Committee looking for ways to preserve popular canyons

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's canyons are popular for their beauty, to the point of being at risk. A committee called "Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow" is working on ways to balance access with preservation.

The canyon views are pristine, but for how long?

Cheryl Probert, with the U.S. Forest Service, said, "That balance of our motto -- Caring for the land, servicing the people -- here it's even more complicated because of the proximity."

Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow invited public input through three surveys that included more than 16,000 people. The main topics of the Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow study included land use, transportation and recreation.

The Uintah/Wasatch/Cache id the third most visited National Forest in the nation. -U.S. Forest Service

More than 62 percent of respondents expressed concern the canyons are overused. When asked if Salt Lake County should strengthen regulations about land use, 62 percent said yes.

The popularity of Utah's canyons is most obvious on heavy ski days, when the long red line of tail lights stretches up and down canyon roads. On those days, the trip up or down from a ski resort can be an hour or more.

Getting people in and out of the canyons is one of the key components of recommendations released this week.

Jeff Niermeyer, with Salt Lake City Public utilities, said, "It's going to be this struggle of balance. Quite frankly, there's a risk of actually loving these canyons to death."

Ideas include boosting bus service, adding bus stops at popular trail heads, and enlarging park-and-ride lots.

A long-term wish list includes extending TRAX to the mouth of Big and Little Cottonwood canyons and adding a cog rail system up the canyons -- and gondola between resorts.

The alternative is more people clogging the roads.

Ski Utah's Nathan Rafferty said, "If people have a really bad experience getting to and from the ski areas, at a certain point, it just doesn't become fun to ski anymore."

More people are a mixed blessing on Utah's canyons and finding solutions will become more urgent as the state's population climbs.


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Richard Piatt


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