If you are a Utah skier, boarder, hiker, or mountain biker—or, if you dig coming to Utah to do those things, which you should—you need to know about the effort to create the Central Wasatch National Conservation Recreation Area.
This is a big deal for mountain lovers. The Central Wasatch Range is home to some of the world’s best resorts for riding snow. To orient you: The bill encompasses the section of range that contains Alta and Snowbird, in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton and Solitude, in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and Park City and Deer Valley, up Parleys Canyon. In between these resorts you’ll find some of the best (and easily accessed) backcountry terrain anywhere.
And it’s all right there. I live in Salt Lake City and Solitude’s entrance is 42.6 minutes from my garage. These mountains are the collective backyard for everyone in the Salt Lake Valley (on the front side) and in the Park City and the Heber Valley (on the back side).
Basically, life in Utah rules.
This bill is trying to create a National Conservation and Recreation Area that calls out the Central Wasatch Range for what it is—a damn national treasure.
For the “conservation” part of its name, the bill will create special protections for approximately 80,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land, including critical watershed, scenic ridgelines and treasured landscapes.
For the “recreation” part of its name, it specifically guarantees that we can keep shredding and that all current recreational uses will continue in perpetuity. (And, hey, Mountain Bikers, it tweaks some key wilderness boundaries to ensure the popular Bonneville Shoreline Trail is open to your knobby tires).
The bill will also authorize a land exchange that will put more than 2,000 acres of land currently owned by the ski resorts (such as Mount Superior in Little Cottonwood, for example) into public ownership. Meanwhile, it trades these key upper watershed and high alpine spaces for land in resort’s already established base areas. Did you now, for example, that Alta Ski Area doesn’t actually own some of the land at its base? It has to ask permission from the Forest Service to use these patches of federal land—every season. That’s dumb.
It’s a fair deal to fix dumb stuff like that. It moves pieces of important landscapes and watershed into permanent public ownership and allows the ski resorts to control already trampled areas and make better business decisions. We the people get something. They the ski industry cleans up the mess at their base areas.
And get this. The bill will lock down resort boundaries on federal land.
I’ll say it again. The creation of The Central Wasatch Conservation and Recreation Area will ensure that ski resorts thrive within their traditional boundaries (cool) but will also mean that ski resorts don’t dominate the conversation in these mountains (also cool). Plus, that thing about protecting the source of water that 500,000 (and counting) people rely upon (way cool).
We love our sports, we love the high alpine world we practice them in, but we have to recognize that the world is filling up with people, people who want to play too. Places like the Central Wasatch Range are too precious, too rare anymore. Letting them go to the highest bidder, to lawsuits and public fights, to the rampant over-development you already see above Park City is a disservice to the reasons we ski, the reasons we ride, the reasons why these high, cold places feed our souls.
It’s a fair deal. A square deal. And, if you’re someone who is passionate about playing in the Utah mountains and wants those traditions of recreation and access to continue, you should get off your ass and send an email to one of these guys.
Editor’s Note: Find more detail, including maps at Mountainaccord.com.