CWNCRA Comments – December 2020

3 minutes



While the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance is pleased with some elements of the re-drafted Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act, there are also some elements that we think are lacking in the bill. Below are our formal points regarding the draft legislation:

  • We are pleased to see such a broad swath of the lands in the Tri-Canyon area (Little Cottonwood Canyon – Big Cottonwood Canyon – Mill Creek Canyon) Summit County, Wasatch County, and Salt Lake County included in the CWNCRA.
  • We are pleased to see that the boundaries of the CWNCRA do – in some cases – go right up to the ski resort boundaries
  • However, we think that the public land in the Alta Ski Area avalanche protection zone permit area should also be part of the CWNCRA.  Leaving it out is a clear message that the legislation is favoring a ski resort’s expansion desires over public lands.
  • We like the fact that the ski area boundaries are fixed and the limitation of ski resorts to only build additional chairlifts on their own (leased or private) lands, not on the CWNCRA land.  WBA thinks it’s important to note that Utah’s skier density is roughly half that of Colorado’s, meaning there is room to grow within the resort boundaries even though ski resort visitation numbers nationwide have been relatively flat for 40 years. In contrast, backcountry skiing/riding has experienced exponential growth, especially in the past five years. This provides further incentive to maintain the existing boundaries between ski resorts and the adjacent backcountry, thereby allowing both opportunities for growth.
  • To that effect, we would like to see formal language in the bill confirming the need to preserve the existing balance of resort and adjacent backcountry terrain in the Central Wasatch.
  • We applaud the preservation of the White Pine drainage, but are disappointed that a national precedent of a “Wilderness that allows helicopters” is going to be part of that package.  We would respectfully request that the White Pine drainage be added to the adjacent Lone Peak Wilderness, with the exception of utility vehicles being allowed to access the reservoir as a grandfathered-in necessity.  It is unconscionable that one business with limited use in that area can force an unprecedented compromise on a bedrock 56 year-old nationwide law, and that “watershed protection” somehow includes aircraft powered by jet fuel to consistently access the terrain.
  • We are pleased that the Grandeur Peak/Mount Aire Wilderness area will be established.
  • While we appreciate that Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Canyons as well as the Wasatch Back are “transportation corridors”, we are concerned that development of these corridors – and, worse, connections between the two canyons themselves and Park City or the Wasatch Back – via train, gondola, snowsheds, road widening, etc. could ultimately encroach upon a) the lands available for potential land trades, and b) the public’s ability to access their public lands via trailheads for both winter and summer use.    Therefore, we would like to see formal language identifying the need for any transit options to address the needs of non-resort, dispersed users
  • WBA is disappointed that most of the resorts are unwilling to engage in any meaningful land trade negotiations as part of the CWNCRA. We still think these could be part of the overall bill and understand that some of the resorts are interested in facilitating the preservation of land commonly used/referred to as “backcountry.” , and would prefer to have at least more strongly-worded language and/or incentives in the bill to encourage backcountry land preservation/non-development.
  • We would like to see formal language in the bill to develop a more comprehensive hiking/mountain biking trail network in the upper Cottonwood canyons, so that resources would be applied to the planning and implementation of a system.  Population growth in the valley that will affect ski resort and transportation capacity will also affect trail capacity.

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