wintertime users and adjacent to structures. This past fall, WBA met with the acting ranger at the time, Scott Frost, to discuss working together to glade strategic zones. WBA would also be interested in helping provide volunteers for specific glading projects. The highest priority areas for glading should be adjacent to structures as well as prime backcountry skiing terrain such Argenta/Eagles, Scotties Bowl, Greens Basin, Willows/Monitors, Tom’s Hill, and Spruces/Mill D North Fork.

4. Increase winter restroom availability and improve infrastructure

The increased number of dispersed users that gather at trailheads in recent years has resulted in a growing demand for available restrooms. Providing additional restrooms throughout the year will protect the watershed, ecosystem health, and the visitor experience. Every winter, restrooms are closed for the season. WBA would like to see these seasonally closed restrooms be heated during the winter, maintained at a reasonable level, and stay open all year long. The existing supply of winter trailhead bathrooms no longer meets the demand driven by decades of population growth. There is an immediate need for more winter restrooms.

5. Provide additional winter plowing in the Spruces parking lot

WBA encourages the Forest Service to provide adequate access to public lands where possible. The main Spruces parking lot fills up quickly and frequently. This is one of the most popular starting points for dispersed winter recreation due to its proximity to safer, lower-angle terrain that riders of all abilities can frequent even when avalanche hazard is high. WBA would like to see the back parking lot plowed consistently, as maintaining this parking capacity is essential for dispersed users accessing public lands. Parking restrictions are in effect on S.R.190 near the Spruces lot, and roadside parking was reduced further this past season due to new parking policies implemented by the Town of Brighton. Because the Town of Brighton’s new parking regulations and fees reduced upper-canyon parking availability, the public adapted by attempting to park down-canyon at Spruces and other trailheads. Therefore, it is critical to the backcountry community that the additional parking lots at Spruces are plowed consistently to help offset the losses of available parking in Big Cottonwood Canyon. 

6. Enable shuttle stops at trailheads (recent addition to our recommended comments)

This will help provide dispersed public transportation to public lands while reducing the environmental impact associated with personal vehicles. Specifically shuttle stops should be permitted at White Pine, Spruces, and Cardiff Fork. These are popular winter trailheads where there is not adequate parking. Furthermore, there is existing restroom infrastructure at these locations.

Your comments are very important! Links to key resources are listed below.

How to submit comments:

Click the following link for the project’s StoryMap. Scroll down the StoryMap page to find three separate survey links where you can submit comments. Each survey relates to a separate focus area in the plan – these focus areas are Trailheads, Trail Network, and Recreation Strategies. Note that most of WBA’s comments outlined above fall under Survey #3, Recreation Strategies – please go there and select “Winter Recreation Opportunities” from the drop-down menu to voice additional support for those items. We encourage the community to submit comments for all three surveys in the StoryMap but, if you only want to comment on Recreation Strategies, click the link here for a shortcut to that page.

Learn more about the Tri-Canyon Trails Master Plan:


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