Hello Wasatch Backcountry Supporters!
With finally-cooling temps and perhaps the first storm of the season dropping a few inches this weekend, our thoughts are starting to bend towards winter, which we hope will be a bountiful one; we all sure need a lot of powder this season!
Though we’ve had a long hot summer, issues with winter use in the Wasatch never sleep, and plenty has happened over the summer that will affect what happens in what will no doubt be an unprecedented winter.
Hopefully you had a chance to send comments in to UDOT for their Environmental Impact Statement that is focusing on improved transit up Little Cottonwood Canyon. It had three options: Adding buses with no additional road capacity, adding buses with a proposed canyon-long third lane (both of these with snowsheds), and a gondola based at the mouth of LCC, to be accessed from a shuttle bus from near the mouth of BCC. They received over 6000 comments; far more than they anticipated, and are poring through them now. We will keep you advised on next steps.
The Central Wasatch Commission (CWC) has spent most of 2020 working on transportation issues as well, though the CWC is looking at the Wasatch in its entirety, not just LCC. This effort is called the Mountain Transportation System (MTS). They convened an “expert panel” on September 18th and chose that meeting as an opportunity to roll out their vision for Little Collonwood. Alternative 1 is enhanced bus service with snowsheds, Alternative 2 is buses with a gondola going up LCC, and Alternative 3 is enhanced bus service with a train up LCC. However, as they saying goes, the devil is in the details, and the MTS’s also presents a series of “sub-alternatives” that consider connecting LCC and BCC via either a tunnel or a gondola and BCC to Park City with a gondola.
The Wasatch Backcountry Alliance has made it very clear that any new transit solutions need to account for dispersed users (ie trailhead access) and that we do NOT favor canyon-to-canyon connections (a view that is shared by some of the ski resorts that would be affected by the connections). WBA still thinks that enhanced bus service without widening LCC is the best way to move forward for both UDOT and CWC. Aerial connections will lead to the loss of backcountry terrain and access, and more resort expansion, something we cannot let happen as backcountry use continues to increase.
CWC is looking for people’s input into the MTS and there is a comment period that is open now and ends on October 18th. There is also an interactive “build your own transportation system” tool on their website, where you can learn much more about the MTS and submit your comment. CWC will also be hosting a “Transportation Summit” on November 13 and 14 via Zoom, where they share their vision and proposals. We encourage people to participate in the process as decisions are being made and now is the time to be sure your voice is heard.
As we all know, trailhead parking has gotten challenging, especially on storm days. And this winter could provide additional challenges, with people still reluctant to carpool or ride the bus, and some of the ski resorts using limited parking as their COVID crowding prevention measure. In particular, we have talked extensively with Alta Ski Lifts (ASL) and the Forest Service about parking in upper LCC. Despite what you may have heard, ASL does not have approval from the Forest Service to restrict parking to non-ski area patrons. We will continue to work with the ski area to find solutions that provide access for all users of upper LCC.
As you may remember, UDOT installed gates at the Spruces and White Pine lots last winter so snowplows can clear the lots in the wee hours without having to deal with parked cars. The application of this process was spotty at best last year, and we are working on having a conversation with UDOT to make this more consistent.
If you’ve been up Big Cottonwood Canyon this summer you have probably seen the improvements at the Cardiff lot. The Cardiff lot is used in the summer to access the Mill D North trail, and please keep in mind that this can also be used as wintertime access to the popular Mill D area. It’s slightly farther than parking at the Spruces, but that area is increasingly busy, so consider parking at Cardiff instead this winter.
And remember: if you park on the side of the highway, be sure to pull all of the way off the road, beyond the white line. If you are on/over the line, the police will ticket you and you may get towed, not to mention unintentionally add to the reasons why UDOT and the Forest Service continue to discuss banning roadside parking in the canyons in total due to safety concerns.
Mill Creek Canyon
The Wasatch Backcountry Alliance is a member of the CWC’s Stakeholder Council, and is also a member of the Mill Creek Canyon subcommittee. This group has been working on clarifying the dog leash/no leash rules associated with the road above the gate (scheduled to close November 1) and we will follow up with more info on this in the coming months.
We are working on several events:
- Our annual member meeting. This has always been a great way for us to connect with you and vice versa. Though of course we won’t be able to do it in person this fall, we are planning on doing an online meeting that will hopefully result in more participants, since it will be more convenient than a physical meeting. We will keep you updated as we hone in on a date.
- Our annual Powder Party – typically hosted by our great supporters Red Rock Brewing – won’t happen this year either. Given the success of the Utah Avalanche Center’s virtual party, we are considering doing something similar. Stand by!
- The Winter Wildlands Alliance is doing a “Best of Fest” film festival that is online so you can watch from home with friends by clicking here. There is a small fee to cover the costs and you will be able to watch these great films over the course of a couple of days.
Whew! That’s a lot, but the much-loved Wasatch is always complicated. Thanks again for your support, pray for much snow, little wind, and we’ll be in touch.