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Crowds eager to comment on future of the Wasatch

Published February 6, 2014 9:08 am

Planning • Interest high in what "Mountain Accord" decides about canyon uses.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The devotion people feel for the Wasatch Mountains was evident Wednesday at Skyline High School as a steady stream of visitors attended an open house on what's called the "Mountain Accord."

Visitors came to see what the grandiose but nebulous plan was all about and to put in their two cents' worth about issues that ought to be considered as Accord organizers shape future uses of the range's central mountains and canyons. Those organizers include elected officials, government agencies, conservationists, recreationists, ski-resort operators and property owners — nearly two dozen interest groups in all.

"It's such a big puzzle that I hope a lot of people voice their concerns," said Mindy Wheeler, 47, an environmental consultant from Park City, where a similar meeting the night before attracted about 100 residents.

Wheeler's main interest was in protecting the watershed. But she also was concerned that a push for a system of hiking-and-biking trails could hurt wildlife. "Let's think about those things," Wheeler said.

Rob Kertesz, 55, a retired educator from Sandy, said he was interested in canyon transportation and watershed protection, but more than anything, he would like to see the process stop any proposal to interconnect the seven ski resorts in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

"If this kind of thing prevents that from happening, I'm all for it," said Kertesz, noting that he skis both resorts and the backcountry.

Conversely, Big Cottonwood Canyon resident Bill Mackie said he was all for an interconnect — "if they did that, they would elevate the ski industry to a higher level," he said — and was optimistic that the involvement of so many stakeholders in the Mountain Accord process will yield results, not just another study to be forgotten.

Big Cottonwood was well represented at the session, but characteristic of the widespread nature of canyon concerns, residents were looking for different things.

While Mackie wanted controls on winter-weekend parking congestion, 67-year-old retiree Steve Jorgensen sought to make sure private-property rights are respected. Bob Cameron argued both Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood need second access routes, just in case a wildfire, earthquake or other calamity blocks canyon roads.

When her construction job ended, Salt Lake City resident Stefanie Naden stuck around because she loves to snowboard. She's frustrated by limited bus service in the Cottonwood canyons.

"It's sad to live in a place where there is so much beauty threatened by poor public planning," said Naden, 27, adding she was eager to see organizers "come up with some reasonable solutions."

In a year, Accord organizers hope to develop a "preferred alternative" of actions based on their holistic impact on transportation, recreation, environment and the economy.

The goal then is to have a federal agency, perhaps the Federal Transit Administration or the Forest Service, conduct an environmental impact study that examines the proposal in detail. That process could take several years.

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

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Information about the Mountain Accord process and forms for submitting comments are available at http://www.mountainaccord.com.