City proposes test of City Creek fire break plan

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Lots of people love City Creek Canyon, but it has a dangerous side and Salt Lake City officials believe it's finally time to do something about the extreme fire danger. They're moving gingerly, though, because of concerns raised by the people who love the canyon the most.

When the city first started moving toward a plan to rip out selected vegetation, it stirred up a lot of concern.

Recreationists love the canyon because it's right on the doorstep of downtown Salt Lake City, a green oasis running many miles into the foothills. The narrow, winding road is a recreational delight because of the vegetation. It's a shady stroll from downtown, offering a long climb into critical watershed.

"It's a true treasure and resource to the community on multiple fronts," said Tom Ward, the city's deputy director of public utilities.

But Ward says fire danger is high because the dense vegetation hasn't seen a major fire in many years.

"Any fire here poses a threat to the recreation folks here in the canyon," Ward said.

It's a potential nightmare for firefighters who could easily be trapped on the narrow canyon road. There's also a real worry a wildfire could spread into the city.

"As we see in California and other areas," Ward said, there's the potential for "very extreme damage and risk to public life and property."

The city's original plan was to thin the vegetation with hand-tools in a wide corridor along five miles of roadway. Big trees and shade would remain; dead trees and underbrush would be cleared. But many recreationists have conflicted feelings.

"We don't want fires of the likes that California's experiencing," said bicyclist Paul Dykman. "At the same time, I don't know if it's our job to go in and root out all the vegetation that could potentially be a hazard."

Because the city got so much heat over the issue, they've backed off and slowed down, hoping to get everyone on board. The plan now is to thin out three test areas to assess environmental effects and public reaction.

"Some may like it," Ward said. "Some may not like it. We want to digest that and then take that information and decide what we're going to do for the entire canyon."

Some recreationists are in favor of fire management efforts. Bicyclist Steve Ferguson lived for years in California. He says some of his favorite biking areas have been ravaged by fire and he wouldn't want the same thing to happen in City Creek Canyon.

"If there was something that could have been done to mitigate the effect of the fires in California, and it wasn't done," Ferguson said, "then we have a chance to not make that mistake."

Salt Lake City officials are holding a public meeting to explain the plan. That's at the downtown library Thursday night. If everything stays on track, thinning on the three test plots could begin in a few weeks.


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John Hollenhorst


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