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Wharton: Study Utah's Interconnect idea as a whole

Published April 17, 2013 9:32 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If I could be dictator for a day, there would be no roller coaster or revolving mountaintop restaurant at Snowbird, no SkiLink gondola connecting The Canyons with Solitude and no system of seven lifts joining Park City with Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.

Since that is not going to happen, I would settle for a comprehensive look at Wasatch Front and Back ski resort expansion plans that would be a joint project including the U.S. Forest Service, Summit, Salt Lake, Utah and Wasatch counties, Salt Lake City, Park City and the state of Utah.

Such a study would include input from environmental groups, wildlife organizations and biologists, ski resorts, private canyon landowners and watershed managers.

The problem with the way things are being done now is that the tops of these beautiful canyons may be slowly ruined, a small cut at a time, without knowing the cumulative effects until it is too late.

Take, for example, Interconnect, the proposal to use lifts, trams or gondolas to link Park City and the Cottonwood canyons.

What's on the table is the awful precedent-setting sale of 31 acres of pristine Big Cottonwood Canyon land to the Canadian company that owns The Canyons ski area and wants to connect it with Solitude. Then there is Alta's recent proposal for a lift on Grizzly Gulch and another to Flagstaff Peak that would essentially connect Little and Big Cottonwood canyon resorts.

Add to that rumors of a Deer Valley to Brighton lift and who knows what else, and what you have is massive development that will forever change the top of the Wasatch canyons.

No matter what your stand on ski resort expansion, SkiLink and Interconnect, wouldn't it make sense to look at the entire proposal rather than fighting over each single lift and ski resort proposal?

Shouldn't we be having a discussion on what we want the tops of our largely publicly owned canyons to look like in the future?

Do we want expensive lift-served resort skiing on nearly every peak at the top of Big and Little Cottonwood canyons or do we want to leave some land as it is, unmarred by unsightly lift towers, midmountain restaurants and development?

Isn't it about time to have a discussion about the cumulative effects of resort expansion on water quality for the Salt Lake Valley?

Wouldn't now be a great opportunity to talk about how many people should be on the mountain at any one time, what the capacity of resort parking lots should be, and to look at a comprehensive traffic plan?

Perhaps these studies would show that those of us who think there is already too much development in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons are wrong. They might reveal that Interconnect would help decrease traffic, that the public really wants more lifts and that water quality wouldn't be harmed by the extra people new development would bring.

But how can we know if we don't do a cumulative study?

A lift here, a roller coaster there, a mountain restaurant or a new gondola connecting one peak to another might not individually make much difference. But put them all together, and they could create serious problems.

I wish we would stop all development at the Cottonwood Canyon ski resorts. But I could be wrong. And the only way to find out is with a comprehensive plan, not little proposals that slowly change what is left of our beautiful canyons.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton